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Monday, December 31, 2012

Deadspin: ESPN Writer Has The Single Best Strategy For Dealing With The Hall Of Fame’s Steroid Problem

T.J. Quinn: “[T]wo years ago, I decided to stop voting. I haven’t returned the past two ballots. “It’s cool” just wasn’t enough to overcome the myriad arguments that were persuading me I should give up that sacred right. I just couldn’t do it anymore.

This year, with the release of a ballot filled with players who are either confirmed or suspected dopers, a number of my fellow Baseball Writers of Association of America members find themselves in the awkward position of judging a group of men who cannot be judged by the old standards.

I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t my mess to solve, and I wouldn’t be qualified to solve it even if it were.”

Barry Petchesky: “Quinn’s absolutely right. Voters haven’t been given a single instruction on how to deal with the PED era, even though it’s the most significant sea change in MLB legacies and statistics since the mound was lowered. The character clause is too broad, and is a joke anyway because of guys like [Tom Yawkey]. Without direction, as Quinn writes, the electorate is ‘575 writers apply[ing] 575 different standards.’”

My personal solution would be for the HoF to tell voters that they should ignore PED use prior to the current testing regime when voting for entrants, but create a permanent exhibit at the HoF detailing the history of the steroids era and use of PEDs from steroids to amphetamines throughout the history of the game while also discussing the media controversies around various players. But Quinn and Petchesky make strong points about how an already fractious electorate has blown completely up over this particular issue.

The Clarence Thomas of BBTF (scott) Posted: December 31, 2012 at 02:56 PM | 32 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: deadspin, hall of fame

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   1. Ivan Grushenko of Hong Kong Posted: December 31, 2012 at 06:36 PM (#4335597)
Ah yes, the old Ostrich Play....Brilliant!
   2. Tripon Posted: December 31, 2012 at 06:39 PM (#4335600)
They haven't been given instruction on how to vote because that's not the job for the Hall of Fame.
   3. fra paolo Posted: December 31, 2012 at 06:42 PM (#4335602)
the old Ostrich Play

I don't think that's entirely fair. There is a case to be made that the writers are not really qualified to decide whether steroids = cheating, so the elections for the Sillyball Era should be deferred to the Veterans' Committee, or possibly some other group of players.
   4. Lassus Posted: December 31, 2012 at 06:46 PM (#4335604)
Yet one more reason never to visit Deadspin.
   5. DA Baracus is a "bloodthirsty fan of Atlanta." Posted: December 31, 2012 at 06:52 PM (#4335606)
Oh, they were serious. Quinn's attention getting got attention, credit to him.
   6. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: December 31, 2012 at 07:12 PM (#4335617)
Every voter applying his own standard? Right, that's how elections work. If there were only one standard, we would only need to ask one guy.
   7. Rob_Wood Posted: December 31, 2012 at 07:17 PM (#4335619)
That is a ridiculous comment since voters and observers have been clamoring for clarification for quite awhile now in the face of the steroids class entering the ballot.
   8. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: December 31, 2012 at 07:47 PM (#4335631)
That is a ridiculous comment since voters and observers have been clamoring for clarification for quite awhile now in the face of the steroids class entering the ballot.

The lack of clarification is the clarification. If they wanted to say, "Don't vote for guys with a positive PED test" they could have. They could have said "Don't consider PED use in your vote", they didn't. So apply your own standard and vote. If you need your hand held, we probably don't need you voting.
   9. Rob_Wood Posted: December 31, 2012 at 08:27 PM (#4335648)
That is one point of view. However, this is not voting for high school class president. This vote (the results) actually means an awful lot to a great many people. I for one am not comfortable allowing 500-600 baseball writers the sole voice in how this generation of players will be recognized in baseball's Hall of Fame. It seems to me that people who are comfortable with that care very little for the Hall of Fame.
   10. DKDC Posted: December 31, 2012 at 08:36 PM (#4335653)
You're not comfortable with the idea of baseball writers deciding who gets into a hall of fame filled with players selected by baseball writers?
   11. Rob_Wood Posted: December 31, 2012 at 08:56 PM (#4335658)
Are you obtuse? Don't you think the steroids issue clouds the issue a bit, and in a way that the typical baseball writer cannot handle? Even smart baseball writers have posted ridiculous ballots. If that does not trouble you, I am sorry for you and you should not post in threads dealing with the baseball hall of fame.
   12. The District Attorney Posted: December 31, 2012 at 09:10 PM (#4335662)
I don't think there is anything special about baseball beat writers, relative to other people "in baseball", that makes them particularly unable to "handle the steroid issue".

