Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Hall of a day

It's always a great day when the Hall of Fame inductees are announced in any sport. This was such a day, as the voting in baseball was announced. Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar made it over the 75 percent voting threshold, and will see their names placed in Cooperstown in the summer.

Baseball seems to take these things a bit more seriously than the other sports, at least in terms of the fan base. With, essentially, 24 positions to consider (11 offense, 11 defense, two kickers), football probably could select 10 guys a year without anyone noticing a lack of quality in the picks. Basketball's shrine in Springfield doesn't differentiate by level, so a great college player can get in even if he or she wasn't a star pro. Bill Bradley strikes me as a good example of that, but there are others. Hockey standards traditionally have been lower and odder than the other sports, meaning I'm still trying to figure how Dick Duff got in, but at least the bar has been raised in the last decade.

The baseball picks are always scrutinized thoroughly though; it's a great way to spend time after New Year's while killing time until pitchers and catchers report. I always thought the best formula for picking a Hall of Famer is the simplest. Did you look at that player during and right after his career and say, "He's a Hall of Famer, without question"? If the answer is yes, he gets a vote. Albert Pujols has been a Hall of Famer since since his third month in the majors. He only needs to stay healthy. As Bill Parcells used to say, it's not the Hall of Pretty Good.

But we don't get many years where the decisions are so clear-cut, like in 1999 when we had George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount. The invisible line for inclusion is different for every voter, and does a little moving as the years go by.

For example, Blyleven received less than 20 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility. No one looked at him during his career and was ready to put him with Tom Seasver. However, he won close to 300 games, struck out a ton of batters, and played with a couple of champions. Longevity is a virtue for most, and Blyleven had that argument on his side. Eventually and finally, it proved decisive.

Some people believe that if someone is the best player in baseball at some point in his career, that should be good for strong Hall consideration. At least, that's the argument some give for Don Mattingly, who held that title briefly but who saw his career unravel due to a bad back. But if Mattingly goes in, then Dale Murphy has a pretty good argument too.

There's also the "least common denominator" theory of voting. It's the "well, if this guy is in, that guy should be in because that guy was about as good as this guy." Jim Hunter was 224-166. Luis Tiant was 229-172. Hunter is in, Tiant is out. Go figure. But if there's one bad pick, that lets in a few dozen other possibilities at the least.

And then there are the Steroid Boys, who no one seems too sure how to handle. It's easy to vote against Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro now. But what to do with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who were clearly headed toward Cooperstown before they allegedly started cheating?

If I had a vote in this discussion, I probably would have gone with Alomar, Blyleven, Barry Larkin, Jeff Bagwell, and Tim Raines. Lee Smith, Jack Morris and Edgar Martinez would have made me think for a while. But I'm like everyone else except for a few hundred writers -- I get to argue about it for the next 364 days.

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