Baseball Hall of Fame Election Day is a time to celebrate our wonderful game. But sadly, it has also become an annual exercise in regretting, questioning, condemning and questioning.
And boy is there still a lot to lament this year.
Scott Rolen deserves our congratulations. He’s a fantastic two-way third baseman who made the Hall of Fame on Tuesday, and rightly so.
Todd Helton should also be very pleased with the results. He is following the right path and history tells us that next year will probably be his year.
The same goes for Billy Wagner, who was perhaps the greatest left-handed reliever of all time and one of the most interesting cases (more on that below).
Congratulations to all who polled well. But no kudos to the writers, who like to pat themselves on the back but continue to lead the fickle league (more on that below, too).
The Baseball Hall of Fame is by far the largest of all halls, and it’s an overall benefit that it sparks conversations and controversies for days on end. But it also brings sadness, especially about what could have been.
The four most accomplished players in this year’s poll finished out of the money. The PED talk has surely dwindled with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens dropping out of the writers’ vote, but the steroids (and the scandal) still linger.
Alex Rodriguez is a three-time MVP and all-time great, Manny Ramirez an unstoppable offensive force, Carlos Beltran one of the all-time great switch hitters and Gary Sheffield one of the most feared hitters of all times, and they finished eighth, ninth, tied for sixth and fifth respectively, thanks to, in order, steroids, steroids, sign theft via tech and trash, and more steroids.
Beltran will likely be successful for years to come, as sign theft hasn’t helped his numbers (he downright stank in 2017). It looks like a one-year sentence is about right for his involvement as the league-documented instigator of the Astros scandal. I pledge to vote for him next December (and I suspect enough others will too.)
If history is any guide, A-Rod and Manny never get there, and that’s a shame, because they surely had the talent to do it without chemical enhancement. The strange thing is Sheffield since he is the fourth best of these contaminated players but better questioned than Beltran, A-Rod and Manny. Sheffield was a BALCO client who sent money to Victor Conte, but more than half the electorate now votes for a guy whose career is barely over the border, with or without steroids.
He even has a better streak than his buddy Barry Bonds at this point. I guess Bonds got too good on steroids, drawing extra attention to himself via his exploits and records, while Sheffield helped his case by acting ticked off when publicly linked and blaming Bonds.
I have always defended voters (including me). It’s a good system I say in the face of the avalanche of criticism.
But it turns out we’re tasteless. We are too easily influenced.
We aim to please. And the result is that the vote took some strange turns.
Take the 2019 poll, when Rolen, Helton and Wagner got 17% of the vote. And Jeff Kent got 18%. Today Rolen is in, Helton next year and Wagner is on his way to the polls while Kent is now officially out of the polls after receiving less than 50% support.
There is a lot to be said for Rolen, Helton and Wagner. They all have a decent case. But from there, that first vote where this trio received roughly the same vote total as Kent is closer to reality. They are all very good and very close. (Full disclosure: I voted for Kent and Rolen but didn’t quite get it for Helton or former Met Wagner, who had great all-time rate stats, but got me missed as a relief specialist from an inning that didn’t have either huge loose numbers or big moments.)
When it comes to Rolen, Helton and Wagner, you don’t need to be a math whiz to figure out that more than half the electorate changed their minds in four short years. The question must be asked: why did Rolen, Helton and Wagner rise as precipitously as any candidate while Kent experienced a negligible bump?
These are most likely strong opinions on Twitter, people are convinced and in some cases are definitely feeling the pressure. I am for transparency. But it seems to have triggered the groupthink.
It may be subconscious, but at least some voters are embracing the crowd-driven narrative that emphasizes rate statistics rather than actual impact. Given the way the global vote is going, perhaps the museum in Cooperstown should be renamed Hall of New Stats.
Kent, who is the greatest home run hitter and RBI man for a second baseman, has never been endorsed by the crowd on Twitter. Nothing against Rolen and the others, but Kent’s omission is just one more thing to regret on a day that’s supposed to be a party.