However, it should be pretty obvious that, for instance, Bill James, Vin Scully, Earl Weaver and Doug Glanville also know a little something about both the era in question and about baseball history in general. Yet they can't vote, because they weren't baseball beat writers. You don't have to put down the writers any to point that silliness out.
   13. Tripon Posted: December 31, 2012 at 09:48 PM (#4335674)
The steroid issue didn't cloud how writers voted for football players in their Hall of Fame. And football has a much larger issue with steroids than baseball does.
   14. cardsfanboy Posted: December 31, 2012 at 10:37 PM (#4335693)
The steroid issue didn't cloud how writers voted for football players in their Hall of Fame. And football has a much larger issue with steroids than baseball does.


Baseball is a much better sport in every single facet imaginable, so I'm not sure that comparing the two is doing any service to MLB.

   15. depletion Posted: December 31, 2012 at 11:34 PM (#4335714)
The steroid issue didn't cloud how writers voted for football players in their Hall of Fame. And football has a much larger issue with steroids than baseball does.

Baseball is more performance numbers oriented than football. Everyone has hitting or pitching numbers in baseball, but many football positions accumulate only fairly obtuse stats. I just found out yesterday who holds the single-season rushing record.
The issues that Quinn doesn't want to handle, or doesn't feel qualified to handle, are "what is performance, when we don't know which players were enhancing their performance" and "what is the integrity of the game and how much did PED use affect that". I understand the HOF vote should be based on performance and integrity, among other things.
Baseball is a much better sport in every single facet imaginable, so I'm not sure that comparing the two is doing any service to MLB.

Football's a pretty cool sport. I fully enjoy the meaninglessness of two college teams, of which I know nothing, go at it full tilt on a Saturday. Baseball's better, but I like the other game, too.
   16. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: January 01, 2013 at 12:32 AM (#4335737)
Regardless of how you feel about the BBWAAA's ability to vote for the HOF; whether or not MLB should've offered some explicit direction; or whether you think any of this is a big deal or not; one thing is clear:

We all knew this cluster#### was going to happen right about now, with these players, in this way, and nobody did anything in anticipation.
   17. bobm Posted: January 01, 2013 at 12:38 AM (#4335741)
We all knew this cluster#### was going to happen right about now, with these players, in this way, and nobody did anything in anticipation.


A timely comment also well suited to the OT-Politics thread.
   18. DanG Posted: January 01, 2013 at 12:44 AM (#4335744)
Voters haven’t been given a single instruction on how to deal with the PED era, even though it’s the most significant sea change in MLB legacies and statistics since the mound was lowered. The character clause is too broad, and is a joke anyway
The HOF has its fingers crossed that everything will work out and they won't have to take action.

At the least, the HOF should make a statement offering direction to the voters on how they should assess the players who chose to use illegal PED's to maximize their playing contribution. It needs to be a clear statement telling voters either to put a lot or a little emphasis on that behavior; either that it should be a major disqualifier or pretty much disregarded. Unfortunately, the HOF board of directors is doing its usual act of ducking for cover and hoping it blows over; which it may.

The BBWAA's long-established rate of electing players is 1.55 per year (73 players in 47 years since annual elections resumed in 1966). This is easily seen in recent history: in the past eight years, they've elected 12 players in a perfectly alternating pattern, 2-1-2-1-2-1-2-1. The HOF is praying that the number of "clean" candidates coming up will enable the electors to maintain something close to this modest rate of electees, especially if the reformed VC can be counted on to provide an inductee or two every year. Then they can ignore the issue and proclaim "the electorate has spoken, having again done an excellent job of identifying the deserving players, blah blah blah."

