The Hall of Fame Debate: Part 2

With the national championship game pretty much over, I spent a little time tonight catching up on some other reading. I came across this excellent piece by Jayson Stark over at ESPN. Stark writes about how difficult it was for him to fill out his Hall of Fame ballot this year, since Cooperstown arbitrarily limits voters to 10 names, 10 “yes” votes. With a logjam of PED suspects clogging up the ballot, this makes for quite a quandary for every HoF voter.

Here are Stark’s 10 players he voted for:

  1. Barry Bonds
  2. Roger Clemens
  3. Mike Piazza
  4. Craig Biggio
  5. Curt Schilling
  6. Sammy Sosa
  7. Jeff Bagwell
  8. Tim Raines
  9. Jack Morris
  10. Dale Murphy

Stark makes no bones about how painful this vote was for him. Can we feel great about the inclusion of each of these players, many of whom have either directly admitted to steroid use or have at the very least have a cloud of suspicion hanging over them? Not hardly. And how can we confidently vote for, say, Sosa, and not also cast a vote for fellow Congressional questionees Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro? It gets complicated, doesn’t it? So what do we make of this mess?

I appreciate Stark’s honesty and you can tell he takes his vote seriously. At first blush, I had a few objections to his vote, particularly with Jack Morris and Dale Murphy. I know everyone bandies about the “ace” term with regard to Morris, and he owns an impressive resume, including those All-Star starts and his vintage performance against Smoltz in ’91. But no matter how you cut it, the dude has a lifetime ERA of nearly 4.00. That’s less than excellent, no matter the era. To me, he’s one of those borderline guys that will probably get in and when he does, it’ll be fine. Heck, if Bert Blyleven is a Hall of Famer, then so is Jack Morris. Most of his peers will attest to the fact that they never wanted to face him. But the National League would’ve said the same thing about Tim Lincecum prior to 2012, too, so the anecdotal stuff doesn’t quite hold for me.

But Stark makes a great point about Dale Murphy. He points to his dominant stretch, roughly an eight-year stretch in the early-to-mid 80s, and the fact that he was a two-time MVP. But he says that the character and integrity argument that is so often used against Bonds and Clemens and the rest should also be weighed positively in favor of a stand up guy like Murphy. And he’s right. I’ve contended for a long time that Murphy probably belongs in the Hall of Good, But Not Great. But after reading Stark’s piece — and realizing this is Dale’s final year of eligibility — I’m more inclined than ever to say he’s deserving of this vote. I doubt he’ll get in — in fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if nobody is elected this cycle — but for the first time, I’ve heard a compelling argument for his inclusion. Here’s hoping the nice guy finishes strong.

As for the others on the ballot, I think Biggio has the best chance of election. In my mind, there’s no doubt he’s Hall-worthy. If he’d played his career in the glare of New York, we’d be speaking of him in the same Jeter-esque tone probably. More hits than any 2B not named Collins or Lajoie. More doubles than any RH hitter ever. Moved around the diamond and became a Gold Glove infielder. He’s a lock to get in and soon.

I’d love it if he and Bagwell could go in together. Simply put, Bags is one of the most dangerous hitters to ever man the 1B position. His numbers are staggering. The PED cloud is strong, but then again, what are we to do? Do we make a judgment on what we think he’s guilty of doing, without concrete evidence? Same with Piazza, the best-hitting catcher of all time. We have to make a judgment here and we’re working with the information available to us.

Which brings us to Bonds and Clemens. If the Hall is the benchmark for greatness, it’s going to be impossible to keep these guys out. Hall voters are notoriously stingy in doling out the “first ballot” moniker and I think there’s no chance these two make it in this year. But once again, how can we judge an entire era with incomplete information? Bonds was HoF worthy prior to his PED use and the same was probably true of Clemens. Statistically, these two rank as arguably the greatest at their respective positions. But how much weight do we ascribe to “character”? How much weight can we ascribe? I mean, have you looked at the Hall of Fame recently? Not exactly chock full of Sunday school teachers.

In the end, the BBWAA voters are all doing what Stark is so transparently describing here: attempting to parse out judgments based on statistical greatness, empirically verifiable, but checked against off-field allegations and a hazy cloud of uncertainty. More power to them.

If I had a ballot, here’s who I’d vote for:

  1. Biggio
  2. Murphy
  3. Tim Raines — should’ve been garnering more votes all along
  4. Bagwell
  5. Piazza
  6. Bonds
  7. Clemens

I’d give serious consideration to Fred McGriff and Edgar Martinez, too. As of right now, I couldn’t see myself voting for Sosa, even with all the homers. But then again, there’s an argument to be made (as Stark does so well).

I guess we’ll all find out on Wednesday.

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