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Alomar & Blyleven Elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame

January 5, 2011

The calendar year and baseball season can largely be matched up by a series of events. Spring Training signals that winter is nearing an end. The All Star Game signals the middle of summer. The playoffs arrive as the leaves begin to change colors and winter nears. Each year, things kick off with a major announcement just a few days into January of which players have been elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Today is that announcement.

However, this year the anticipation leading up to the announcement has been different than most other years. This is in part due to the changes in technology as sites like Twitter have allowed for massive ongoing debates that seemingly include the sport’s best writers and biggest fans in the same conversation. Countless blogs across the Internet have had posts up over the past few weeks both about why a certain candidate should get in and why he shouldn’t. Advances in statistics and an increased ability to find them have permitted players to be re-evaluated in a new light. And finally, we’re seeing the next step in the debate on how to approach the “Steroid Era”.

In order to be elected into the Hall of Fame a player must be named on a minimum of 75.0% of the ballots submitted in a given year. Each voter, a member of the BBWAA for at least 10 consecutive years, is permitted to name up to 10 players on their ballots. There are 293 players enshrined in Cooperstown. Today we learned that two additional names will be added to that list as Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven have been elected into the Hall of Fame. Of the record 581 votes that were cast, Alomar was named on 523 (90.0%) of them and Blyleven was named on 463 (79.7%).

Alomar was seemingly an easy choice in his second year of eligibility. In fact, many were surprised when he was not elected last year. Much of the speculation is that numerous writers elected to leave him off of their ballots last year in a form of punishment for an incident during his career (in 1996) where he spat in the face of former MLB umpire John Hirschbeck. The incident resulted in Alomar having to serve a suspension at the start of the following season. Hirschbeck has long since forgiven him. Yet, having to wait an extra year may have been a penance that even Alomar would be willing to endure given the end results. One of the game’s greatest second baseman, Alomar has earned his place among the game’s greats.

Blyleven, on the other hand, has not nearly had the straightforward path to Cooperstown as his fellow inductee did. In his 14th year of eligibility, time was running short for the 287 game winner. Blyleven’s path to the Hall of Fame has been a tenuous one as he’s been overlooked year after year. Yet, the past few years have seen a growth of support for him as statistics have started to be looked at in a different light. Sabermetrics and an advanced understanding of a player’s peripheral stats have led to a change in the way a player’s performance is analyzed. For many years, a pitcher was mostly viewed by his career totals for wins, strikeouts, and ERA. With 287 wins, there were only 7 players with more that are not currently in the Hall of Fame. Four of those (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson) have yet to become eligible. Blyleven is also 5th on the career strikeouts list with 3,701. His career ERA of 3.31 ranks him 305th of all pitchers with a minimum of 1,000 career innings pitched. Years ago a pitcher with those numbers would surely get into the Hall of Fame yet ironically it took changes to way we view statistics for Blyleven’s successes to be fully recognized.

The Internet – both blogs and Twitter – had been abuzz for weeks leading up to this announcement with multiple varying views of what players deserved election and those that didn’t. The opinions out there have been quite interesting. The Baseball Bloggers Alliance, for one, recently took a poll of our member blogs to determine who deserved election. Of the 150 votes submitted, mine included, only Alomar and Blyleven received 75% of the vote. Our “recommendation” was so pointed that the Seattle Times and NBC’s Hardball Talk picked up our press release and based an articles around the prediction. Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times went through a long process of explaining his predictions and ultimately came to the same result. Fellow BBA member, The Hall of Very Good, has spent the past few days assessing each of the candidates, hosting a live chat on the impending announcement, and compiling some of the Twitter debates that have waged between opinionated supporters.

Finally, there were numerous actual voters who posted their selections and the reasoning behind them. Many, such as Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman, have been vilified for days over names they left off of their ballots (namely Blyleven’s). Others, such as ESPN’s Jayson Stark, have taken things a step further by recognizing the dilemma voters have just started and are about to endure. Stark’s argument (which should be read in full, I will merely paraphrase) is that the Hall of Fame needs to provide its voters with some guidance about how to treat the “Steroid Era” players. He argues that it is difficult enough determining who deserves to be elected but with the increasing number of players becoming eligible who are somehow linked to that era, the decision has become more of a challenge. Today nearly all voters are largely ignoring any player with a link to performance enhancing drugs. This is why Mark McGwire has seen his vote totals fluctuate around 20% each year he has been on the ballot. This is why Rafael Palmeiro, on the ballot for the first time this year, received a mere 11% of the vote. McGwire hit 583 home runs. Palmeiro hit 569 and had 3,020 career hits. Under normal circumstances, those totals would mean surefire election. Yet, with their link to PEDs election very likely may never happen for either player.

In the upcoming few years, there will be more players with links to PEDs who will become eligible for the ballot. Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Clemens, and others will all see the same fate as McGwire and Palmeiro unless there is a change to the process, or at least to the mindset of the voters. The Hall of Fame has given the voters no guidelines to follow with regards to the “Steroid Era” of baseball. As such, it is becoming more and more difficult to determine where to draw a line. As Stark writes, we may see instances where there are no players elected in a given year. Or, worse yet, we may see players linked to PEDs after they have already been enshrined. What then will the Hall of Fame do to address the issue?

Questions will also arise as to how to approach the borderline cases. Sure, Palmeiro was only “caught” once but he has become a poster boy for the Era because he wagged his finger in the face of Congress. McGwire had long been suspected of use before finally admitting to doing so last winter. Some believe an admission would help his cause but his vote total actually decreased this year. Then there are players such as Andy Pettitte. He was named in the Mitchell Report for having used HGH. Upon release of the report he quickly came out and admitted the truth, that he had used the drug sparingly to recover from an injury. Pettitte was praised for his honesty. But when the time comes that his name appears on the ballot, how will the voters treat his candidacy? Without any guidance from the Hall of Fame, votes like Stark might be left to wonder whether he should be treated the same as the McGwires and Bonds of the world.

Baseball’s Hall of Fame is the last landing spot for baseball’s greatest. While the system to get players there may be flawed, that debate has no clear resolution. Today, however, the congratulations and celebrations belong to Alomar and Blyleven. Their accomplishments should be recognized, not overlooked due to a flawed system.

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From → Hall of Fame

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