Even if the HOF gets its wish, I don't think things will work themselves out. There will be an outcry if the BBWAA fails to elect the best of the PED-tainted candidates. And that is what has always motivated the Hall's board to change the election process: reaction to outrage among a large enough segment of the fans or the writers.

Once a few of the known users are elected, it cracks the door open. It will lead to less and less regard for considering PED's a disqualifying indicator of lack of integrity, and more and more as a condition of the game as it was played in that era.
   19. depletion Posted: January 01, 2013 at 01:05 AM (#4335750)
We all knew this cluster#### was going to happen right about now, with these players, in this way, and nobody did anything in anticipation.

Yup. Rick Helling and maybe a handful of others tried but 100% of the people with power to make a difference did jack.
   20. Walt Davis Posted: January 01, 2013 at 03:05 AM (#4335772)
If there were only one standard, we would only need to ask one guy.

Pick me! Pick me!

That is a ridiculous comment since voters and observers have been clamoring for clarification for quite awhile now in the face of the steroids class entering the ballot.

I'm not sure they've been "clamoring". And, to my knowledge, there hasn't been a "formal request" (as such) from the BBWAA (as an organization) asking for clarification. There have certainly been some individual writers saying they wish the HoF would provide clarification. That's not the same thing as a formal request obviously.

And for every "confused" voter there seem to be about 3 who are pretty clear on the matter in one direction or the other.

But I think it's perfectly fair for the writers to toss this back to the HoF and "demand" clarification. They are doing the HoF a favor. They are trying to follow the HoF's rules and fulfill the HoF's wishes. If the HoF doesn't care enough to make its needs clear, the writers shouldn't do the job for them.

There will be an outcry if the BBWAA fails to elect the best of the PED-tainted candidates. And that is what has always motivated the Hall's board to change the election process: reaction to outrage among a large enough segment of the fans or the writers.

This is true but there hasn't been such an outcry in 30 years I don't think. That one was about all the really good players going one and done. The solution wasn't very radical though it was "OK let's have a committee put some people back on the ballot." That "worked" in the sense that the voters got the message and Allen and Santo (and some others) didn't fall below 5% again. But I don't know if there was a single reinstated player elected by the writers. And the "message" didn't have a lot of staying power as Whitaker, Brown and some others can attest.

I think you have to go back 50 years to get to a "nobody's getting through" outcry. I don't know if there's ever been a "they voted that guy in?" outcry.

I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm saying there's a lot of water under the bridge since then and there's substantial risk involved if the HoF makes radical changes to the system. I think the voters could get the 10-player ballot limit expanded quite easily but that's not likely to make a big change.

Anyway, this is only a problem for the HoF if either (a) they fall far away from the pattern #18 notes or (b) attendance at the museum drops substantially as a result of Bonds and Clemens not being there. I don't see either as likely. But you all know that.

The more radical change that I can see happening is the BBWAA falling apart or otherwise radically changing. It's already an organization in a tough spot with fewer sportswriting jobs out there, especially in terms of any non-MLB city writers covering baseball. They've already started expanding to online writers. But, last year, we started to see a few writers taking shots at other writers over this issue. I'm guessing we'll see some more of that this year once the official results are released. Given the organization is already fairly weak due to economic/market circumstances, this is a really bad time for infighting. I suspect everybody will make nice and it won't be a major problem but if you do get polarization over this issue, the organization may be screwed.

Yup. Rick Helling and maybe a handful of others tried but 100% of the people with power to make a difference did jack.

I think what he meant was that we knew 5 years ago that Bonds, Clemens et al were going to hit the ballot at the same time; and we already could tell from McGwire that there was a large contingent of roid blackballers; and it was equally obvious that Maddux et al would be coming up after these guys.

