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Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Baseball Analysts: Rittner: I’m OK, You’re OK

Good stuff from the DHing Bob Rittner…as in, Larry “Two i’s, Two t’s and No Hands” Biittner.

When a traditional columnist writes an article defending a position, sabermetricians atttack using all the tools at their disposal, and sometimes with sarcasm and nastiness. If the columnist dismisses their arguments, they pile on. But it is even worse if he tries to meet them on their own grounds. Without the expertise, his statistical arguments appear juvenile and then the attacks often turn vicious and personal. A successful career journalist, out of his depth in this kind of debate, finds himself the object of mockery, and with the internet, there is now a public forum for the ridicule. The problem is there is no common ground. The traditional journalist is not wrong; he simply has a different purpose, and to critique him is like arguing with Shakespeare that Hamlet should have compromised with Claudius or brought him before a board of inquiry.

When an issue like the Hall of Fame elections arises, the problem is magnified because for statistically minded analysts there are objective criteria from which to begin the discussion. But to many traditionalists, the key word in the discussion is “Fame” as in who do people know, who had an impact on the story.

Jack Morris exemplified qualities that suggest he is a Hall of Fame character; Bert Blyleven did not. Jim Rice dominated because that is the story line, and for anyone who lived in his era, it makes perfect sense. It does not matter to those who are now voting if the statistics belie the claim.* When I watched a Yankee game and Rice came to the plate, I was scared. I was not as worried when Dwight Evans was at bat. I may have been wrong, but Rice felt like a star and Evans a supporting player. To say the journalists are wrong does nothing to advance the discussion because these players are first and foremost literary figures to them. You and I may know that Watson and Crick were far greater men than Alexander the Great and Napoleon, but in the pantheon of human heroes, you can bet Alexander will get in first, and nobody is going to identify Crick as Crick the Great.

Repoz Posted: January 24, 2008 at 08:38 PM | 86 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: media, sabermetrics

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   1. DCA Posted: January 24, 2008 at 09:01 PM (#2675616)
I like Crick a lot. My favorite Crick anecdote (text from an obituary in the Atlantic Monthly):

Religion he never let up on. The university at which he practiced his science is filled with ancient college chapels, whose presence so irked Crick that when the new Churchill College invited him to become a fellow, he agreed to do so only on condition that no chapel be built on the grounds. In 1963, when a benefactor offered to fund a chapel and Crick's fellow fellows voted to take the money, he refused to accept the argument that many at the college would appreciate a place of worship and that those who didn't were not obliged to enter it. He offered to fund a brothel on the same basis, and when that was rejected, he resigned.
   2. Kid Charlemagne Posted: January 24, 2008 at 09:04 PM (#2675618)
I like it! He would have fit right in here on the internet.
   3. a bebop a rebop Posted: January 24, 2008 at 09:45 PM (#2675654)
I really liked the excerpt (didn't really catch the title line) and was hoping that this was in some major newspaper somewhere. Too bad...
   4. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 24, 2008 at 09:55 PM (#2675661)
The journalists' audience, training and medium are not conducive to detailed statistical analysis.


Good column, but I think the above part is overstated. First, I wouldn't say traditional journalists' "training" is not conducive to statistical analysis -- well, detailed statistical analysis, yes, but basic things like park adjustments, and using OPS instead of batting average, and using OPS+, are very simple concepts that are easy to learn and talk about. I think the bigger issue is that the traditional journalists don't want to learn, for various reasons, not that they can't learn.

As for the audience and medium, as Rittner noted, traditional journalists already sprinkle their columns with the triple crown statistics and sometimes OBP/SLG/OPS. I don't think substituting something like OPS+ would confuse readers; these stats can be quickly described in a parenthetical, and readers would catch on soon enough.

I do think there can and ought to be dialogue between the "schools of thought," but I think it requires mutual respect for and recognition of the divergent approaches.


I agree about the distinction between story telling and analysis. But sportswriters often engage in the latter, and when they do, it only makes sense to do it correctly. Basic statistics like OPS+, ERA+, and EqA - presented along with a measure of playing time - serve nicely for most purposes. We're not talking rocket science here.
   5. Steve Treder Posted: January 24, 2008 at 10:11 PM (#2675674)
I agree completely, Ray. Nice post.

I agree about the distinction between story telling and analysis. But sportswriters often engage in the latter, and when they do, it only makes sense to do it correctly. Basic statistics like OPS+, ERA+, and EqA - presented along with a measure of playing time - serve nicely for most purposes. We're not talking rocket science here.

This is the key point. Writing columns or books is a different exercise entirely from casting a HOF vote. It's a matter of simple common respect for the institution of the HOF to take the privilege of voting seriously enough to engage in at least some manner of sincere analysis.

And when a HOF voter commits a fundamental analytical blunder, they absolutely should be called on it.
   6. Robert S. Posted: January 24, 2008 at 10:29 PM (#2675686)
And the reason is not that they are wrong. It is that the two groups are engaged in different purposes. And while it is easy for sabermetricians to apply the approach of traditionalists to liven up their writings, it is not so easy for traditionalists to incorporate statistical models and arguments in theirs. So there is frustration on both sides.

I don't buy this dichotomy. I think it's a matter of keeping up with the discussion in the field they are paid to cover. I don't expect schlock jocks like Rick Reilly to do that, but credible reporters absolutely should. The expectation isn't that Joe Beatwriter be able to go head-to-head with mgl; it's that he knows what the hell UZR is.
   7. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: January 24, 2008 at 10:36 PM (#2675689)
Jim Rice dominated because that is the story line, and for anyone who lived in his era, it makes perfect sense.

I still don't get the "people who watched him play all know that he's a Hall of Famer" meme. If that's the case, how come he wasn't elected on the first ballot? Presumably, there are fewer BBWAA members now that have seen Rice play than there were ten years ago.
   8. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 24, 2008 at 10:41 PM (#2675692)
I agree completely, Ray. Nice post.


Thanks, Steve.

This is the key point. Writing columns or books is a different exercise entirely from casting a HOF vote. It's a matter of simple common respect for the institution of the HOF to take the privilege of voting seriously enough to engage in at least some manner of sincere analysis.


Right. And when the writer starts with his conclusion, for example that Rice is a Hall of Famer, and then searches for the stats to support that conclusion, I don't think we should have "mutual respect" for that kind of "divergent approach."

The other point is that unless one thinks the statement "Player X feels like a Hall of Famer" is justification alone for voting for Player X, there has to be a statistical case presented. And traditional writers seem to agree that a statistical case has to be presented, which is why they usually try to present one. It's just that some of them complain when others point out that the statistical case they've presented isn't valid.

And when a HOF voter commits a fundamental analytical blunder, they absolutely should be called on it.


Yes. And some of the HOF voters respond by calling the sabermetrician a "statgeek" (or whatever). But obviously the HOF voter thinks it is valid to present stats in support of an argument -- because he did that himself. It's just that he's complaining about which stats are being used. And this is where the point about learning how to use the basic stats and concepts (like OPS+ and park adjustment) comes in.
   9. Steve Treder Posted: January 24, 2008 at 10:48 PM (#2675697)
I still don't get the "people who watched him play all know that he's a Hall of Famer" meme.

