Cooperstown 2013: No-brainer to no thanks - NBC Sports

Cooperstown 2013: No-brainer to no thanks
Star-heavy class shines brightly, but larger questions remain in spotlight
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January 9, 2014, 1:00 am

A million things to get to here, so much time so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.

Headline: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas elected to the Hall of Fame.

Let’s get to the good stuff first. This will be the biggest class elected by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America since 1999, when George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount were elected. When you throw in the three managers elected unanimously by the Expansion Era Committee (Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox), we have a powerhouse Hall of Fame event, one of the biggest in the museum’s 75 year history. After last year’s dud of a ceremony, they need it.

We should take a moment to celebrate that three great players got in, even if they were obvious. I don’t think many people would deny that Maddux, Glavine and Thomas are Hall of Famers. You could argue that Mike Mussina was a better candidate than Glavine or that Jeff Bagwell was at least the equal of Frank Thomas or any number of other gripes.

But at least this. Last year, when the Hall of Fame voted for zero players, it was an embarrassment for the Hall of Fame, an embarrassment for the BBWAA and it was lousy for baseball fans. There was some concern, especially in the aftermath of that disaster, that the BBWAA would only elect Maddux. Instead, the group voted in the three most obvious candidate.

Like I say: At least this.

* * *

Headline: Sixteen people do not vote for Greg Maddux.

Does a player’s Hall of Fame percentage matter in the long run? No. It doesn’t. If you get 75 percent, you are a Hall of Famer. As far as I know, they don’t have any special backdoor clubs where only the 95-percenters get to drink good gin and play poker.

That said: Sixteen! I thought four or five might not vote for Maddux. Sixteen is a lot. I mean, sure, 19 people didn’t vote for Ted Williams, but a lot of writers hated Ted. Sure 38 didn’t vote for Mickey Mantle but, uh, you know, he, um, didn’t hit .300 for his career. Or something. Sure, 22 people didn’t vote for Willie Mays but ... OK, I’m going to stop this now, there have always been indefensible choices by the BBWAA.*

*Pete Rose weighed in on this on Twitter by saying: “If Mays, Aaron, Musial and Ruth didn’t get the unanimous vote than(sic) no one should.”

I’ve heard this reasoning before ... and on gut level it makes some sense. But when you break it down, it falls apart for me, and not because of the “Just because there were injustices before doesn’t mean you repeat them,” line. That may be true too, but my issue with the “If Mays wasn’t unanimous no one should be” philosophy is that the vote isn’t some cooperative project where a foreman says, “You, you, you, and you -- this year, you don’t vote for Maddux ... after all, Ruth wasn’t voted unanimously. We’ve got a tradition to uphold!”

No, some schmuck has to take it upon himself to not vote for Maddux. He or she has to look at the name GREG MADDUX on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot -- four Cy Youngs, 355 wins, 3,000-plus strikeouts, a period of dominance that matches the best this game has ever had -- and say, “Nope. Not checking that box.”

This year, 15 of those schmucks didn’t vote for Maddux and (at least so far) never even explained why.

Here’s something I DID notice: Sixteen people did not vote for Maddux. But only ONE -- the now famous Ken Gurnick -- made his vote public. He backed up his vote. This is something I respect.

And I decided to look into this a little bit.

Through the fantastic Baseball Think Factor Ballot Collecting Gizmo, we have 209 ballots (we’ll count the Deadspin ballot too -- more on that in a minute).

That leaves 362 ballots that were not made public.

OK, now look at this:

The public ballots averaged 8.86 names on the ballot.

The secret ballots averaged a little bit less -- 8.17 names per ballot. So not a huge difference in the numbers of players. But there is quite a difference in the players themselves.

Here are the percentage comparisons between public and secret for our three new Hall of Famers:

Maddux: 99.5 percent public, 95.9 percent private.
Glavine: 95.7 percent public, 89.8 percent private.
Thomas: 89.5 percent public, 80.4 percent private.

So, as you can begin to see the private voters were quite a bit stingier than the public voters when it came to the three big guys on the ballot. Fifteen of the 16 people who didn’t vote for Maddux, 37 of the 46 who didn’t vote for Glavine and 71 of the 93 who didn’t vote for Thomas kept their ballots secret.

What about the players who missed getting elected?

Craig Biggio: 79.4 percent public, 72.1 percent private.

Uh huh. He fell two votes short ... and the reason was the private voters. I suspect it’s a lot easier to leave Biggio off the ballot for whatever reason without having to defend your choice.

Now, look at these two:

Mike Piazza: 67.9 percent public, 58.8 percent private.
Jeff Bagwell: 56.5 percent public, 53 percent private.

More people seem comfortable not voting for Bagwell in public than Piazza. I’m not sure why, exactly. That’s a big gap for Piazza.

The people who are hardest on the presumed steroid users tended to keep their votes private.