As I've said before, thie was going to be a ########### with or without roids. "This" should have been dealt with -- for example, allowing 15 per ballot or whatever -- and whatever solution you came up with to that problem you could easily sneak a roids solution in under that umbrella. It's not hard to say "there are now nearly twice as many teams as there used to be and the US population has grown by X% since the HoF rules were established and baseball now draws talent from around the globe. Therefore we recognize that there are more HoF-worthy playing the game now than ever before. In response, we are allowing 15 players a ballot, lowering the threshold to 65% and allowing players to stay on for 20 years if they've hit 50% at any point." (Or whatever changes you think would work.)

   21. Boxkutter Posted: January 01, 2013 at 05:42 AM (#4335784)
TL;DR
   22. The Clarence Thomas of BBTF (scott) Posted: January 01, 2013 at 12:47 PM (#4335864)
in TFA Quinn also says that he doesn't wish to vote because he still has a ballot despite not covering baseball for the past seven years, and that still having a ballot means he could vote without actually knowing anything current about the sport. Which is a good point, as there's plenty of voters who don't actually follow baseball but still send in their votes despite their ignorance.
   23. RMc's desperate, often sordid world Posted: January 01, 2013 at 12:55 PM (#4335868)
Every voter applying his own standard? Right, that's how elections work. If there were only one standard, we would only need to ask one guy.

And that one guy should be...me, of course. Doesn't everyone agree I'm the smartest, coolest guy ever?

The more I think about it, the more I like this idea. Elections cost billions of taxpayer dollars, trying to woo the Soccer Moms and Joe Sixpacks; that's just wasteful. Instead, the political parties could spend a much smaller amount of money just to impress me. (And I'm a pretty cheap date; a box of donuts and a fiver and I'll vote for pretty much anybody you want.)

So, in the next election, don't waste everybody's time by using your own standards (how absurd!) to pick who's best. Just let me vote. I'll decide for everybody. You know it makes sense.
   24. Cooperstown Schtick Posted: January 01, 2013 at 02:57 PM (#4335977)
But I think it's perfectly fair for the writers to toss this back to the HoF and "demand" clarification. They are doing the HoF a favor. They are trying to follow the HoF's rules and fulfill the HoF's wishes. If the HoF doesn't care enough to make its needs clear, the writers shouldn't do the job for them.

The HOF's wishes, I believe, are for the writers to reflect the cultural biases of their times. That doesn't require clarification. I think the HOF letting the writers do their job without undue influence fulfills the Hall's mission.

It's not hard to say "there are now nearly twice as many teams as there used to be and the US population has grown by X% since the HoF rules were established and baseball now draws talent from around the globe. Therefore we recognize that there are more HoF-worthy playing the game now than ever before. In response, we are allowing 15 players a ballot, lowering the threshold to 65% and allowing players to stay on for 20 years if they've hit 50% at any point." (Or whatever changes you think would work.)

The HOF advertises that it reflects the top 1% to ever play the game, and that position seems to serve their reputation pretty well. The population of the US and the size of the talent pool from which the league is drawn have virtually no influence on this figure. The league has expanded, but not to the point where 1-2 inductees per season doesn't maintain the percentage. Expanding the ballot beyond 10 would inevitably lower the standards of voting, and it hurts the Hall more to have too many people elected than too few, as you can always add omissions but (by their code and precedent, anyway) you can't retract commissions.

   25. DanG Posted: January 01, 2013 at 06:50 PM (#4336275)
The HOF advertises that it reflects the top 1% to ever play the game
Where is this? It's not true. Players retiring 1876-2006 = 15,266. Of these, 207 are in the HOF or 1.4%. With more than 200 players debuting each year at present, the Hall needs to induct three per year to keep up.
The league has expanded, but not to the point where 1-2 inductees per season doesn't maintain the percentage
Really? Players active 1956-60: 1,028. Players active 50 years later, 1996-2000: 2,036, nearly double. As pointed out, the HOF needs to step it up to maintain their established rate of enshrinees.
   26. Jolly Old St. Nick Still Gags in October Posted: January 01, 2013 at 07:11 PM (#4336296)
At the least, the HOF should make a statement offering direction to the voters on how they should assess the players who chose to use illegal PED's to maximize their playing contribution. It needs to be a clear statement telling voters either to put a lot or a little emphasis on that behavior; either that it should be a major disqualifier or pretty much disregarded.

