Since the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum opened its doors in 1936, it’s generally done a good job of honoring the history of MLB. There are some exceptions, though. Over the last 83 years, Cooperstown has seen its share of controversies, as well.
Many of the controversies are centered around who’s included and who’s not. That’s not the only issue, though. The way that at least some of the inductees have been included raises some credibility questions. Why have certain players been voted in, while others have been passed over?
Of course, we concede that voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame is not an easy task. Some of the challenges of it also create some significant flaws. These are the most notable among them.
All the greats who got “no” votes
Until Mariano Rivera in 2019, no Hall of Fame inductee had ever been voted in unanimously. To put that into perspective, this means that some people watched guys like Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Greg Maddux, Ken Griffey Jr., etc., and felt they weren’t worthy of a place in Cooperstown. This is the equivalent of the “Ask the Audience” part of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? when 98.5% of people would say that George Washington was the first United States President, 0.7% would say John Adams, another 0.7% would say Benjamin Franklin, and 0.1% would say Mickey Mouse.
Don’t let the fact that Mays, Koufax, Maddux, and Griffey all got in anyway distort the fact that this is a big deal. Not every Hall of Fame candidate is a slam dunk. Some are going to hang right around the 75% threshold to the point where a few votes could make the difference. The same people who didn’t vote for the likes of the aforementioned quartet are the ones who could decide whether a fringe candidate makes it in.
Sure, Rivera’s induction was a step in the right direction. Still, knowing the history of the votes (which has spanned across different voters for generations) makes it hard to feel too confident in the process.
Ted Williams was a first ballot Hall of Famer in 1966, as was Steve Carlton in 1994. In both cases, the honors were well deserved. What’s notable is that Willams received 93.4% while Carlton got in at 95.8%. Those are low numbers for players of that caliber. Even when we account for the oddities of a few voters preventing unanimous inductees, that’s kind of like missing a few questions on a test despite having a cheat sheet. What accounts for that? It’s hard to say for sure, but we can’t help but mention that both Carlton and Williams had reputations for being difficult with the writers, the same ones who voted for (and against) them.
Of course, slam dunk Hall of Famers aren’t the only ones who had difficult relationships with the writers. Jeff Kent had a similar relationship. He had some early career struggles, so we can’t call him a slam dunk candidate. Still, Kent’s offensive numbers from 1997-2005 will stack up favorably to the best nine-year runs of plenty of second basemen in Cooperstown. Despite that, Kent has never even gotten a third of the way to the necessary 75%.
Of course, the voters are human. It’s only natural for at least some voters to be swayed by how friendly a player was to him/her during his playing career. With that understood, it opens the door for a vote that’s anything but objective.
Inconsistent actions for bystanders in scandals
PED users are effectively blackballed from the Hall of Fame while their clean peers are welcomed. Curt Schilling (who’s out of the Hall of Fame for other reasons) was one of the few prominent players to speak up against steroid use as the it was at its most prevalent. Even he did so fairly late in the Steroid Era.
Now, should we really have expected more players to effectively snitch on their peers? Well, consider that a century ago, Buck Weaver was banned from baseball as a result of the Black Sox Scandal despite the fact that he did nothing to throw the 1919 World Series and didn’t take a dime from the gamblers who conspired to fix the series. His crime? He knew what was happening and didn’t speak up.
Here’s the real kicker. Weaver’s teammates cost him a World Series title and led to him being banned from the sport. Not only did the actions of those teammates not help Weaver, but they significantly hurt him. We can’t say that about the clean Hall of Famers from the Steroid Era.
The guilty are out, while the enablers who benefited the most are not
To date, no player named in 2007’s Mitchell Report is in the Hall of Fame. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t help anyone else get in. Far from it, in fact. Managers whose records were bolstered by those players are in. The commissioner who benefited from a tremendous leap in the game’s popularity thanks in no small part to those players is also enshrined. That doesn’t even get into the players.
How many wins from Nolan Ryan (a clean Hall of Famer) were aided by runs produced by Rafael Palmeiro or Jose Canseco? Derek Jeter will no doubt be a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2020. But how many of his offensive numbers were padded by someone in the Mitchell Report like David Justice, Gary Sheffield, or Jason Giambi, or an admitted user like Alex Rodriguez?
If the Hall of Fame voters are really going to keep PED users out, they need to start delving into how much their contributions helped other players. Or, maybe it’s time to open the doors for at least some of the players who carry that cloud.
The full history of the sport is not told
The Beatles were arguably the greatest band of all time. They should have remained active until John Lennon’s tragic assassination in 1980. That didn’t happen because of a constant clash of egos a decade earlier, which led to the band’s dissolution. As such, they had a run far shorter than bands nowhere near as successful or talented.
If one were to devote a museum to The Beatles, the issues that caused the band’s breakup would have to be featured. It couldn’t just focus on the good. The same principle applies to the Hall of Fame. It’s a museum, after all. It can’t just be devoted to the squeaky clean greats. To be a true museum, it must tell the entire history of its subject. Not all of that history is good.
Make no mistake, we’re not suggesting that the likes of Joe Orsulak need to be in the Hall of Fame, any more than we’re suggesting that “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” would belong in a Beatles museum. The more notable blemishes, like the Steroid Era, or the gambling scandals, however, are a different story. Those are a huge part of baseball’s history. To essentially banish them from a museum devoted to the game is practicing revisionist history.