Barry Bonds: 42.6 percent public, 30.1 percent private.
Roger Clemens: 41.1 percent public, 32 percent private.

Three players who shocked me with how little support they got: Tim Raines, Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina. The first two went way down this year and Mussina did not have an auspicious debut on the ballot. Not surprisingly, the trio did much better in public votes than private votes. A theory: Maybe people who release their votes tend to be more Internet savvy, and there have obviously been pretty strong and compelling Internet campaigns for those players.

Tim Raines: 54.1 percent public, 41.4 percent private.
Curt Schilling: 36.8 percent public, 24.9 percent private
Mike Mussina: 26.3 percent public, 16.9 percent private.

Yeah, only one in six private voters picked Mussina, whose Hall-of-Fame case is essentially as good as Tom Glavine’s.

So, did any player do BETTER in the private votes than in the public. Down at the bottom of the ballot, Mark McGwire and Larry Walker actually did slightly better in the private sector, but neither got even 12 percent of the vote. The biggest differences:

Lee Smith, 23.9 percent public, 33.4 percent private.
Jack Morris, 61.2 percent public, 61.6 percent private.

Smith, in particular, seemed a vote that some BBWAA members would rather keep to themselves.

And of course only the private people voted for Moises Alou (six votes!), Hideo Nomo (6), Luis Gonzalez (5), Eric Gagne (2), J.T. Snow (2!!), Jacque Jones (1) and Kenny Rogers (1).

I wouldn’t expect too many people to come forward to admit those votes.

There are so many things wrong with the Hall of Fame voting right now that it feels silly to talk about just one or two. Every time I bring up a Hall of Fame voting change to Bill James, he kind of sighs and acts like I’ve said, “Hey Bill, I’ve got a way to fix Congress.”

Still, it’s clear to me that the BBWAA should make its votes public. I know there are some negatives that go with this -- including the potential that voters will feel bullied into voting in a way they would not want to vote. I understand.

But the Hall of Fame does not belong to the BBWAA. It belongs to everybody. If you’re going to vote, you should stand behind your vote. And if public pressure keeps people from throwing a gag vote to J.T. Snow or skipping over Greg Maddux for some inexplicable reason, hey, I don’t see how that’s a bad thing.

* * *

Headline: Craig Biggio falls two votes short of election.

So, let’s see here: Pie Traynor finished two votes shy of election in 1947, and was elected to the Hall of Fame the next year. Nellie Fox, meanwhile, fell two votes short of election in 1985 and had to wait a dozen years before he was finally inducted. Well, he didn’t wait I guess because Fox died 10 years before the BBWAA vote. He actually got a big boost in the Hall of Fame vote after he died, which probably describes the absurdity of this process as well as anything else.

Biggio’s percentage of 74.8 percent rounds up to 75 percent, but the Hall of Fame does not do it that way. If you have 74.99 percent of the vote, you’re out. I guess this makes as much sense as any other part of the process.

Obviously people can point to a few of the protest ballots -- not sure how many of them there were, but with 16 no-votes for Maddux, I’m guessing a handful -- and say those are the reason why Biggio isn’t going to the Hall of Fame. But, realistically, Biggio is like like the giant marlin caught in The Old Man and the Sea. As time goes on, sharks pick at the carcass bit by bit. An unfounded accusation here. A “he didn’t seem like a great player” there. And, all in all, he falls just short.

The real question is: What about next year? As you probably know, next year’s ballot is, in some ways, even more loaded than this year. Coming on the ballot: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz -- you would think of those three as relative locks (Smoltz will be a topic I’m sure we’ll discuss at length).

But Gary Sheffield also comes on the ballot, and while his case will be controversial, I’m betting he takes some votes. Jeff Kent stayed on the ballot, and I expect more and more people to compare Kent and Biggio. People might start to realize that as good a player as Biggio was, Bagwell was better. That could play a role.

Point is: I THINK Biggio makes it next year. But there’s no predicting this crazy ride.

* * *

Headline: Deadspin announces the person who gave them his vote.

It’s my longtime friend, Dan LeBatard. Now, people will have all sorts of opinions about this the ethics and motivation of all this; I would ask people to read Dan’s explanation and then decide. I know a lot of people in the BBWAA are outraged. And I know a lot of people outside the BBWAA are entertained.

Let me say two things about it:

1. I think the fans should have a say in the Hall of Fame. I don’t think the fans should have the WHOLE say -- like a fan vote for the Hall of Fame -- but I do think there should be fan input into the thing. I also think there should be broadcaster input. I also think some of the people who have spent their lives studying and playing the game should have input. I mean, seriously, Bob Costas and Bill James and John Thorn and Tom Seaver and Brian Kenny and Tom Tango and Keith Olbermann and George Will couldn’t add to this process?

I’m not sure “The people should have a say” was really the point of the Deadspin experiment or if it was more a way to kick and mock the BBWAA while getting some attention. Either way, that point pushed through for me.