That's just another way of ordering the writers either to vote for statistically qualified steroid users, or not to vote for them. As Walt says in the other thread, all that's going to do is piss off one group or the other, which is exactly why they don't do it. You can't resolve this issue with simplistic short cuts that basically tell a large set of voters on either side of the issue that they have to violate their consciences in order to reach a pre-approved result. You've got to put the horse before the cart, and work on changing public opinion, distasteful a task as that may be to a group of statistically-oriented people.
   27. DanG Posted: January 01, 2013 at 07:45 PM (#4336342)
Then why not take the "consciences" out of the equation. Modify Rule 5:

5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

"Contributions to the team" can be read to imply that moral judgements are still part of the equation. But the emphasis is now reduced.
   28. Jolly Old St. Nick Still Gags in October Posted: January 01, 2013 at 08:59 PM (#4336423)
Then why not take the "consciences" out of the equation. Modify Rule 5:

5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

"Contributions to the team" can be read to imply that moral judgements are still part of the equation. But the emphasis is now reduced.


Sure, but again, that's nothing but a giant thumb on the scale, since it's pretty hard to argue that using steroids didn't help** any team on which a player played. And it's so blatant a tilt that it wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of being considered, because it's so clearly intended to pave the way for steroid users to be more easily admitted. There's no possible alternate interpretation.

**Unless, of course, you think that steroids don't help performance. But voters like that are almost certain to be voting on the basis of statistics alone to begin with.
   29. Walt Davis Posted: January 01, 2013 at 09:27 PM (#4336463)
The population of the US and the size of the talent pool from which the league is drawn have virtually no influence on this figure. The league has expanded, but not to the point where 1-2 inductees per season doesn't maintain the percentage.

You understand how percents work right?

Pitchers, 2000+ IP, by final year (misses closers):

1917-26: 25
1927-36: 26
1937-46: 29
1947-56: 25
1957-66: 20
1967-76: 36
1977-86: 48
1987-96: 41
1997-06: 37

There was an average of 25 such pitchers per decade pre-expansion (and a bit); an average of 40 per decade post-expansion.

Hitters, 6000+ PA, by final year:

1917-26: 35
1927-36: 41
1937-46: 37
1947-56: 36
1957-66: 44
1967-76: 43
1977-86: 69
1987-96: 75
1997-06: 80

Here things are surprisingly steady through the first wave of expansion then really take off so that we have recently seen nearly twice as many hitters make it to 6000 PA. (Note I might have missed a small handful of players in that first decade. Also Minoso is mis-classified :-)

We've gone from roughly 65 players with HoF-length careers (i.e. long enough you'd have to give them some consideration) per retirement decade to maybe as many as 120, not including closers. If you look at BBWAA inductions by decade, you'll see they're pretty constant, outside their period of electing almost nobody. The percentage being honored is going down.

What about quality?

Hitters and pitchers, 40+ WAR, by final year:

1917-26: 21
1927-36: 32
1937-46: 28
1947-56: 28
1957-66: 17 -- interesting
1967-76: 26
1977-86: 40
1987-96: 40
1997-06: 41

And now PI has crapped out on me but we see an increase of 40%.

It's hard to line up BBWAA selections with those players and the various VCs (which range from ridiculously generous to ridiculously stingy) make it a challenge to look at any HoFers. Everybody had a lot of catching up to do in the early days too. But BBWAA inductions going back to 1963 (57 retirees eligible for the first time). Note there was a severe drought in selections in the 50s and 60s:

1963-72: 10
1973-82: 13
1983-92: 20
1993-02: 13
2003-12: 16

The 83-92 inductions were almost all expansion era players and it looked like they might be maintaining the same (or higher) percentage rate. 73-82 covers most of the great post-integration players (Robinson, Musial, Koufax and Berra being the ones elected prior). If you look at the 67-86 retirements, Perez was the only one elected later than 1992. Of the 73-92 inductions, I counted 5 retired before 1967. So all told they elected 30 of the roughly 66 "in the ballpark" players who retired from 67 to 86.