Me neither. I watched him play plenty, and it doesn't make any sense to me.
   10. cardsfanboy Posted: January 24, 2008 at 10:48 PM (#2675698)
I always make fun of sports journalist becaue multiple times I've read articles by them claiming "everything I need to know about baseball I learned when I was eight years old" it's the only profession where willingness to not improve is actually looked upon as a favorable trait. The extent of your baseball knowledge at eight is how to play the game and stats on the back of baseball cards. So if the baseball card would have listed different stats, different stats would have been cemented in your brain as being important, and that is what baseball writers seem to not understand, their knowledge of the game is locked into an eight year old level of understanding and they seem to enjoy that.

OBP is definately not new, we all know that great managers in the past have favored that over batting average. Heck most of us know (thanks to Alan Schwartz) that Rbi's weren't always thought of as a good stat.


It's insane what these guys think is acceptable practice for their profession. In St Louis we have Bernie Mikalsz who admits he wasn't a strong baseball fan growing up, and because of that he has attempted to learn the game which has made him a better writer than a vast majority of the writers out there (he still has the high school jock/girl mentality about gossip in the locker room but beyond that he's mostly fair and a pretty decent writer) which is the sad thing, some of the better writers are guys who didn't grow up with a passion for the game.
   11. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: January 24, 2008 at 10:56 PM (#2675702)
So if the baseball card would have listed different stats, different stats would have been cemented in your brain as being important

I remember the early-'80s Topps cards I used to collect had slugging percentage on the back of them. I was very proud when I figured out how they calculated it.
   12. birdlives is one crazy ninja Posted: January 25, 2008 at 01:00 AM (#2675751)
First, I wouldn't say traditional journalists' "training" is not conducive to statistical analysis -- well, detailed statistical analysis, yes, but basic things like park adjustments, and using OPS instead of batting average, and using OPS+, are very simple concepts that are easy to learn and talk about. I think the bigger issue is that the traditional journalists don't want to learn, for various reasons, not that they can't learn.

Exactly, Rob Neyer has admitted that he's not trained at all in statistics but he took the time to learn what various concepts mean and obviously uses them in very competent ways. Journalists could do the same but they choose not to.
   13. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: January 25, 2008 at 01:18 AM (#2675761)
Yeah, I don't have a problem with sportswriters "telling a story" or evaluating baseball players using things other than statistics.

One thing that rightfully gets them a lot of criticism around here is lack of consistency, when applying statistics or otherwise. For example, if a sportswriter says that Bert Blyleven isn't a HOFer because he never won a Cy Young award, but then supports Jack Morris.

I would also like it if sportwriters actually told the stories instead of just making assertions. For example, don't just tell me that Jim Rice was feared, but give me some stories or some quotes to justify that position.
   14. Dan Szymborski Posted: January 25, 2008 at 02:06 AM (#2675770)
It's just that he's complaining about which stats are being used. And this is where the point about learning how to use the basic stats and concepts (like OPS+ and park adjustment) comes in.

I think it would be fun to work for the IRS for a day and audit Mariotti or Olney.

"As you see, with my home mortgage interest deduction here, it reduces my adjusted gross income to $72,320."
"Sorry, your adjusted gross income just feels like $93,000."
   15. Dan The Mediocre is one of "the rest" Posted: January 25, 2008 at 05:18 AM (#2675828)
You and I may know that Watson and Crick were far greater men than Alexander the Great and Napoleon, but in the pantheon of human heroes, you can bet Alexander will get in first, and nobody is going to identify Crick as Crick the Great.


So two guys who compile the work of others into a model are greater than someone who altered history in a highly significant way? I would say Alexander the Great's accomplishments are many, many, many times greater than those of Watson and Crick.

When an issue like the Hall of Fame elections arises, the problem is magnified because for statistically minded analysts there are objective criteria from which to begin the discussion. But to many traditionalists, the key word in the discussion is “Fame” as in who do people know, who had an impact on the story.


This is a key point. I think that the Hall of Fame should have only the very best players as members. The rules for selection obviously differ somewhat as character is one of the things considered.

But to say something like "Morris was a better pitcher than Blyleven" is something that is objectively untrue, and should not be used to include Morris but not Blyleven.
   16. cardsfanboy Posted: January 25, 2008 at 06:47 AM (#2675851)
So two guys who compile the work of others into a model are greater than someone who altered history in a highly significant way? I would say Alexander the Great's accomplishments are many, many, many times greater than those of Watson and Crick


thank you... didn't know what to say to that comparison, but thanks for putting that comment in the place where it belongs.
   17. GGC for Sale Posted: January 25, 2008 at 02:06 PM (#2675919)
This piece reminded me a little of Michael Oriard; if Oriard wrote about baseball.
   18. AROM Posted: January 25, 2008 at 02:22 PM (#2675923)
In 1963, when a benefactor offered to fund a chapel and Crick's fellow fellows voted to take the money, he refused to accept the argument that many at the college would appreciate a place of worship and that those who didn't were not obliged to enter it. He offered to fund a brothel on the same basis, and when that was rejected, he resigned.


On a university campus? His idea should have been rejected on the basis of profitability alone. How can the professionals make any money when the amateurs will do it for free?
   19. IronChef Chris Wok Posted: January 25, 2008 at 02:25 PM (#2675924)
Wasn't Watson a racist race superiority person?
   20. Dag Nabbit at ExactlyAsOld.com Posted: January 25, 2008 at 02:50 PM (#2675940)
So two guys who compile the work of others into a model are greater than someone who altered history in a highly significant way?

Alexander the Great was something of a compiler. 75% of his empire was the work of Cyrus the Great. The most important remainder was what he inherited. Aside from that he had Egypt, and some lands way out east that no one can name and were lost right away. The main contribution to his conquests were the spread of Greek culture, but he died so young that much of that happened after him.
   21. Dizzypaco Posted: January 25, 2008 at 03:11 PM (#2675950)
I liked the column a lot, and agreed with it more than most. There's a strong consensus around here that the best 200/250/300/whatever players should be in the Hall of fame, and no one else. Each person should figure out what statistic they like best, and take the top players according to that stat and vote him in without any other thought. The debate then becomes which statistic to use. I don't think its crazy for some sportswriters to take a different view.

Where I do have a problem with sportswriters is when they vote for someone who probably isn't one of the best players, and then try to use statistics to back up their case. Its one thing to say that Jack Morris should be in the Hall of Fame, because he was one of the most famous pitchers of his era, made several all star teams, pitched some extremely memorable and important games, had an important effect on a number of pennant races, and was a good pitcher to boot. Its another thing to vote for Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame, and base it primarily on his win loss record.

