UNDATED: Jim Kaat #36 of the Minnesota Twins poses for a portrait. Kaat played for the Twins from … [+]
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This writer is totally opposed to the manner in which players are elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
What are the standards for entry to the Hall ? What performance criteria and mileposts must a professional baseball player achieve for entry to what is commonly believed to be the most prestigious and exclusive fraternity in all of sports?
The answer is simple. There are none. Standards and criteria for consideration to the Hall of Fame are within the eyes and minds of the voters. What one voter might consider to be worthy of a Hall of Fame induction is rejected by another.
An institution without standards for membership is vulnerable to criticism. The standard can’t be whatever a voter has in mind. The standard can’t be one set of criteria for one voter and another set for somebody else.
There are some people who believe 500 home runs or 3,000 hits will provide automatic entry to the Hall. Where is that stated? It isn’t. Some say 300 wins is a ticket to election. That may never happen again. Even if it did, that criterion is not listed anywhere in Hall of Fame information.
In addition to having no written or publicly stated performance standards for Hall of Fame consideration, there are no standards regarding personal character or ethics. Consequently, an eligible voter may choose to withhold a vote for a player with statistics one might consider Hall of Fame worthy. The vote is in the eyes and mind of the voter.
A player must have been retired for five years before he may be considered for the Hall. The player must have played a minimum of ten major league seasons. That’s it. Those are the two most notable requirements for consideration.
Hall of Fame members are elected in one of two ways. Selected members of the Baseball Writers Association of America with at least ten years of experience are granted a vote. If an eligible player does not receive 5% of the writer’s votes, he is eliminated from future consideration on the Baseball Writers ballots.
Once a player has exhausted ten years of eligibility on the Hall of Fame ballot without obtaining 75% of the eligible vote, he may be considered for election by one of four Veteran’s Committees. They include Today’s Game (1998-present) Modern Baseball (1970-1987) Golden Days (1950-1969) and Early Baseball (1871-1949).
For this writer, the Hall of Fame lost any remaining credibility when Harold Baines and Lee Smith were elected to the Hall of Fame by the Today’s Modern Game Era Veteran’s Committee.
Baines was my biggest issue. He was removed from the writer’s ballot after five years. His highest vote total in that period was 5.9%.
In December 2018, Baines received 12 of the 16 votes he needed to be elected by Today’s Modern Era voters. It was exactly the 75% required. Note that only 16 people voted. In the 2020 Hall election, 397 people voted. That’s quite a difference. And quite an inequity.
In his 22-year career, Baines, an outfielder, hit .289 with 384 home runs and 1,628 RBIs in 11,092 plate appearances. He was a good player. A Hall of Famer?
By comparison to Baines, outfielder Larry Walker was voted into the Hall of Fame as part of the 2020 class with 76.6% of the vote. Walker played 17 seasons and went to the plate 8,030 times, 3,062 times fewer than Baines. He had a .313 batting average with 383 home runs and 1,311 RBIs. He earned his 304 total votes in the last year of his Baseball Writers Association of America ballot eligibility.
Outfielder Albert Belle played only 12 years in Major League Baseball. He retired when injuries to his hips and legs couldn’t carry him any longer. In his 6,676 plate appearances, Belle hit 381 home runs and drove in 1,239 runs. Belle is not in the Hall of Fame. He had enough years of service time for eligibility, but he hasn’t been elected. In fact, the same Veteran’s Committee that elected Baines and Lee Smith also considered players Orel Hershiser, Joe Carter, and Will Clark on the same ballot. None of them got more than five votes.
Derek Jeter was voted to the Hall of Fame with 396 votes. Only one person didn’t vote for the iconic Jeter. Why not? What was Jeter missing as a Hall of Fame quality player?
The main argument of this writer is credibility. An institution with the reputation and importance of the National Baseball Hall of Fame should not be open to inconsistency in voter evaluation methods.
A player like pitcher Jim Kaat has been excluded from the Hall of Fame on the whim of a few voters. Maybe the voters never saw Kaat pitch. He pitched for 25 years. He won 283 games, just 17 shy of that magic 300 wins number that some voters have used as a criterion. He finished his career with a 3.45 ERA in 4.530 innings pitched. One season he threw 304.2 innings. He had 14 seasons with more than 200 innings each. Jim Kaat won 14 Gold Gloves. He never received more than 27.3% of the vote. Why not? Who knows?
Bill Mazeroski is in the Hall of Fame. He played 17 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He had a .260 career batting average. Mazeroski hit 138 home runs. He drove in 80 runs in a season only twice. He was a good player. Was he of Hall of Fame caliber? Not in this observer’s opinion.
An induction to the Hall of Fame can be a life-changing experience for the player and his heirs. There is not only prestige, but lucrative speaking engagements, signing promotions, business opportunities and access to the “right” people. Life is enhanced for a Hall of Famers. Forever.
Congratulations to Larry Walker and Derek Jeter on their election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. They both deserve the tremendous honor. They have outstanding statistics to support their Hall of Fame elections.
While Walker and Jeter are very worthy of being in the Class of 2020, it would be so much more credible if the Hall of Fame actually had some stated criteria and standards for election. Until then, reason exists for criticism.