All right, all right, all right, I give in. I wasn't going to write about the Hall of Fame balloting because everyone else is and it is one debate that I don't feel comfortable taking a stance on. I just don't know what I think. I think I know, but I am not absolutely sure I do and while I think I have valid points to be made, I don't know that I am right. I am stumbling through the issues and I hope to get some better answers Friday when I talk to Hall of Fame guru and Sports Illustrated writer Jay Jaffe on my "A Podcast to Be Named Later."
What is so great about the Hall of Fame debate is that there isn't a right or wrong opinion. There are viable arguments on a multiple of sides and in many cases we are trying to compare apples to wolverines and water to wine. I love those debates. Trying to fit a square block into a round hole when comparing an Apple to a Wolverine often results in clever opinions and interesting discussions. With most disagreements - outside of politics where there is lying and pandering and disinformation which makes discussion and debate pointless - there is something that both sides can agree on. There is a fundamental foundation of agreement to start with that inevitably results in a place to disagree. That isn't the case with the best debates and the Hall of Fame balloting is one of them.
I love being involved in the Hall of Fame discussion, but more as the devil being an advocate too hash out the relevant sides of what is a very murky argument. I decided to write this because, while I won't stand up on the soapbox and proclaim, "The way it is," I was swarmed over by the momentum of the announcement and I came to feel like I should at least throw my thoughts out there with the disclaimer - I DON'T KNOW.
Here are some basic statements about what I think I think and we can then go back to reading about the balloting from people who I respect and DO KNOW what they are talking about…. even though they also admit they aren't fully sure themselves.
Barry Bonds: Never for Me
I am a moral person that does judge people on how good or bad they are, whether they are trustworthy or aren't and whether they are sincere or disingenuous, but I also believe in understanding and forgiveness. That’s what makes my Hall of Fame opinions, at times, inconsistent and it is why I am not fully sure what I think. Barry Bonds is the face and embodiment of my hypocrisy.
I cannot vote for Barry Bonds because he symbolizes to me how damaging the steroid era was to the purity, the child like innocence and the greatness of what baseball at its best can be. How someone wins and loses matters to me and the Baseball Hall of Fame is an institution I wouldn't tarnish by enshrining Barry Bonds into it.
I read how passionately Peter King of Si.com writes about the NFL Hall of Fame and how he treats that institution like it’s a hallowed place, but I don't feel that way about it like he does. I don't care one lick about Performance Enhancing Drugs use in football and I don't think most fans do either, but I do in baseball. I love Tom Brady and therefore I should hate Peyton Manning, but I don't care if Peyton used or not just like I don't care that Rodney Harrison used PED's. It doesn't have a scintilla of relevance to my opinion of their careers and yet I cannot vote Barry Bonds into the HOF because of PED's.
Bonds put an exclamation point on the tarnish of two of the most hallowed records in all of sports. McGwire and Sosa damaged Roger Maris' single season home run record and Bonds put the final dagger in it by making it a farce. 71 home runs - what a joke. Nobody will ever hit 72 home runs unless they start playing major league baseball on little league fields. That’s a shame, but there was a travesty that seals the deal for me. Knocking Hank Aaron's name off the all time home run leader list is more than a shame, its unforgivable. It symbolizes the end of baseball as a kid's game and ushers in the corporate fact that baseball is now a business. We can't live under the delusion any more and that’s unfortunate. We all know that Santa doesn't exist, but wasn't Christmas more special when we thought he did? Bonds isn't the only person to blame for this, but he is the name and the face of that unfortunate fact.
I am 70% sure that I don't want a single steroid user voted in to the HOF, but I might one day come around and change my opinion on that. One of the great failures of Bud Selig was not suspending Bonds indefinitely before he passed Hank Aaron's home run record. I realize that guarantees that I will be inconsistent in my arguments at some point, but there are a lot of criteria to consider and he tarnished baseball in a way that would never allow me to vote him in regardless of other merits of his case.
A Vote Against Absolutism
I don't think Mike Piazza should have been voted in, at least for now. I don't want PED users to get in and I think he used, but I also don't want players like Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire falling off the ballot. I want all of the writer's options to remain available and the debate to continue to be hashed out.
I am not one of those analysts that draw the line at cheater or non-cheater. If you are then determining who cheated and who didn't becomes your domain and good luck to you in that endeavor.