When you make your case for a player based on RBI's, or batting average, or wins, that's not fame. That's statistics. And if you are going to use statistics, then do it right.
   22. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: January 25, 2008 at 03:13 PM (#2675954)
This is from Mark Armour's defense of the HoF, which Rittner linked to:

Recently there has been some debate on various internet sites, including this one, about who deserves to vote in Hall of Fame elections. Let me tell you what I think. If I were in charge of the process, I would require that all voters understand what the Hall of Fame actually is before gaining the privilege. I would make every voter take a history test. There are 200 members of the Hall of Fame who were chosen based on their play in the major leagues, and I would expect each of the voters to understand (at the very least) the careers and qualifications of all of those men—the highlights, great moments, opinions of contemporaries.

I wonder how many current HoF voters could pass such a test.

And I wonder how many of their more vocal critics could.

If your objective for the HoF is to provide it with a steady supply of historically great to very good players in order to keep the tourists coming, plus promote the sort of lively debates that keep the Hall in the news, then I don't see much wrong with the current setup.

If your objective is to transform the HoF into the HoM in all but name, then just get out your computers and go to work. After a bit of practice you can outsource the entire process to China, and you won't be able to tell the difference in the results.

And if you want the best of both worlds, turn the selection process over to Bill James, who will be allowed to consult with anyone of his choice, including his computer, plus have seances with Leonard Koppett and other permanently retired analysts. Every Halloween he could release the names of his top dozen or so candidates and let us all argue it out till the end of the year, and if we have added anything new to the debates, he can take it into consideration before making his final selection.

As to what happens after James croaks, he will be asked to have a list of successors put away in a vault, ranked by preference, not to be seen by anyone until his death. He can revise that list once a year, to allow for any premature deaths or mental breakdowns. We can entertain ourselves with guessing games as to their identities, but anyone caught approaching James with a bottle of Schnapps will be permanently blackballed from our little community.
   23. Steve Treder Posted: January 25, 2008 at 04:15 PM (#2676005)
There's a strong consensus around here that the best 200/250/300/whatever players should be in the Hall of fame, and no one else. Each person should figure out what statistic they like best, and take the top players according to that stat and vote him in without any other thought. The debate then becomes which statistic to use.

I haven't detected anything remotely resembling a consensus along these lines. The HOM discussions certainly didn't resemble this.

When you make your case for a player based on RBI's, or batting average, or wins, that's not fame. That's statistics. And if you are going to use statistics, then do it right.

On this point there is very strong consensus "around here."
   24. Steve Treder Posted: January 25, 2008 at 04:21 PM (#2676015)
I wonder how many current HoF voters could pass such a test.

Mark's proposal is an excellent one, and my strong suspicion is that a large majority of current HOF voters would fail such a test.

And I wonder how many of their more vocal critics could.

My strong suspicion is that is that in almost any sampling of vocal critics vs. current voters, the vocal critics would wipe the floor with the current voters. The HOM voting population would probably do better on that test than any other population.

And if you want the best of both worlds, turn the selection process over to Bill James

Real cute, Andy.

Seriously every rational suggestion that I've ever encountered focuses on broadening the voting base, not narrowing it down to one expert or a committee of a few.
   25. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 25, 2008 at 04:21 PM (#2676016)
   26. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 25, 2008 at 04:28 PM (#2676021)
Andy:
If your objective is to transform the HoF into the HoM in all but name, then just get out your computers and go to work. After a bit of practice you can outsource the entire process to China, and you won't be able to tell the difference in the results.


Andy, if I'm understanding you correctly, you're saying that if we removed the character aspect from the decisionmaking, we could substitute computer analysis for informed opinion and come up with the same results. Have I fairly characterized your opinion? If so, then I would disagree. Even once we put aside things like steroids issues, there is plenty of healthy debate among sabermetricians. As an example, Joe Sheehan didn't support Alan Trammell's candidacy for the HOF this year; Rob Neyer did.

Dizzy:
I liked the column a lot, and agreed with it more than most. There's a strong consensus around here that the best 200/250/300/whatever players should be in the Hall of fame, and no one else. Each person should figure out what statistic they like best, and take the top players according to that stat and vote him in without any other thought. The debate then becomes which statistic to use. I don't think its crazy for some sportswriters to take a different view.


I don't think this is accurate. There is plenty of disagreement among sabermetricians, since there are many aspects of a HOF analysis, from peak value, to career value, to defense, to what the standards that merit election are, etc. This is why traditional columnists are misguided when they accuse sabermetricians of basically using a formula or a statistic to come up with their HOF selections.

In particular, even among people who are in complete agreement as to the limits of triple crown stats, etc., there is huge debate when it comes to the usefulness of things like win shares and WARP.
   27. Dizzypaco Posted: January 25, 2008 at 04:40 PM (#2676040)
I haven't detected anything remotely resembling a consensus along these lines. The HOM discussions certainly didn't resemble this.

I don't think this is accurate. There is plenty of disagreement among sabermetricians, since there are many aspects of a HOF analysis, from peak value, to career value, to defense, to what the standards that merit election are, etc.

I have followed the HOM debates very closely since the beginning. IMO, most voters had a set system to order to figure out the best players of all time, and voted mostly based on that system. The systems varied - people put various weights on peak value, career value, defense, etc., but its been clear that most have a system. Most voters figure out some way to incorporate everything into that system, whether its missed time due to war years, MLE's, or anything else.

I understand why voters did it - its an overwhelming task to evaluate so many players without a system - but it always appeared overly rigid to me, and I certainly wouldn't use a single system to figure out who to vote for the Hall of Fame. What ends up happening, almost inevitably is that any one system will biased against one type of player or another, whether its players with a short career but great peak, players with a long career but not much of a peak, players that fit somewhere in between, etc. It also never liked the idea of putting exact values on games that weren't even played (war credit, MLEs, etc.), but I guess you have to if you rely on your system.

The HOM voting basically worked because you had some of each - the variance in systems led to somewhat diverse voting patterns, and most of the elections made sense to me. I still wouldn't recommend it for Hall of Fame voting.
   28. Dan The Mediocre is one of "the rest" Posted: January 25, 2008 at 04:47 PM (#2676044)
Alexander the Great was something of a compiler. 75% of his empire was the work of Cyrus the Great. The most important remainder was what he inherited. Aside from that he had Egypt, and some lands way out east that no one can name and were lost right away. The main contribution to his conquests were the spread of Greek culture, but he died so young that much of that happened after him.


I disagree. The empire he built wasn't itself the accomplishment, but unifying Greece and defeating a much greater enemy using superior weaponry and superior tactics. He is highly overrated in history, which is as a result of Western love of Ancient Greece.

Watson and Crick didn't come up with a gigantic breakthrough, they just won a race to figure out what DNA looked like.
   29. Steve Treder Posted: January 25, 2008 at 05:01 PM (#2676058)
IMO, most voters had a set system to order to figure out the best players of all time, and voted mostly based on that system.

Maybe I was interpreting the discussions incorrectly, but what I understood was that most voters with set systems used their system to begin their assessment process, but that they would typically apply subjective judgment to adjust results that didn't "feel" right when casting their actual ballot.

The HOM voting basically worked because you had some of each - the variance in systems led to somewhat diverse voting patterns, and most of the elections made sense to me. I still wouldn't recommend it for Hall of Fame voting.