81 players retired from 87 to 06 and so far they've elected 28. They've got another 10-12 to keep pace but Bagwell and Raines are the only 2 left with a very good shot, Morris might make it by BBWAA and Edgar's not out yet. But unless I miscounted, they are going to elect about the same number out of 81 as they did out of 66.

They are about to go on a splurge but this will be almost entirely players retired 2007 or later. For 2007-11 retirements alone we have 21 batters and 11 pitchers with 40+ WAR and we've got 6 more years of retirements to get through -- there are also 21 active hitters and 9 active pitchers with 40+ WAR so the total could easily be 60. If you look at players who debuted 2000 or later (i.e. likely to start hitting the HoF ballot around 2023 to 2032), there are 16 batters (5 overlap) and 9 pitchers (3 overlap) with 30+ WAR in their first 10 years. So there might be a lull in 10-15 years when they can catch up.

Now ... if they induct only 15 over the next 10 years, they're going to maintain the same number which means they will fall well off that pace on a percentage basis.

There are more teams which means there are more players which means there are more players putting up impressive numbers. The only argument against a larger number of BBWAA inductions would be if the talent pool had decreased such that a guy who would have put up 30 WAR in the 60s will now put up 40 WAR (or whatever) which is where the increase in the US population and the international labor market come into play -- i.e. the labor pool has been expanding right along with the number of teams.

To maintain the standard, the BBWAA needs to start averaging 2 inductions per year, give or take.
   30. John Northey Posted: January 01, 2013 at 10:46 PM (#4336550)
Another question is how many players are qualifying for it? By decade using the Lahman Database (updated through 2011)

Decade AvYears >10yrs HOF players & %
1870 4.2 59 10 17%
1880 3.8 110 18 16%
1890 3.9 106 22 21%
1900 4.0 127 19 15%
1910 3.9 166 25 15%
1920 4.3 176 33 19%
1930 4.9 182 20 11%
1940 4.6 177 19 11%
1950 5.7 244 25 10%
1960 6.6 334 20 6%
1970 6.7 381 15 4%
1980 6.8 421 6 1%
1990 6.2 499 0 0%
2000 4.1 102 0 0%
2010 1.3 0 0 0%

Now, the 2000's and 2010 groups will obviously have more qualify as time goes by. Also interesting to see how it shifted form 15-20% pre-1930 debuts to 11% and declining since. A big part of that is the vet committee refusing to put people in for a long period of time. What is interesting is the raw number of players getting in seems to be 2 per year each decade up until the 1970's and beyond but those players are just now reaching vet status so in theory they should be getting in more often. It'll be interesting to see how this shifts and if the vet committees start putting in more guys who played in the 70's and 80's.
   31. DanG Posted: January 02, 2013 at 12:45 AM (#4336613)
because it's so clearly intended to pave the way for steroid users to be more easily admitted
Well, that's the direction the HOF needs to move towards, for reasons that have been laid out many times on BBTF. Since the HOF seems unwilling to work on improving the quality of the electors anytime soon, more concise instructions to the existing electorate are necessary.
   32. Jolly Old St. Nick Still Gags in October Posted: January 02, 2013 at 01:17 AM (#4336630)
[Your proposal is] so blatant a tilt that it wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of being considered, because it's so clearly intended to pave the way for steroid users to be more easily admitted. There's no possible alternate interpretation.

Well, that's the direction the HOF needs to move towards, for reasons that have been laid out many times on BBTF. Since the HOF seems unwilling to work on improving the quality of the electors anytime soon, more concise instructions to the existing electorate are necessary.


"Needs", according to you, and according to people like you who want to grease the path for steroid users to be admitted. It's little more than a 100% subjective assertion.

Nothing wrong with holding that opinion, but don't expect any cooperation from those who disagree with your premise. You've still got to convince more people than just those who already agree with you.

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