I also don't buy into the justification that "so and so was a hall of famer before he took a single enhancement." For one, we don't know when someone started or finished using, regardless of what the stats might suggest. Second, by making this argument the voter is saying, "I don't think using PED's should exclude a player from consideration because they cheated, only if it they became Hall of Famers because they cheated." Since we don't know when players started or stopped using or the statistical impact of PED's, how do you apply this philosophy to other candidates? It allows you to put Clemens and Bonds in, but it’s a cookie cutter solution that can't be applied to most candidates. I can't be on board with a philosophy that is tailored to justify voting for two players and that’s what this looks like to me. I understand that all arguments will have some holes, but this one is too flawed for me to embrace.
We need a way to evaluate what PED's meant and how it impacted what the players truly were in comparison to their forefathers and the future players. There was a dead ball era, a juiced ball era, the expansion era, the steroid era and other eras too. Can a number cruncher stop working on improving WAR and VORP so we can determine how Sammy Sosa using PED's compares to Harmon Killebrew and Willie McCovey?
The Sabermetric Argument as I see it
$50,000 dollars in Boston isn't the same as $50,000 dollars in Terra Haute, Indiana and there is an argument to be made that that is how we should treat PED's. Corporations hand out cost of living increases and adjust employee salaries based on the differences in the cost of living, why can't a billion dollar media industry apply the same philosophy? We live in a mathematical era, why hasn't someone (Fangraphs or Baseball Prospectus?) looked at the numbers in the non-steroid era as opposed to the steroid era and applied the appropriate statistical adjustments? Then we could compare the users to the non-users. It would have its issues or limitations that we can debate every year going forward, but in this debate what doesn't?
Check your Source: It Matters for the HOF
I don't normally put much stock in the analysis of professional athletes. I do enjoy the texture that they can provide, but I don't value their analysis about the game they played more than a writer who accumulates data and lays out a well thought out argument based on their knowledge even though it lacks experience on the field. I do however value their opinions when it comes to the Hall of Fame, as long as they aren't just shaking the pom poms and lobbying for a contemporary. The percentage of players that get on the ballot, never mind get in, is so small that the nuance and the texture that guys like John Smoltz provide us when trying to separate "extremely good" to "hall of fame great" is insightful to me. The margin between the best of all time and those that fall just short is so small that when Pedro Martinez distinguishes between two players, that means something to me.
The Voting Body is changing - the Resumes aren't
I am fascinated by the how the voting body is changing and the potential impact it will have on the Hall of Fame. Advanced metrics has drastically altered the way a lot of writers analyze the game and evaluate its players, which will have a significant impact on a generations worth of candidates. WAR has become common language in today's vernacular even though it is an extremely unreliable statistic. It grossly overrates defense, I have no idea how it factors in base running, and there isn't a consensus formula from media outlet to media outlet even though talking heads throw it around without mentioning that fact. What future candidates will be short-changed because they have "traditional" counting stats but fall short in the advanced metrics and vice versa? Who is the Hall of Fames version of Jason Heyward?
I am curious to know how writers reconcile the fact that who is voting and when they are voting rather than the player's careers determines the borderline choices. If Jim Rice was up for consideration 10 years later than he was then he probably isn't a hall of famer today. If Tim Raines was nominated 10 years earlier it appears unlikely that he gets close enough to get in in his final year. I find it fascinating that the writers that saw Tim Raines play the most are the ones that vote for him the least. Jim Edmonds couldn't even garner enough votes to stay on the ballot this year, but with the way analysts distort defensive value today I can see how he could get elected if it was 2026 rather than 2016.
We live in the age of analytics and I wonder if the more numbers we have the less we actually know. I am not someone who believes that you have to have played the game to know the game, but it appears to me that the perspective of the current voting body is changing the history of baseball rather than recording it. Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics.
Chris Mitchell is a staff writer for RotoExperts.com, a Contributing writer for BaseballAmerica.com, SBNation's MinorLeagueBall.com and FantasyDraft.com. He also hosts two Podcasts: "A Podcast To Be Named Later" and "The RotoExperts Fantasy Sports Show" that formerly aired on the Fantasy Sports Network (FNTSY). You can find him on Twitter @CJMitch73.