Sorry, but this makes no sense to me.

Look, everyone has a system, whether they articulate it or even realize it or not. Maury Allen or Joe Sportwriter or whoever doesn't just rate the best players of all time randomly; he orders them according to some manner of criteria he believes to be relevant, even if some of the criteria are quite qualitative.

In every vote ever conducted, the variance in "systems" is what leads to diverse voting patterns. That's the nature of multi-voter balloting. And it's entirely reasonable and appropriate to recognize that not all systems are equally sound. But I don't see any reason to posit that the actual HOF voters shouldn't attempt to apply as systematically rational an approach to their decisions as they can.
   30. Francoeur Sans Gages (AlouGoodbye) Posted: January 25, 2008 at 05:04 PM (#2676062)
In 1963, when a benefactor offered to fund a chapel and Crick's fellow fellows voted to take the money, he refused to accept the argument that many at the college would appreciate a place of worship and that those who didn't were not obliged to enter it. He offered to fund a brothel on the same basis, and when that was rejected, he resigned.

On a university campus? His idea should have been rejected on the basis of profitability alone. How can the professionals make any money when the amateurs will do it for free?
Is this a reference to New Hall? How dare you!

EDIT: New Hall is the women's only college right next to Churchill.
   31. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 25, 2008 at 05:06 PM (#2676064)
I have followed the HOM debates very closely since the beginning. IMO, most voters had a set system to order to figure out the best players of all time, and voted mostly based on that system. The systems varied - people put various weights on peak value, career value, defense, etc., but its been clear that most have a system.


I haven't followed the HOM debates very closely at all, and your comment didn't reference the HOM; I was just speaking of sabermetricians generally.

I don't think sabermetricians generally have a defined "system" for HOF voting, at least not in the way you are using that term; that to me does sound like one is just plugging numbers into a formula. I think they simply have a certain approach. They have an idea of which tools best correlate with value, and they apply those tools to the various aspects of an analysis: they compare the player to the standards in place for the HOF, using things like peak value, career value, playing time, positional/league/park adjustments, etc.
   32. Kiko Sakata Posted: January 25, 2008 at 05:08 PM (#2676065)
There's a strong consensus around here that the best 200/250/300/whatever players should be in the Hall of fame, and no one else.... I don't think its crazy for some sportswriters to take a different view.


It may not be crazy for some sportswriters to take a different view, but I think that most sportswriters don't actually take a different view. I think that most sportswriters honestly believe that Jim Rice, for example, <u>was</u> one of the 200 best players in major-league history. I also think that Hall-of-Fame voters who vote for Jack Morris and not Bert Blyleven genuinely believe that Jack Morris was a better pitcher than Bert Blyleven.

I understand why voters did it - its an overwhelming task to evaluate so many players without a system - but it always appeared overly rigid to me, and I certainly wouldn't use a single system to figure out who to vote for the Hall of Fame....

The HOM voting basically worked because you had some of each - the variance in systems led to somewhat diverse voting patterns, and most of the elections made sense to me. I still wouldn't recommend it for Hall of Fame voting.


I disagree here. The only way to establish and maintain any sort of standard - be it statistical or otherwise - is to have a set system. I agree that having multiple voters with multiple standards creates a more interesting and, in many ways, better overall system. But making HoF votes requires comparisons across players and I do think it's important for those comparisons to be consistent across all players.
   33. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: January 25, 2008 at 06:34 PM (#2676127)
I wonder how many current HoF voters could pass such a test.

Mark's proposal is an excellent one, and my strong suspicion is that a large majority of current HOF voters would fail such a test.


No doubt about that.

And I wonder how many of their more vocal critics could.

My strong suspicion is that is that in almost any sampling of vocal critics vs. current voters, the vocal critics would wipe the floor with the current voters. The HOM voting population would probably do better on that test than any other population.


I’m sure that it would display a greater overall knowledge, but when it comes to this part in particular…

I would expect each of the voters to understand (at the very least) the careers and qualifications of all of those men—the highlights, great moments, opinions of contemporaries.

….I have to wonder, at least after reading the dismissive comments that many stats-oriented Primates have made about the opinions of a player’s contemporaries---MVP votes, etc. This is the side of Bill James that too many of his disciples often seem to ignore or disparage.

And if you want the best of both worlds, turn the selection process over to Bill James

Real cute, Andy.

Seriously every rational suggestion that I've ever encountered focuses on broadening the voting base, not narrowing it down to one expert or a committee of a few.


Here you left out what I wrote after the part you quoted, which read

Bill James, who will be allowed to consult with anyone of his choice, including his computer, plus have seances with Leonard Koppett and other permanently retired analysts. Every Halloween he could release the names of his top dozen or so candidates and let us all argue it out till the end of the year, and if we have added anything new to the debates, he can take it into consideration before making his final selection.

You can still say that’s too narrow a pool of voters (and never mind the seance part), but the input doesn’t begin and end with James himself, though he’d be responsible for the final choices. Here you have the conflict of cliches: “The wisdom of the market” vs. “a horse designed by a committee.”

In this case, I think that my idea would be more likely to let in the Blylevens and the Raineses while still keeping in the Deans and the Evers. OTOH if one of your primary objectives is to keep out the Deans and the Evers (I’m not saying that you [Steve] would keep out either), then I can see your disagreement.

--------------------------------

Andy:

If your objective is to transform the HoF into the HoM in all but name, then just get out your computers and go to work. After a bit of practice you can outsource the entire process to China, and you won't be able to tell the difference in the results.

Andy, if I'm understanding you correctly, you're saying that if we removed the character aspect from the decisionmaking, we could substitute computer analysis for informed opinion and come up with the same results. Have I fairly characterized your opinion? If so, then I would disagree. Even once we put aside things like steroids issues, there is plenty of healthy debate among sabermetricians. As an example, Joe Sheehan didn't support Alan Trammell's candidacy for the HOF this year; Rob Neyer did.


You did fairly characterize my opinion as I wrote it, and I should have spelled out my acknowledgement of the valid counterpoint you raise. And forget the steroids issue for now, since it’s not necessarily germane to any of this---for all I know, James would have no qualms about admitting otherwise qualified juicers.

That said, I’m still much more comfortable with a setup---my “James + consultants” idea being merely one whimsical version---where the “meritocratic” and the “literary” narratives are more in balance than I fear that they would be under an “enhanced statistical” set of criteria such as often is reflected in the HoF debates here on BTF.

Again I return to Dizzy Dean as (IMO) a good example of the sort of eminently worthy HoFer who is tough to defend on grounds of purely statistical achievement. This is where the “literary” side needs to be brought into the mix, metaphorically represented by my Bill James proposal. You have to strike a balance, with safeguards in both directions.
   34. Dag Nabbit at ExactlyAsOld.com Posted: January 25, 2008 at 06:44 PM (#2676133)
I disagree. The empire he built wasn't itself the accomplishment, but unifying Greece and defeating a much greater enemy using superior weaponry and superior tactics.

He didn't unify Greece. His dad did.

