Hall of Fame Voting Philosophies--and why they're stupid

While I know it's about a week after the fact, I wanted to write about Hall of Fame voting. Though we Peanuts already made him a Hall of Famer years ago, we have to congratulate Bert Blyleven again on getting into the "official" Hall of Fame. But Bert-Fever's been tempered by a scad of curmudgeons who still believe he doesn'tbelong in the Hall of Fame. Their reasons are varied, but few have to do with his statistics. Now, complaints about Bert are less about his resume and more about the ways in which Bert violates their delicate sensibilities about who should be a "Hall of Famer".

It is those voters, those sensibilities and those complaints that I want to address, by taking a number of their arguments and pointing out the fallacies of such claims. I don't mean to claim that I'm smarter or better than the people who hold to these arguments; I'm just a former/future English teacher (hopefully*) who can't resist the urge to correct the writing of people who can't distinguish personal opinion from genuine reasoning. Below, I've listed their opinions and scrutinized their failings. If you enjoy semantic discourse read on, if not, just appreciate the fact that Bert's in and they can't kick him out now.

1) Bouncer Philosophy--If you weren't a first ballot Hall of Famer, you aren't a Hall of Famer:
Some would say that the truly great are obvious and instantly admitted. This allows the Hall of Fame voters to act like bouncers at a happening night club, letting in A-listers with casual coolness and keeping the plebes at bay until those great unwashed stop bothering you or leave. Problem is, real bouncers often have to bear in mind fire code and occasionally ask even the awesomest of the awesome to wait just a tick. Cy Young (you know, the pitcher so good they named the "best pitcher of the year" awards after him) had to wait a year; Rogers Hornsby (one of the best hitters/2nd basemen ever) waited five; Duke Snider (a player frequently compared to Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle) waited eleven. Even bouncers make mistakes.

2) The Omnipotent Writer Philosophy--If I didn't vote for you before, I can't vote for you now, so you aren't a Hall of Famer:
Some writers value consistency, and once they vote for someone, they vote that way forever. Unfortunately some people apply the same logic by voting against candidates. Because apparently, if you're a baseball writer, once you develop an opinion it can't change no matter how much thinking you do. This theory drives me nuts, especially when I hear people say: "how can someone who you didn't think was good enough for years, suddenly become good enough?!?!?" Why not ask, "how can you think a movie is better after you watch it a second or third time?" or "How can you change your opinion on _____? What are you some kind of thinking person who thinks?"

3) The Reputation Philosophy--If you didn't "win the big one" or intimidate your enemies you aren't a Hall of Famer:
Some voters believe the the opinions of others are a good basis for their own. If you couldn't win a World Series or a playoff game; if you never won an MVP or Cy Young award; if you didn't have other players cowering in your shadow...well, you clearly suck. Here's the thing though: baseball's a team sport. You can be the greatest hitter of all time, but if your pitcher doesn't throw strikes you're going to lose. You can have an incredible unbelievable season on the mound, but part of the credit for it has to go to the defense that saved you runs and games. And I don't care how fearsome a player is, part of their intimidating nature depends on the situation (Mauer having Denard on base and Morneau hitting behind him). I won't deny that over time the best rise to the top and are rightfully venerated, but reputation alone is not enough to make a judgement.

4) The Wealthy Dowager Philosophy--Nobody lives up to the standards of the past, so to let in the "nearly excellent" would destroy the standards of the Hall of Fame:
I admit I love baseball history and doubt that some inductees are as great as others. (Bert's great, but he's not Sandy Koufax.) But I've never heard anyone say: "I went to the Hall of Fame, and it was okay, but that damned Hack Wilson plaque--just ruined it for me." This isn't the last bastion of Western Civilization, it's the Baseball Hall of Fame, let in who you want, but remember the Hall of Fame existed for decades before you and will exist for decades after. Whenever I hear these opinions I think of Aunt Augusta in The Importance of Being Earnest (like I said, English teacher), dropping her pince nez in disgust and recoiling in horror: "What Mr. Blyleven? Your ERA is 3.31 and you were born in a handbag? A HANDBAG!?!?!?!?!?"

I'm glad we can have these kinds of debates, and gladder still to have some baseball to talk about. Whether you agree with me or not, it's my pleasure to instigate the conversation. So, what do you think?

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