Any fan who follows baseball has plenty of opinions to offer. Opinions on which players were great, which were overrated, or which were more important to the game than their numbers might suggest. Each year, these opinionated folks get an opportunity to evaluate potential Hall of Fame candidates, and , ultimately, the Hall of Fame voters as well.
But beyond the inevitable debate over who belongs and who doesn’t is a simple set of facts that cannot be disputed. Sure, reality is perception to some degree. But at the same time, there are enough publicly available statistics and records to allow for an objective review of players’ careers.
There have many times when I’ve found myself wondering what the voters were thinking, but that has never been truer than it is right now, in the wake of the Class of 2011 selection process. This year’s voters failed to make rational choices, and if they can’t be rational then they shouldn’t get to vote. In short, the voting process must change.
At this point, it may sound as though I’m simply lodging another complaint because someone I like didn’t get in. And that’s accurate, but not the whole story. This is about wanting accountability, wanting voters to have to make defensible choices as opposed to naming whomever they wish without consequence.
There were two players on this year’s ballot. One got in. The other did not. Each played for nearly 2 decades and had and excellent career. Here are their lifetime batting lines (AVG/OBP/ SLG):
|Player A||.295/ .371/ .444|
|Player B||.300/ .371/ .443|
Player A’s OPS of .815 and B’s of .814 both equate to OPS+ stats of 116.
Like their batting lines, their 162-game averages– composites of what each did in a full season– are nearly identical:
|Player A||Player B|
Both players were even better in the post-season. Their lines in the playoffs?
|Player A||.338/ .397/ .465|
|Player B||.313/ .381/ .448|
And if old school metrics don’t do it for you, look at the average WAR (wins above replacement player): 3.6 for Player A, 3.7 for Player B. In a sport with a great amount of statistical variability, this level of similarity is astounding. But it doesn’t stop with the numbers.
Both players were 12-time All-Stars who were considered to be among the best at their respective positions for more than a decade. Both players won multiple Gold Gloves and multiple Silver Sluggers, for what those awards are worth. Both, at the time, were considered “complete” players– sound defensively, and possessing a range of hitting skills.
When considering the breadth of what each accomplished on the field, what could possibly be the rationale for selecting one of these guys for the Hall, but not the other?
The answer is that there is none. If one is a Hall of Famer, so is the other.
As I’m sure you’ve deduced, Player A is Barry Larkin, who played from 1986-2004. Player B is Roberto Alomar, whose tenure ran from 1988-2004. And while it’s bad enough that Alomar made it but Larkin did not, it gets exponentially worse when you consider how the voting went.
Alomar got an incredible 90% of the votes. Larkin? 62.1%.
90 to 62? How is that possible? Did Larkin kill someone’s dog? Was he rude in the clubhouse? Did he spit on the media at post-game conferences? Though Larkin will eventually get in– if not next year, then certainly the year after– it is inexcusable for one of his contemporaries with nearly identical statistics to have been elected so definitively while he remains on the outside looking in.
And it’s not hyperbole to say that this goes from worse to worst when you realize that modern statistics reveal that Alomar was not, in fact, the player he was perceived to be at the time. Defensive metrics like UZR (ultimate zone rating) and Defensive WAR indicate that Alomar may have been overrated in the field.
And oh by the way- Larkin played the tougher position. And has an MVP to his credit to boot.
All of this leads back to the point that the voting process needs to change. If the voters can’t draw appropriate and objective conclusions, then they shouldn’t be voting. Opinions are one thing, but they must mesh with reality.
To offer some very specific examples, I’ll point out the voting of some of ESPN’s staff members.
Buster Olney did vote for Alomar, but did not vote for Larkin. Ditto for Howard Bryant, Tony Jackson, Michael Knisley, Rob Parker, Peter Pascarelli, and Claire Smith. While this post isn’t about calling out individual voters, I invite any or all of them to explain their decisions.
(For the record, some on this list did cast votes for Edgar Martinez, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Rafael Palmeiro, or Tim Raines.)
The Larkin-Alomar debate is merely a way to provide evidence of how the system is broken. There are numerous other examples of snubs, or of less-than-deserving players being selected. And many of those could be used to prove the same point. Every time something like this happens, the integrity of Hall takes another hit.
The voting process needs to change.