I would make every voter take a history test. There are 200 members of the Hall of Fame who were chosen based on their play in the major leagues, and I would expect each of the voters to understand (at the very least) the careers and qualifications of all of those men—the highlights, great moments, opinions of contemporaries.

I think that's a lousy idea. I don't care if the writers are experts on Pud Galvin or Tommy McCarthy. I care that they know a lot about players from Tommy John-onward, as those are the ones eligible for election.

The BBWAA has done a fine job. It's the various incarnations of the VC that have stunk.
   35. Steve Treder Posted: January 25, 2008 at 06:47 PM (#2676136)
I have to wonder, at least after reading the dismissive comments that many stats-oriented Primates have made about the opinions of a player’s contemporaries---MVP votes, etc. This is the side of Bill James that too many of his disciples often seem to ignore or disparage.

Perhaps. But not agreeing with the results of historical MVP votes etc. isn't the same thing as not being aware of them.

You can still say that’s too narrow a pool of voters

OK: that's too narrow a pool of voters.

In this case, I think that my idea would be more likely to let in the Blylevens and the Raineses while still keeping in the Deans and the Evers. OTOH if one of your primary objectives is to keep out the Deans and the Evers (I’m not saying that you [Steve] would keep out either), then I can see your disagreement.

My objective has far less to do with the in or out status of any particular candidate, and far more to do with the establishment and maintenance of a voting population that's as representative as possible of all the most relevant constituencies: not just BBWAA writers, but also baseball broadcasters, and also baseball historians, and also cutting-edge stat-oriented analysts.
   36. Steve Treder Posted: January 25, 2008 at 06:51 PM (#2676142)
I think that's a lousy idea. I don't care if the writers are experts on Pud Galvin or Tommy McCarthy. I care that they know a lot about players from Tommy John-onward, as those are the ones eligible for election.

Sure, but the qualifications for inclusion in the HOF are self-defined. Unless one is quite well-grounded in the large body of players already in the HOF (the most questionable as well as the no-brainers), then one has no basis for assessing where one should draw the line on players Tommy John-onward, no matter how knowledgeable one is about such currently-eligible players.
   37. AROM Posted: January 25, 2008 at 06:56 PM (#2676145)
I like the idea of Bill James as the head of the project, so long as he was not on the payroll of a major league team. Maybe something like the HOF voters being congress and James as the president. He can veto an election, and there would be procedures on a possible veto override.

Dizzy Dean: Haven't checked his stats, but he could also deserve induction of his announcing I think. I've always been in favor of some sort of combined recognition, maybe someone's playing career wasn't quite enough, and neither was his managing, but put them together and you have a worthy HOFer. This could have been Joe Torre at one point, as a player he's Hall of Very Good inner circle, but at this point his managing career is enough to get him in on its own. Some standard like this would have probably gotten Buck O'Neill in before he died.
   38. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: January 25, 2008 at 07:25 PM (#2676165)
I have to wonder, at least after reading the dismissive comments that many stats-oriented Primates have made about the opinions of a player’s contemporaries---MVP votes, etc. This is the side of Bill James that too many of his disciples often seem to ignore or disparage.

Perhaps. But not agreeing with the results of historical MVP votes etc. isn't the same thing as not be aware of them.


It's not the disagreement, Steve, it's the routine disparagement of contemporary opinions that I'm talking about. It's the patronizing attitudes towards those in past generations who reported the game for a living.

In this case, I think that my idea would be more likely to let in the Blylevens and the Raineses while still keeping in the Deans and the Evers. OTOH if one of your primary objectives is to keep out the Deans and the Evers (I’m not saying that you [Steve] would keep out either), then I can see your disagreement.

My objective has far less to do with the in or out status of any particular candidate, and far more to do with the establishment and maintenance of a voting population that's as representative as possible of all the most relevant constituencies: not just BBWAA writers, but also baseball broadcasters, and also baseball historians, and also cutting-edge stat-oriented analysts.


I'm not really disagreeing with either your objective or your specific proposal for expanding the voter pool, which is much better than most any other thoughts I've read here on the subject. And from a political POV the gap between your serious proposal and my whimsical one is even wider. But I still think you'd get a better balance from mine.
   39. Dan The Mediocre is one of "the rest" Posted: January 25, 2008 at 07:34 PM (#2676174)

He didn't unify Greece. His dad did.


Yeah, sorry about that error. I was trying to post quickly.
   40. Steve Treder Posted: January 25, 2008 at 07:38 PM (#2676177)
It's not the disagreement, Steve, it's the routine disparagement of contemporary opinions that I'm talking about. It's the patronizing attitudes towards those in past generations who reported the game for a living.

Well, 2 things:

1) Again, you seem to be leaping from the disparagement to an assumption of ignorance. One might be quite patronizing and even contemptuous of historical judgments and still be quite knowledgeable about them, which is what the test would be asking for in part.

2) I suspect that the great majority of the kind of knee-jerk disparagement you're referring to (and about which I generally share your impatience) comes from the most extremely stat-focused analysts, and I suspect from the younger ones of those. I am most definitely not in favor of limiting HOF voting to that sort of population.

But I still think you'd get a better balance from mine.

I don't know why you necessarily would. But even if you did, I think that broadening the voting pool to include more relevant constituencies, as well as deepening it by instituting some sort of proficiency qualification along the lines that Mark suggests, would serve to strengthen the legitimacy of the HOF as an institution, regardless of which particular players would wind up in or out.
   41. Mike Green Posted: January 25, 2008 at 07:49 PM (#2676183)
Chris, I can't agree that the BBWAA has done a fine job. Lou Whitaker less than 5%? Bobby Grich? Ron Santo? In an earlier day, Arky Vaughan? These are players who should be easy admissions.
The omissions have probably been worse than the dubious errors of commission like Sutter.

The BBWAA has by far the easier job, as the first sifter, and still manages to make egregious errors.
   42. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: January 25, 2008 at 07:53 PM (#2676186)
It's not the disagreement, Steve, it's the routine disparagement of contemporary opinions that I'm talking about. It's the patronizing attitudes towards those in past generations who reported the game for a living.

Well, 2 things:

1) Again, you seem to be leaping from the disparagement to an assumption of ignorance. One might be quite patronizing and even contemptuous of historical judgments and still be quite knowledgeable about them, which is what the test would be asking for in part.


I'll respond to this by noting what you also write about strengthening the legitimacy of the HoF as an institution, and ask you if being patronizing and contemptuous of many of the BBWAA's judgments is likely to strengthen and legitimize the case for bringing outsiders into the voting pool. It's not as if this new arrangement is going to be imposed on the BBWAA by some sort of a military coup.

2) I suspect that the great majority of the kind of knee-jerk disparagement you're referring to (and about which I generally share your impatience) comes from the most extremely stat-focused analysts, and I suspect from the younger ones of those. I am most definitely not in favor of limiting HOF voting to that sort of population.

I think we can get around that by establishing a minimum voting age of oh, about 60.

But I still think you'd get a better balance from mine.

