The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

2011 Hall of Fame Vote: The Good, the Bad, and the Utterly Perplexing

Jeff Bagwell

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The results are in, and there weren’t any major surprises.  Bert (we suddenly loved you all along) Blyleven (79.7%), and Robbie (sorry we messed up last year) Alomar (90%), were the only two players on this year’s ballot elected into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

Looking over the percentage of votes each player received from the BBWAA revealed interesting results, some unexpected, some utterly perplexing.

THE GOOD:

1)  Roberto Alomar will now be enshrined in The Hall.  Alomar was a stunning offensive player, and although his defense was a bit overrated (see my last bl0g-post), he certainly belongs in The Hall.  Some bloggers / writers have Alomar rated as among the top three 2nd basemen of all-time.  I think that overstates his legacy a bit much.  I am comfortable rating Alomar in the top 5-10 second basemen ever.

2)  Bert Blyleven, the Bearded Dutchman, joins Alomar.   Personally, I don’t think I would have voted for Blyleven.  I know that some people will think it’s outrageous to hold this opinion, but if he was such an obvious HOF candidate, then why has he been passed over 13 previous times?  Some people point to his 3,701 career strikeouts (5th all-time) as one bit of evidence that he should be enshrined.  But he averaged 6.7 K’s / 9 innings in his career, good, but not great.

Voting for Blyleven isn’t voting for greatness; it voting for remarkable durability (he averaged 245 innings pitched per season in his career.)

So why file his election under THE GOOD?

First, because I have nothing against Blyleven personally, and there’s no reason to rain on his parade.  Obviously, this vote means a lot to Blyleven and his supporters.

Second, because now that his enshrinement is a done deal, we can start to focus a little more seriously on some of the other players who also deserve enshrinement.  Which brings us to…

3)  Barry Larkin: Larkin received a promising 62% of votes cast, an improvement over the 51% he received last year, his first on the ballot.  Larkin is one of the ten best shortstops of all-time, and the best N.L. shortstop of his era.  It will be interesting to see if his relatively strong showing this year represents his high-water mark, or if it is a stepping-stone to future Hall induction.

Next year’s relatively weak class of first-time HOF candidates, however, could work in his favor.  Let’s hope it does.

THE BAD:

1)  Jeff Bagwell, an obvious Hall of Famer if there ever was one (unless you really weren’t paying attention), received a lower percentage of votes (41.7%)  than I thought he would, and I had low expectations for him going into this election.  His (hopefully temporary) rejection does not, however, come as a surprise because, and there is no way to sugarcoat this, many of the BBWAA voters are cowards.

What are they afraid of?  They are afraid to induct a player that they know, statistically speaking, should be a first-ballot HOF’er because they believe he just MIGHT have used steroids.

Even though Bagwell’s name has never appeared on any list of users, and even though no former teammates of his have ever accused him of being a user,  somehow an internet driven whiff of scandal has created a false cloud of controversy over his name and reputation.

And the voters are deathly, and unreasonably, afraid that if they were to induct Bagwell into The Hall, and then it was later revealed that he was, after all, a steroid user, then they would look foolish.

But they are wrong.  If (as unlikely as it is) that Bagwell was elected and then, at some later date, it turns out he was a user, then the shame of his tainted induction would be on him, not on the voters.

In other words, placing the onus of responsibility on a particular player to prove that he didn’t use steroids is unreasonable and unjust.  Guilty until proven innocent is the fallback position favored by cowards in an irrationally fearful society, and history is seldom kind to those who accuse others of some perceived crime, who then later turn out to have been innocent.

Prediction:  Bagwell is eventually elected into The Hall, but it could take a while.

2)  Larry Walker: Much of what I have just written about Bagwell can be applied to the case of Larry Walker as well.  And, as an added obstacle to The Hall, Walker is penalized for having played in the best hitter’s park ever constructed in one of the better era for hitter’s in modern history.

Only one in five voters (20%) believe Walker had a HOF career.

Setting aside the steroid issue, on which you have probably already formed an opinion, yes, Walker benefited from playing at Coor’s Field.  But I can’t think of any other player in baseball history who was penalized for having similar good fortune.  For example, if you had put Jim Rice in the Astrodome for his entire career, he certainly would not have ended up in The Hall.  Conversely, if you had put Jimmy Wynn in Fenway Park for his career, he would have put up HOF numbers.

As another example, Mel Ott hit 323 (63%) of his 511 career home runs at the Polo Grounds, the highest total any player ever hit in their home ballpark.

Walker was already an outstanding player before he signed with the Rockies.  He was a great defensive player, an excellent base-runner, and could hit for power and average.

Yet his relatively poor showing in this year’s Hall of Fame vote does not portend, I fear, an eventual Hall induction.  More likely, he will continue to languish in the Dale Murphy/ Ted Simmons limbo, never taken quite seriously enough by the BBWAA that the full weight of his career will ever receive anything other than token appreciation.

3) Tim Raines: Raines was named on 37% of the ballots cast.  It is clear that Raine’s cocaine use, as well as the Conventional Wisdom that other lead-off hitters such as Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock outshone him, will probably keep Raines out of the Hall.  I can’t think of any other reason why someone would not vote for him.  The Conventional Wisdom in this case is, as it often proves to be,  just plain wrong.

The Utterly Perplexing:

1)  Edgar Martinez: (33% support) – What to do with Edgar Martinez, one of the greatest pure hitters in baseball history?  The crux of the issue is, there is no consensus on what constitutes a legitimate baseball player.  And don’t wait for the Baseball Hall of Fame to clarify the issue of what to do with the virtual life-time DH anymore than they will the issue of players linked to steroids.

