Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Baseball Hall of Fame

The first hour of the Bob Costas radio show this morning was spent with Tom Verducci discussing Hall of Fame issues. This is always an interesting topic, as opinions can vary and there are no objective criteria involved for determining who should be admitted.

The main omission this time around was Marvin Miller, who Costas and Verducci agreed should be a no-brainer Hall of Famer. In fact, Verducci said if you do a 30-second history of the game, Miller would be mentioned along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson. (Miller was the head of the Player's Union, responsible for getting the players the ridiculous salaries they command today, thanks to free agency.)

A less recent omission was Buck O'Neill, who was not included in the 17 players inducted from the Negro Leagues a few years ago.

The main problem I see with the Hall of Fame selection process is that a person has to go in for accomplishment in a given area; i.e., one has to go in as a player, a manager, a broadcaster, an umpire, a writer, etc. But what about someone whose career includes accomplishments in more than one of those areas? There is no way now to recognize that. A prime example is Richie Ashburn. Ashburn retired in 1962, but was not admitted to the Hall of Fame until 1995. After his playing career ended he had a long career broadcasting Phillies games, and could have been admitted as a broadcaster as well as for his playing accomplishments. Taking the two together, he surely was worthy long before finally being admitted by vote of the Veterans Committee. What an injustice!

A similar type of problem with the selection process is that voters seem unable to be able to factor in defensive accomplishments. This has long been a problem, as there are no defensive statistics to measure performance like there are offensive statistics. Someone who is the best ever at a key defensive position like shortstop, can now get in. Exhibit A here is Ozzie Smith. But what about someone who is very good offensively and very good defensively also? This describes Ron Santo, and the fact he is *still* not in the Hall is a continuing travesty.

Another example of this is the aforementioned Richie Ashburn. Ashburn was one of the best defensive center fielders ever, and a very good hitter also. He tended to get lost in the shuffle because he played in an era of power-hitting center fielders--Mays, Mantle and Snider. Ashburn was not a home run hitter, but he was very good at getting on base, a skill more highly appreciated these days with the benefit of sophisticated sabermetric analysis. He is one of only four players in history to lead his league in both walks *and* hits in the same year. At one time he had 6 of the highest 10 season putout totals in baseball history for center fielders.

The show discussed Barry Bonds' chances also. Verducci said he wasn't voting for him and that he knows many writers who are on the fence, and will likely not vote for him if he is convicted of the charges recently filed against him. Costas made the point that if Bonds had retired after the 1997 season, before steroids came into play, he would have already had a Hall of Fame career. Verducci didn't buy this, saying you have to evaluate the *whole* career, and not pick just one part of it. I have to agree with Verducci on this one.

Pete Rose was not discussed, as that issue has been beaten to death already. I would just point out that Pete was a manager when he bet on baseball, and that should not affect his ability to get in as a player. At some point forgiveness and redemption needs to come into play, and Rose should receive the induction which he has so richly earned.

The Hall will be a better place when O'Neill, Rose, and Santo are included.

3/18/16 update.  Ron Santo finally got into the Hall, selected by the Golden Era Committee in December of 2011. His widow accepted the plaque on his behalf.

The Hall of Fame has honored Buck O'Neill with the creation of the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.

I have mellowed in my appraisal of the Peter Rose situation. Mike Royko is persuasive when he states: "What matters is that he had those 24 wonderful summers and those 3,562 games. And whatever kind of jerk he may have been in his private life, it was obvious that when he stepped out onto the field he loved every moment of it. How many people can say that about 24 years in the same job?....It's not a tragedy. It isn't even sad. Tragedy is a kid getting hit by a car. Sad is being old, alone, and lonely."

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