I don't know why you necessarily would. But even if you did, I think that broadening the voting pool to include more relevant constituencies, as well as deepening it by instituting some sort of proficiency qualification along the lines that Mark suggests, would serve to strengthen the legitimacy of the HOF as an institution, regardless of which particular players would wind up in or out.


Of course I know this, which is why I wrote that from a political POV the gap between your serious proposal and my whimsical one is even wider. And for keeping that in mind I may even lower the voting age to 50.
   43. Steve Treder Posted: January 25, 2008 at 09:01 PM (#2676219)
I'll respond to this by noting what you also write about strengthening the legitimacy of the HoF as an institution, and ask you if being patronizing and contemptuous of many of the BBWAA's judgments is likely to strengthen and legitimize the case for bringing outsiders into the voting pool. It's not as if this new arrangement is going to be imposed on the BBWAA by some sort of a military coup.

Can we separate ill-tempered argumentative style from legitimacy of content points?

There are plenty of authentic ways in which the BBWAA status quo is problematic. Is there a valid argument why Buster Olney is provided the opportunity to vote, but Vin Scully, Jon Miller, Bill James, and Rob Neyer aren't?

Can anyone present a rational, fact-based defense of voting results that give Jim Rice 72.2% yes votes and Alan Trammell 18.2%? Lee Smith 43.3% yes votes and Dave Parker 15.1%?

Everyone should always try to avoid being patronizing and contemptuous. But neither should an extreme concern for gentility prevent us from candidly pointing out the truth regading the shortcomings of the status quo.
   44. Dizzypaco Posted: January 25, 2008 at 09:20 PM (#2676228)
Can anyone present a rational, fact-based defense of voting results that give Jim Rice 72.2% yes votes and Alan Trammell 18.2%? Lee Smith 43.3% yes votes and Dave Parker 15.1%?

Well, one way to look at it is that it doesn't make any difference under the current system whether a player receives 15% or 72%. All that matters is whether they receive 75%. When it comes to the Hall of Fame, you are either in or out.

That said, I don't think anyone would argue that the BBWAA have gotten it perfect. Rice isn't in, so he's not a mistake (yet), but Sutter is. At the same time, the HOM have elected players that some, even on this site, would consider mistakes. Certain HOM voters have made votes, or gave justifications that many of us consider insane, as bad as any BBWAA voter (I can give some examples if you want), yet they were still allowed to vote.

I guess its all about civility and reasonableness. In the Jim Rice debate, both advocates and opponents of his case have gone way over the line in my opinion, and it hasn't helped the cause of sabermetrics.
   45. Steve Treder Posted: January 25, 2008 at 09:32 PM (#2676229)
Well, one way to look at it is that it doesn't make any difference under the current system whether a player receives 15% or 72%. All that matters is whether they receive 75%. When it comes to the Hall of Fame, you are either in or out.

Of course, but the only way to get to 75% is one vote at a time. When a voting population is 4 times more supportive of Jim Rice than of Alan Trammell, and 3 times more supportive of Lee Smith than Dave Parker, then the excuse that none of them reached 75% isn't particularly compelling.

I guess its all about civility and reasonableness. In the Jim Rice debate, both advocates and opponents of his case have gone way over the line in my opinion, and it hasn't helped the cause of sabermetrics.

Well, I guess I'm not especially concerned about the cause of sabermetrics. My concern in this regard is the nature of the Hall of Fame, how legitimate it is and can continue to be as an institution worthy of interest and respect.
   46. Mike Green Posted: January 25, 2008 at 09:51 PM (#2676237)
Dizzypaco,

There are no egregious errors of omission or commission in the Hall of Merit, even if the comments/votes of one or two of the regular voters might have been questionable. There are players who I might disagree with, but it is easy to see that the Hall of Merit electorate as a whole has shown much, much more thoughtfulness than the Hall of Fame electorate. It is much easier to accept the wisdom of crowds with regard to difficult cases when the crowd gets the easy cases right.

For what it's worth, I began looking at the Hall of Fame from a broad perspective in 2004, and had no knowledge at all of the existence of the Hall of Merit.
   47. Steve Treder Posted: January 25, 2008 at 10:00 PM (#2676246)
There are no egregious errors of omission or commission in the Hall of Merit, even if the comments/votes of one or two of the regular voters might have been questionable. There are players who I might disagree with, but it is easy to see that the Hall of Merit electorate as a whole has shown much, much more thoughtfulness than the Hall of Fame electorate.

I agree. The HOM was a strikingly impressive example of serious, intelligent interaction in cyberspace.

But even if this weren't the case, and instead the HOM project had been a clumsy fiasco, a bumbling laughingstock that no one should take seriously -- that wouldn't provide any kind of support for the BBWAA election process for the HOF.
   48. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: January 25, 2008 at 10:11 PM (#2676254)
I'll respond to this by noting what you also write about strengthening the legitimacy of the HoF as an institution, and ask you if being patronizing and contemptuous of many of the BBWAA's judgments is likely to strengthen and legitimize the case for bringing outsiders into the voting pool. It's not as if this new arrangement is going to be imposed on the BBWAA by some sort of a military coup.

Can we separate ill-tempered argumentative style from legitimacy of content points?


Of course WE can, here on BTF---if we couldn't, both Kevin and Nieporent would have murdered each other a hundred times over rather than meeting up at ballgames---but this still doesn't address my point of HOW do we get the BBWAA (or the HoF) to expand the voting pool?

Do we do it by telling the BBWAA how stupid they are, and then saying "forget that we just called you stupid, just pay attention to the underlying merit of our argument---oh, and while you're up, give us the vote"?

I don't think so. You and I (and BTF as a whole) may know that the patronizing and insulting tone we often take towards the writers isn't to be taken personally, but I find it hard to believe that it gets us anywhere when approaching the same group that we're routinely insulting.

Now if that doesn't matter---if the satisfaction of keeping it real is more important than actually doing something about expanding the voting pool---then fine. But you're not likely to be able to have it both ways. People sometimes toss quarters to homeless bums who scream at them on street corners, but they don't often invite them home for dinner.

There are plenty of authentic ways in which the BBWAA status quo is problematic. Is there a valid argument why Buster Olney is provided the opportunity to vote, but Vin Scully, Jon Miller, Bill James, and Rob Neyer aren't?

Of course there isn't. But again, I think the point is much better presented to the BBWAA and the HoF by emphasizing the merits of the latter group than by dwelling on the limitations of Buster Olney, especially since Buster Olney's younger than you are and isn't likely to be losing his voting status at any point soon, no matter what. And especially since there's a good chance that Buster Olney might have a say in any change of the voting requirements.
   49. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: January 25, 2008 at 10:25 PM (#2676265)
There are no egregious errors of omission or commission in the Hall of Merit, even if the comments/votes of one or two of the regular voters might have been questionable. There are players who I might disagree with, but it is easy to see that the Hall of Merit electorate as a whole has shown much, much more thoughtfulness than the Hall of Fame electorate. It is much easier to accept the wisdom of crowds with regard to difficult cases when the crowd gets the easy cases right.

