On Hall of Fame histrionics

Forgive me for deviating slightly from the topic of the Yankees, but with the hot stove cooling down, I figured I would take a look at the current topic du jour: the Hall of Fame voting.  William provided an excellent writeup of the results yesterday that is definitely worth checking out.  As you may or may not have heard, Barry Larkin was the only candidate who exceeded the 80 percent threshold required to earn enshrinement in Cooperstown.  Larkin was not an especially controversial choice, as he was a franchise icon for the Cincinnati Reds who provided excellent production throughout his career at an up the middle position.  There was plenty of material in his resume to impress both statheads and traditionalists alike.

As for the other candidates, Larkin’s statistical clone Alan Trammell seems to be making slow progress and sabermetric whipping boy Jack Morris inches ever closer to enshrinement.   Two Yankee legends, Bernie Williams and Don Mattingly, look like they not going to be heading to Cooperstown anytime soon for any reason other than touring the Ommegang Brewery (highly recommended if you find yourself in the area) or visiting the Cooperstown Farmers Museum.  While it is a little sad to see two great players of my youth fall short of the Hall of Fame threshold, it is hard for me to be that surprised or disappointed.

Maybe it is because there have been no great Yankee candidates in recent years (or that I am too young to remember a lot of the players on the ballot), but I have found myself to be fairly indifferent to all the drama about the Hall of Fame Voting process of late.  As somebody who tries to analyze baseball from a statistical perspective, I am sympathetic to the arguments of those who make the arguments of a player’s hall-worthiness based on their lifetime WAR, OPS+, ERA+, etc., for this at least establishes some kind of tangible standard of greatness.  It cuts through a lot of bogus media storylines, biases, and other intangible factors that seem to have no bearing on the player’s on-field contributions.

That said, there is also something compelling about the less systematic, more emotional way of choosing candidates that sports writers seem to use in pushing candidates such as Morris or Jim Rice, for instance. I understand the appeal of having the Hall of Fame being made up of people who in the minds of fans and sportswriters have had a significant influence on the game.  In my mind, the Hall of Fame is not simply a collection of the most effective performers in baseball history, but rather, a tribute to baseball’s rich history.  There is no other sport that has played the role that baseball has in American culture for more than a century (even if the NFL destroys it in TV ratings), and I understand the appeal of recognizing compelling figures who have contributed to this great tradition.

Ultimately, for me, arguments about marginal candidates like Rice, Morris, or (in the next few years) Posada are ultimately beside the point.  The constantly nasty sniping that seems to take place around election time has totally turned me off to the current state of the Hall.  The stats vs. storylines argument is tired enough, to say nothing of the steroid drama.  I tend to take the Small Hall viewpoint, and in an ideal world would want the Hall to only be made up of all-time greats.  Of course, that cat has long been already out of the bag, but I seen no problem in trying to raise the standards.  If one has to argue vociferously about the merits of a particular candidate for many years, in countless columns, blogposts, and snarky tweets, then in my mind their contribution to the game was probably not significant enough to merit inclusion.  To paraphrase the late Justice Potter Stewart, I know a Hall of Fame candidate when I see one.

Ultimately, there are many great players who won’t ever make the Hall of Fame, and Donnie and Bernie will likely be among them.  Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter are likely in on the first ballot, while Jorge Posada will be an interesting test case for the stats vs. storyline divide for years to come.  Regardless of where these players end up, however, nothing will be able to cheapen the joy I have felt from watching these players take the field in pinstripes.  Rather than squabbling over arbitrarily-determined merits, I’d rather reflect on the great contributions that these players have made to the Yankee franchise, and the memories that will long outlast their playing careers.

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