2. The Deadspin ballot is a fantastic one. They (or Dan, I guess) voted for 10 players, the full compliment, and put 10 outstanding choices that all have a self-evident explanation -- Maddux, Thomas, Glavine,, Piazza, Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell, Clemens, Bonds, Schilling. People might be outraged about this whole thing, but the ballot itself is superb.

* * *

Headline: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens lose support.

Jeff Passan makes a strong point: There are still 13 years left for these two players on the ballot. That really is a long time. As of right now it looks like those two players will never be elected by the BBWAA -- in the aftermath of the vote, that was my view. But I’m not so sure.

Jim Rice’s case looked dead in the after five years. Ralph Kiner could not have looked less likely after his first three years on the ballot. Bert Blyleven rose from 14.1 percent in his second year all the way to the Hall. Times do change. Opinions evolve. Momentum builds.

What I am convinced of now, though, is that there won’t be any quick adjustments. There was a theory rolling about that some people would not vote for Bonds and Clemens the first year as a punishment but would vote for them subsequently. That obviously did not happen as their vote totals went down.

Opinions are hardening, and I think it might be because people are getting used to the idea of a Hall of Fame that does not have the all-time home run leader and one of its greatest pitchers. Hey, the Hall of Fame didn’t close. Hey, baseball didn’t shut down. The outrage -- whatever outrage there was -- settled.

So, no, I don’t expect anything surprising to happen over the next two or three or four years. Bonds and Clemens' support might continue to go down. But it’s possible that at some point the tide will turn just a little, and maybe then a little more, and ... we’ll see.

* * *

Headline: Rafael Palmeiro falls off the ballot.

We all kind of thought one of the players connected with steroids would fall off the ballot this year -- Sosa or McGwire or Palmeiro. I’m not too surprised it was Palmeiro ... and honestly, it’s for the best for him too. Palmeiro was CERTAINLY never going to be elected by the BBWAA, so for him this would have just been an annual flogging. It’s best for him (and probably for McGwire and Sosa as well) to get off the BBWAA ballot and quietly wait a decade or two for the views about the Steroid Era to soften.

I do wonder if McGwire in particular would ever do that -- respectfully ask the BBWAA to remove his name from Hall of Fame consideration. It would be a smart move on numerous levels.

* * *

Headline: Tim Raines' momentum stopped.

He was really making some progress, but this year Raines’ support dropped -- last year he was up over 50 percent, this year back down under.

I don’t think this had anything to do with Raines himself. It was the numbers game. There were simply too many good players on the ballot. And there will be next year. And for a couple more years.

Raines has another eight years on the ballot, and he might need all of them with the series of great players coming on the next few years. But I think they’ll cycle through. And I think, in the end, Tim Raines will get elected to the Hall.

* * *

Headline: Jack Morris loses support and ages off the Hall ballot.

I know some people like my friend Jon Heyman believe it was an aggressive anti-Morris campaign that kept Jack Morris from getting elected. I disagree, but my opinion really shouldn’t count because I wrote a lot about Morris on the Internet, maybe more than anybody.

I think in the final analysis, it’s pretty simple. Morris didn’t win 300 games. He didn’t win a Cy Young award. He didn’t strike out 3,000 batters. Every single pitcher elected by the BBWAA since 1976 did at least one of those things. The last pitcher who didn’t was Robin Roberts, and he WOULD have won the Cy Young Award in 1952 for sure, but it didn’t exist.

If Morris had won 300 games (he won 254), I think he would have been elected first or second ballot. If he had 3,000 strikeouts, I think he would have been elected before Bert Blyleven (he had 2,478 strikeouts). If he had won a Cy Young award -- just my opinion -- I think he gets elected too.

Those should not be Hall of Fame measures, by the way, or, anyway, I don’t think people should vote for the Hall of Fame based on them. But there is a one-sentence quality to the Hall of Fame. Tell me why this person should be in the Hall of Fame in one sentence.

Tom Seaver won 311 games, struck out 3,640 batters, threw 61 shutouts and won three Cy Young Awards.

Bam. Hall of Famer.

George Brett had 3,000 hits, won three batting titles, was a league MVP, led the Royals to their only World Series victory and was one of the great postseason hitters in baseball history.

Bam. Hall of Famer.

Jack Morris ... it’s just more nuanced than that. He won Game 7. He was durable. He started Opening Day a lot. There just wasn’t that hammer. This is why you heard about the aura and pitching to the score and so on. He didn’t quite do those things that get the Hall of Fame votes, no matter how much people tried to put him in that box.

He’s in the Veteran’s Committee’s care now, and I think its for the best. I believe the Veteran’s will put him in the Hall of Fame. And I promise to celebrate that day.

Joe Posnanski is the national columnist for NBC Sports. Follow him on twitter @JPosnanski