Wisdom, mostly yes, and thoughtfulness, no doubt at all about that. But at least in part, that's because the HoM and the HoF are similar but nevertheless distinct concepts. And even though we may think that of the two, the HoM for the most part does a "better" job in picking its members, that still doesn't address the points that Rittner and Mark Armour raise about the valid differences (as in I'm OK, You're OK) between the two institutions.

One example here, though it's an exaggerated and atypical one, would be the case of McGwire. No-brainer HoM choice, questionable HoF choice. Roughly 75% Yes in one case and 75% No in the other. I look at that discrepancy, and it's pretty obvious to me that Rittner and Armour are onto something that some of you aren't, and it's not about understanding statistics, but about understanding the nature of the beasts.
   50. Steve Treder Posted: January 25, 2008 at 10:32 PM (#2676272)
HOW do we get the BBWAA (or the HoF) to expand the voting pool?

I have no idea, but I'm certain it won't be as a result of their reading BTF threads, no matter how painstakingly free of patronizing or insulting tone they may ever become. And if you're not talking about BTF, then who exactly is "we" supposed to be?

Look, I'm all ears to what methodology it is you may be thinking about to propose a change to the HOF/BBWAA. What is it?
   51. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 25, 2008 at 10:33 PM (#2676274)
One example here, though it's an exaggerated and atypical one, would be the case of McGwire. No-brainer HoM choice, questionable HoF choice. Roughly 75% Yes in one case and 75% No in the other.


I would point out that many people (I'm speaking generally, not about anyone in this thread) only began questioning whether McGwire's performance was HOF worthy -- from a pure numbers perspective -- after they decided that he should be kept out on character due to the steroids issue.

IOW, once they concluded they would not support him because of the steroids issue, then all of a sudden he was "one dimensional." Before March 17, 2005 (or whenever the hell it was that Barnum & Bailey sponsored that circus on the Congressional floor) few people questioned that his numbers were HOF worthy. Few people said that he was "one dimensional."
   52. Steve Treder Posted: January 25, 2008 at 10:38 PM (#2676276)
One example here, though it's an exaggerated and atypical one, would be the case of McGwire.

It is an exaggerated and atypical one, and as such not useful to the core point. Far more relevant would be cases such as Trammell and Whitaker and Grich and Santo and Blyleven on the one hand, and Sutter and Gossage and Tony Perez and Rollie Fingers and Catfish Hunter on the other. Those are all about understanding how statistics can inform or misinform us as to the quality and value of baseball player performance.
   53. Mike Green Posted: January 25, 2008 at 10:40 PM (#2676278)
Pete Rose is in the Hall of Merit as well, Andy. I am not talking about steroids/betting on baseball etc. The reasons for the egregious errors of the Hall of Fame have nothing to do with that. It is true that the Hall of Fame does place considerable weight on "Fame" rather than "Merit", and most of the errors occur when relatively anonymous great players are passed over in favour of more famous lesser players.

I guess that is the question. Does the Hall of Fame wish to have baseball's best players or its most famous?
   54. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 25, 2008 at 10:50 PM (#2676291)
Look, I'm all ears to what methodology it is you may be thinking about to propose a change to the HOF/BBWAA. What is it?


On balance, I'm happy with the job the BBWAA has done, even though I'm a bit more of a small Hall person. They've certainly made mistakes, but on the whole the Baseball HOF is something that is special, as opposed to the HOFs of other sports.

In that vein I wouldn't switch to an entirely new electorate, like fans, or players, or managers/coaches, etc -- which would lead to entirely unpredictable and potentially disastrous results. I feel like the process needs to be tweaked, not scratched, and so the only real change I would advocate is taking a closer look at the voting electorate (as has been discussed).
   55. Steve Treder Posted: January 25, 2008 at 10:54 PM (#2676293)
Does the Hall of Fame wish to have baseball's best players or its most famous?

At the risk of belaboring a point I've made several times before ...

It's worth understanding the the term "fame" has changed in connotation from how it was understood in the 1930s, when the HOF was named. Back then, fame meant notoriety earned through merit; merely being widely-known but not highly-accomplished wasn't what fame meant. The term has since become less precise, and now is commonly understood to encompass any sort of notoriety, including mere celebrity, and even the tacky Kato Kaelin or Monica Lewinsky sort of notoriety.

If we were to rely on the modern usage of the term "fame," then the baseball HOF should be just as eager to induct Jose Canseco or John Kruk as it is Mike Schmidt or Tony Gwynn. Instead, the only way to sensibly interpret the manner in which players have been voted in to the HOF over the decades is that it's a function of accomplishment, and not simply celebrity.
   56. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: January 25, 2008 at 10:58 PM (#2676294)
If we were to rely on the modern usage of the term "fame," then the baseball HOF should be just as eager to induct Jose Canseco or John Kruk as it is Mike Schmidt or Tony Gwynn.

John Rocker would be an inner-circle guy.
   57. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 25, 2008 at 11:01 PM (#2676298)
I guess that is the question. Does the Hall of Fame wish to have baseball's best players or its most famous?


The best players. That confers the fame. The writers who don't vote along those lines are not voting properly.

Voting for the best players follows from the Hall's mission statement, which is "honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to our National Pastime," and "honoring, by enshrinement, those individuals who had exceptional careers, and recognizing others for their significant achievements."

Also, below are the substantive rules the voters are required to follow. Rule 5 does not list "fame" as being a valid reason to vote for a player. And Rule 6 suggests otherwise, even when that "fame" relates to an on-field achievement.

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.

6. Automatic Elections: No automatic elections based on performances such as a batting average of .400 or more for one (1) year, pitching a perfect game or similar outstanding achievement shall be permitted.
   58. Steve Treder Posted: January 25, 2008 at 11:01 PM (#2676299)
John Rocker would be an inner-circle guy.

As would Eddie Gaedel, Marv Throneberry, and Steve "Psycho" Lyons.
   59. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: January 25, 2008 at 11:04 PM (#2676300)
HOW do we get the BBWAA (or the HoF) to expand the voting pool?

I have no idea, but I'm certain it won't be as a result of their reading BTF threads, no matter how painstakingly free of patronizing or insulting tone they may ever become. And if you're not talking about BTF, then who exactly is "we" supposed to be?


You might begin by reading some of those blogs that are endlessly linked to BTF, but are not indigenous to it. I seriously doubt that the collective tone of those blogs doesn't filter up the food chain to the BBWAA writers. Some those writers are even known to own computers, and have small children who've shown them how to surf the internet.

Look, I'm all ears to what methodology it is you may be thinking about to propose a change to the HOF/BBWAA. What is it?

Well, to begin with, although I agree 100% about the virtues of expanding the HoF voting pool, that's really much more of a passion for you than it is for me. And I say this as a strong supporter of three players (Raines, Blyleven, Trammell) who didn't make it in this year. I guess my passion for perfection in HoF choices isn't all that burning. I see it as just one of life's little annoyances, fun to argue about but nothing much more than that.

