Who Belongs In the Hall of Fame? (Almost Anyone)
Quick, tell me three things you know about Dave Bancroft.
O.K., tell me two things you know about Dave Bancroft. No, he is not the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. No, he is not the twenty-something lead vampire in the “Twilight” franchise.
Alright, so using deductive reasoning, you figured out he was a baseball player. This is, after all, a website dedicated to baseball.
Well, did you know that he played from 1915-1930? Did you know that he was a career .279 hitter who played good defense, amassed 2,004 career hits and scored just over a thousand runs, primarily as a shortstop for the Phillies, Giants and Braves?
Did you know his nickname was “Beauty?”
His career OPS (On-Base plus Slugging Percentage) barely topped .700, pretty low for a hitter in any era at any position, other than pitcher.
In other words, he had a substantial, if unremarkable career as a baseball player. A career not unlike those of Tony Fernandez, Alvin Dark, Dick Groat and Jay Bell.
With one substantial difference. Dave Bancroft was selected by the Veterans Committee to be enshrined as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971, forty years after he retired.
Dave Bancroft is just one of several members of the Hall of Fame who are, at best, questionable choices to represent baseball in what is essentially baseball’s equivalent to Mt. Olympus or Mt. Rushmore. After all, would we carve a huge profile of Grover Cleveland on Mt. Rushmore just because he was a two-term president?
Grover Cleveland Alexander, on the other hand, might make a pretty good choice.
So why do the Baseball Writers of America, who are tasked with the assignment of choosing the newest inductees on an annual basis, struggle so much with their respective choices? Doing so indicates that they truly believe that the HOF standard are players such as Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, and Tom Seaver.
The reality has always been dramatically different. As Bill James wrote in “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” published in 2001, “The Ted Williams…standard for Hall of Fame selection has never existed anywhere except in the imaginations of people who don’t know anything about the subject.”
This is not to say the writers shouldn’t take their responsibility seriously. But how much should a writer agonize over whether Andre Dawson was significantly better than Dale Murphy (who despite two MVP Awards, is not in the Hall.)
Voting for or against Andre Dawson can be justified using the the lowest common denominator logic of “Well, Player A is in, and Player B was just about as good as Player A, so Player B should be in as well.”
This logic has permeated the selection of Hall of Famers for many years, and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It is the logic that resulted in the induction of players such as Tony Perez and Orlando Cepeda, and probably Jim Rice.
Sometimes, it helps to have a brother who is already in the HOF. Lloyd Waner was voted in by the Veterans Committee. It must have helped his cause that his brother, Paul, was already in The Hall.
If you are fortunate enough to have been part of a cool sounding trio of infielders, your chances of being inducted into The Hall also apparently increase. Thus Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance resulted in at least two, if not three, questionable inductions (Frank Chance might have been the only deserving member of that trio.)
In my last post, I stated that the two essential questions regarding the issue of baseball immortality are 1) Who deserves to be remembered? and 2) How do they deserve to be remembered?
The Veterans Committee seems to have been primarily motivated by the fear that certain players that they hold dear, former friends, peers and colleagues, might simply vanish into obscurity.
The irony is that even induction into The Hall of Fame doesn’t necessarily mean a ticket to immortality. After all, do people really make the pilgrimage to the tiny little village of Cooperstown, smack dab in the middle of nowhere, so that they could stand in awe in front of Fred Clarke’s plaque?
So what is a sportswriter, ballot in hand, to do?
Here’s another question? Why has the task been given to sportswriters? Do we allow news journalists to select our senators for us? Writers and journalists are generally competent at reporting on the world around them. This does not automatically indicate a degree of wisdom superior to that of the average baseball fan.
And if they are so competent, then why are they given 15 chances per retired player to get it right? (or wrong, depending on how you view the induction of Jim Rice.)
In my next blog, I will suggest a few alterations to the current induction system. Ultimately, perhaps, the Dave Bancrofts of the world can receive their due as significant contributors to the game in a more reasonable fashion, if only to leave more elbow room for Mays, Williams and Ruth.