A Brief Rant on the Baseball Hall of Fame Vote

January 9, 2013

The run up to the Hall of Fame announcement is, at once, one of my favorite and least favorite times on the baseball calendar. The time is spend in vigorous debate, great, but clouded by many profoundly stupid opinions, not so. 

Tom Verducci, whom I really like, has taken a hard-line anti-steroids stance. I disagree, strongly, but he worked out his own criterion and he's entitled to it. 

Bob Costas seems to think that steroids turned many an otherwise ordinary ballplayer into a superhero. His histrionics and hyperbole are quantifiably wrong and harmful to the discussion. Costas' view whitewashes the myriad of contributing factors to increased offensive performance: reduction of the strike-zone, changing of the physical composition of bats and balls, new hitter friendly ballparks, expansion, to name a few. A few players who were great did take steroids, but the majority of players who abused were marginal talents both before and after drug use. 

However, this is not a space to rehash the same old debates. Instead I felt the need to rant about one of the few things in life that really grinds my gears: a lack of intellectual curiosity. 

On a recent episode of MLB Network's Clubhouse Confidential a roundtable discussed the Hall of Fame. One of the panelists said, "If I have to think about a player, he's not a Hall of Famer."That really stuck in my craw. 

Perhaps what the panelist meant was something to the effect of "I, personally, have a deep philosophical belief in a small-Hall. Only the extreme cream of the crop, all-time leaders, absolute best player in the game for an extended period of time, should be in. I set the bar at George Brett for hitters and Nolan Ryan for pitchers. If anyone worse than those guys even tries to buy a ticket to see the Hall, I'll block you from entering like Gandalf did to the Balrog on the stairs of Khazad-dum."

I wanted to put words, any words, in the mouth of this person in order to make what they said defensible. But that person wasn't your drunk uncle (drunkle?) pontificating about sports at Thanksgiving, he wasn't a dumb jock, he was an actual writer - one with a Hall of Fame vote, no less.

Bill Madden uttered that phrase. Madden's been a writer for the New York Daily News since the late-70's, the author of four books (all Yankee related) and has served on the Historical Overview Committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame three times in recent years where his job was to select candidates for the Veteran's Committee.

This is a man who chooses words for a living, specifically sports words. I'll assume me meant what he said. What he said was he shouldn't have to think while doing his fucking job. 

The Baseball Hall of Fame instituted a five-year waiting period so that writers would have ample time to reflect on a player's career, gain some historical perspective and make sound conclusions. In Bill Madden's world, all decisions should be made in a second.

People make bad decisions all the time. We're full of cognitive biases. Gaps plague the empty recesses of our knowledge. Madden's stringent adherence to this I-shouldn't-have-to-think-about-it heuristic is maddening (ahh, AHHH....get it?). 

There are reasonable conclusions to come to in this debate. But first, one must realize that some decisions in life are complex and that is not a bad thing. I am more than willing to listen to your side of the issue, but you have to develop that side. There are legitimate reasons not to vote for each individual person on the Hall of Fame ballot, but the lack of any inductees is much more likely to indicate a prevalence in Bill Madden's ideology (I can't, don't want to, or shouldn't have to think about this, for I am ALL MIGHTY SPORTSWRITER WHO IS NEVER WRONG) than a factitious and nuanced attention to detail.



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