The Hall of Fame, an institution that should be jealously guarding its reputation, has been cryptically, irresponsibly silent on the salient issues of the day regarding baseball, and the players it accepts for enshrinement.

2)  Lee Smith: Smith, 3rd on the all-time Saves list, was snubbed, appearing on 45% of the  ballots  cast.  What is a closer to do?  Either Saves, as a statistic, impress you, or they do not.

Smith emerged from the single-inning “clean” Save era, where 9th inning specialists usually entered the game with no one on base, and three outs to work with.  Sounds simple enough, and Smith did his job well.  But is this task, however well-performed, impressive enough to merit HOF recognition?

I believe, despite the large number of closers who compiled over 300 saves, that the voters will ultimately reward only a small handful of these specialists.  Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman come to mind as probable future inductees.  But I don’t believe that the BBWAA membership is all that impressed by raw Save totals.  Nor do I believe that they should be.

3)  Fred McGriff: (18% support) – Why the lack of love for the Crime Dog?  If I told you that a player who hit just under 500 home runs, registered eight 100+ RBI seasons, who had the same OPS+ as Al Kaline, and who has never been linked to steroids, appeared to be on the road to nowhere regarding Hall of Fame enshrinement, what would you think?  Frankly, I don’t know what to think, either.

4)  Marquis Grissom received four votes.  Tino Martinez received six votes.  B.J. Surhoff nailed down two, and Brett Boone and Charles Johnson received HOF support from one voter each.  How is it that each of these decent but unspectacular players received votes for The Hall, yet so many writers do not see Bagwell, Raines, Larkin or Walker as Hall material?  It’s a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie, without the inevitable “now it all makes sense” ending.

So what are your thoughts on today’s BBWAA Hall of Fame voting results?  I’d like to know.

The complete results from the BBWAA:

Name Votes Pct.
Roberto Alomar 523 90.0%
Bert Blyleven 463 79.7%
Barry Larkin 361 62.1%
Jack Morris 311 53.5%
Lee Smith 263 45.3%
Jeff Bagwell 242 41.7%
Tim Raines 218 37.5%
Edgar Martinez 191 32.9%
Alan Trammell 141 24.3%
Larry Walker 118 20.3%
Mark McGwire 115 19.8%
Fred McGriff 104 17.9%
Dave Parker 89 15.3%
Don Mattingly 79 13.6%
Dale Murphy 73 12.6%
Rafael Palmeiro 64 11.0%
Juan Gonzalez 30 5.2%
Harold Baines 28 4.8%
John Franco 27 4.6%
Kevin Brown 12 2.1%
Tino Martinez 6 1.0%
Marquis Grissom 4 0.7%
Al Leiter 4 0.7%
John Olerud 4 0.7%
B.J. Surhoff 2 0.3%
Bret Boone 1 0.2%
Benito Santiago 1 0.2%
Carlos Baerga 0 0.0%
Lenny Harris 0 0.0%
Bobby Higginson 0 0.0%
Charles Johnson 0 0.0%
Raul Mondesi 0 0.0%
Kirk Rueter 0 0.0%
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6 thoughts on “2011 Hall of Fame Vote: The Good, the Bad, and the Utterly Perplexing

  1. I don’t get the low vote totals for Bagwell either, especially considering Alomar’s overwhelming support despite being just as if not more of a candidate for under the radar steroid use as Bagwell (at least statistically speaking).

    And Larkin should have made it this year too. I understand some people hold Alomar in high esteem, but I tend to think Larkin was as important to his position historically as Alomar was and was a cornerstone character guy in an era that generally lacked them. Had he chased money and titles from team to team like Alomar did, he’d probably be in this time around, but I guess I’ll have to wait another year.

    • Harry, Thanks for joining the conversation. Completely agree with you on Bagwell, Alomar and Larkin. In about three years, there’s going to be one helluva backlog of worthy HOF candidates. Don’t know how the BBWAA, and especially, the HOF, plan to deal with this situation. I’m guessing they won’t.
      I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog, and for leaving a comment. Cheers, Bill

  2. Like your comments, especially the good, bad, perplexing format. Am still trying to compose my own thoughts and will post them tomorrow, but I’m really surprised only by the percentage Alomar got after last year’s low 70s. I guess the spitting incident really hurt him.
    v

    • Thank you. Looking forward to reading your take on all this. I think some Alomar voters last year A. Wanted to ensure he didn’t make it in on the first ballot due to the spitting incident, and B. Waited for someone else to vote him in. Then this year, I think they realized that it would undermine the credibility of the BBWAA if someone as obviously qualified as Alomar was rejected yet again.
      Bagwell’s low vote total, and some of the comments I’ve read about him, disgust me.
      Next year should be interesting. Take care, Bill

  3. B.J. Surhoff???? Give me a break.

    Fine post. And I agree with the bulk of your post, especially re Blyleven. I’m glad for his sake he got in, but you’re right – it’s a vote for durability. I never, ever considered him HOF-caliber when he was playing. Never, ever said, “Gee, this guy’s going to make it to Cooperstown some day.”

    • That’s exactly how I feel about Blyleven. HOF voting often reveals some strange results. I’d like to talk to the guy that voted for Charles Johnson. He belongs in the Portland SeaDogs HOF (AA – Maine), but the MLB Hall? Wow. Thanks for reading. Cheers, Bill

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