Monday, December 12, 2011

The Baseball Hall of Fame

Finals time has a funny way of catching up with me. It makes for little posting here. Oh well. Also, I think I'm supposed to have an obligatory Ryan Braun post, but I'm not going to do that. I'm not emotionally ready, for one. Second, I would like MLB to make its decision before I say anything. That's all I have to say about that for now. On to the topic at hand.

It's that time of year for one of my favorite topics: the Baseball Hall of Fame elections. As anyone who hangs around in the baseball corners of these here internets knows, Ron Santo was recently elected by the Veterans' Committee by an overwhelming vote, with 15/16 voters saying "yes" to the longtime (and now, unfortunately, deceased) Cubs player/fan/announcer (who did play one year for the White Sox).

As for Santo, he was clearly a great player. Whether or not he deserves enshrinement is perhaps a different discussion, but I will say this: using the current statistical standards of the Hall of Fame, Ron Santo easily merits admission. Whether or not that standard is a good or bad one is a topic for a different post (hopefully up later this week). What I'd like to talk about, and what's particularly relevant in the case of Santo, I think, is what it is okay and not okay to consider when making a Hall of Fame vote.

First, let me link to the Hall of Fame's website, where the voting instructions for the BBWAA are listed.

You may notice some interesting things on there. For one, and I did not know this, there is nothing in the guidelines that the player must have been "outstanding" or even "good." There's nothing at all about performance. Interesting on all sides of the Hall of Fame debates, no? There are just the time constraints (been retired for five years, only 15 years on the ballot, 10 year playing career). But really, ethically, what's acceptable to do? That's what I'd like to talk about.

1. Playing ability
Obvious, no? But let's start with the obvious. You need to consider it. If we ignored it, I'm sure things would be a lot different. Perhaps "ability" isn't even the best word: I suppose "results" would do better. And the way we measure these things are statistics. So a player's statistics should count more than anything.

2. Circumstances
Broad category, and I apologize for that, but I can't help it. What I mean here is the basics: era, position, and extenuating circumstances. This helps to flesh out #1. Was his career interrupted by war? Injury? Segregation? Was the schedule shorter? Longer? Are there accurate statistics for this player? Were steroids or other drugs an issue? You may adjust (or not) for any and all of these things as you see fit, but it IS important to keep them in mind.

3. Subjective opinions
Obviously, we can use our own opinions here. Keep in mind, this is the THIRD criterion. That means that the other two trump it. Even so, sometimes it's helpful to check these things. Especially for the players for whom there is little or no data. It can be very beneficial for borderline players. And if we haven't seen a player play, it's nice to read what others said about him. However, keep in mind that this is not the primary way in which we measure a Hall of Fame player.

So, what can we NOT do to measure the Hall of Fame candidacy of a player?

1. Artificially raise the standards for enshrinement
Once standards have been set, it's not fair to artificially raise them. You can't all of a sudden start not electing people who are clearly eligible. However, if standards are deemed too high and need to be lowered, that can absolutely be done.

2. Consider a player's character
This is the one I'm sure I'll get the most flack for. People will say that OF COURSE you have to account for a player's character. But the truth is, we don't know anything about these people. We see them in the little snippets. We hear what others have to say about them. We "learn" things like "he's a racist" or "he's a druggie." But we don't know what led to those things. If it adversely affected his performance or baseball overall, so be it (maybe Pete Rose, or Joe Jackson, or Cap Anson would qualify under either of these). If not, though, it probably should not be considered.

So those are my thoughts. Any opinions out there?