But as to "methodology," your guess is as good as mine. One thought might be to begin by writing a series of THT articles extolling the virtues of some the people you just mentioned---James, Miller, Scully and Neyer---and devoting space to reminding the BBWAA of their distinct qualifications to make HoF judgments. I wouldn't dwell on the stupidity of the BBWAA, because that gets you nowhere. But why not devote a series of articles along the lines of "Vin Scully has watched every pitch of over 8000 games---Why can't he vote for the Hall of Fame?" Repeat as many times as necessary, and copy every BBWAA writer, every member of the Veterans' Committee, and every sports editor in the country. It's a lot easier to do this sort of thing now than it would have been 15 or 20 years ago.

-----------------------------

One example here, though it's an exaggerated and atypical one, would be the case of McGwire. No-brainer HoM choice, questionable HoF choice. Roughly 75% Yes in one case and 75% No in the other.

I would point out that many people (I'm speaking generally, not about anyone in this thread) only began questioning whether McGwire's performance was HOF worthy -- from a pure numbers perspective -- after they decided that he should be kept out on character due to the steroids issue.


I sure can't argue with that, but that still doesn't explain much about the >50% gap between the HoF "voters" here and the real HoF voters in the BBWAA.

And FWIW I'm for McGwire in the HoM now just as much as I was before 2005. He's a prime example (though not the only one by any means) of why I'm glad we have two institutions, with overlapping but nevertheless distinct sets of standards. Vive la difference.

EDIT: I do agree that McGwire is not the best case for the overall point under discussion, and even though I said that to begin with, I probably should've left his name out of it altogether.
   60. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 25, 2008 at 11:06 PM (#2676302)
even the tacky Kato Kaelin


But he only had 15 minutes. Clearly not nearly enough for HOF purposes.
   61. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: January 25, 2008 at 11:12 PM (#2676309)
Does the Hall of Fame wish to have baseball's best players or its most famous?

At the risk of belaboring a point I've made several times before ...

It's worth understanding the the term "fame" has changed in connotation from how it was understood in the 1930s, when the HOF was named. Back then, fame meant notoriety earned through merit; merely being widely-known but not highly-accomplished wasn't what fame meant. The term has since become less precise, and now is commonly understood to encompass any sort of notoriety, including mere celebrity, and even the tacky Kato Kaelin or Monica Lewinsky sort of notoriety.

If we were to rely on the modern usage of the term "fame," then the baseball HOF should be just as eager to induct Jose Canseco or John Kruk as it is Mike Schmidt or Tony Gwynn. Instead, the only way to sensibly interpret the manner in which players have been voted in to the HOF over the decades is that it's a function of accomplishment, and not simply celebrity.


That's an excellent rhetorical point, and I couldn't agree more with the distinction between fame / achievement vs. fame / celebrity, but it's not quite as cut-and-dried as all that. The HoF hasn't voted in anyone like Canseco or Kruk, and likely never will. And yet Dizzy Dean was elected in 1953, when the modern concept of fame was at best a lot less developed than it is today. He's still my favorite example of why I'm glad that the HoF hasn't been completely converted to HoM standards, since Ole Diz may never get into the latter.
   62. Steve Treder Posted: January 25, 2008 at 11:23 PM (#2676312)
You might begin by reading some of those blogs that are endlessly linked to BTF, but are not indigenous to them. I seriously doubt that the collective tone of those blogs doesn't filter up the food chain to the BBWAA writers.

How again does this amorphous mass of blogs equate to "we"?

... although I agree 100% about the virtues of expanding the HoF voting pool, that's really much more of a passion for you than it is for me... I see it as just one of life's little annoyances, fun to argue about but nothing much more than that.

Well ...

But as to "methodology," your guess is as good as mine.

Given that the methodology you suggest involves me doing all kinds of work I don't really have much interest in doing, I think it's pretty clear that it isn't much more of a passion for me than it is for you.

But hey, if you want to write up all those articles, I'll pester Studes until he agrees to publish them on THT.

The HoF hasn't voted in anyone like Canseco or Kruk, and likely never will. And yet Dizzy Dean was elected in 1953, when the modern concept of fame was at best a lot less developed than it is today. He's still my favorite example of why I'm glad that the HoF hasn't been completely converted to HoM standards, since Ole Diz may never get into the latter.

Your point has some validity, but I think you're pretty significantly underrating just what kind of a pitcher Dean was. His career does indeed fall far short of the volume standards of the HOF, but what's there is freaking fabulous. He was a great peak pitcher, elbow-to-elbow with the elite aces of his era.
   63. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: January 25, 2008 at 11:37 PM (#2676317)
You might begin by reading some of those blogs that are endlessly linked to BTF, but are not indigenous to them. I seriously doubt that the collective tone of those blogs doesn't filter up the food chain to the BBWAA writers.

How again does this amorphous mass of blogs equate to "we"?


Try reading some of the comments of the writers who read some of those blogs, and you'll see how the (admittedly unfair) generalization gets attached. Admittedly this is a bit like pinning Al Sharpton on Barack Obama, but that's why I added the parenthetical qualifier.

But as to "methodology," your guess is as good as mine.

Given that the methodology you suggest involves me doing all kinds of work I don't really have much interest in doing, I think it's pretty clear that it isn't much more of a passion for me than it is for you.

But hey, if you want to write up all those articles, I'll pester Studes until he agrees to publish them on THT.


[Ducks under desk]

The HoF hasn't voted in anyone like Canseco or Kruk, and likely never will. And yet Dizzy Dean was elected in 1953, when the modern concept of fame was at best a lot less developed than it is today. He's still my favorite example of why I'm glad that the HoF hasn't been completely converted to HoM standards, since Ole Diz may never get into the latter.

Your point has some validity, but I think you're pretty significantly underrating just what kind of a pitcher Dean was. His career does indeed fall far short of the volume standards of the HOF, but what's there is freaking fabulous. He was a great peak pitcher, elbow-to-elbow with the elite aces of his era.


It ain't me who's underrating Ol' Diz, podner, it's those HoM voters. But I do have to admit that his HoM argument is a lot less clearcut than his HoF credentials. I think it has something to do with those literary bonus points that Bittner's talking about, and this is (again) why I'm glad we have two complementary but not quite identical Halls.
   64. Steve Treder Posted: January 25, 2008 at 11:54 PM (#2676324)
Try reading some of the comments of the writers who read some of those blogs, and you'll see how the (admittedly unfair) generalization gets attached. Admittedly this is a bit like pinning Al Sharpton on Barack Obama, but that's why I added the parenthetical qualifier.

Well, I guess I'd say that while I fully acknowledge that all of us are human and no one likes to be insulted, what mature adults tend to do is avoid getting hung up on reacting to juvenile insults. And BBWAA members are (supposed to be) professionals, doing a job, and as such it isn't unreasonable to expect from them a sincere attempt to detect signal through noise when it pertains to information that might help them to their job better.

I don't expect any BBWAA member to read every wild-hair baseball blog. Hell, I sure don't. But it isn't unreasonable in the least to expect a BBWAA member, as part of his professional accountabilities in preparing his annual HOF vote, to give a sincere reading of pertinent articles on baseball websites of substance and seriousness, and those would certainly include BPro, the HOM on this site, and THT. And any sincere reading of such pertinent articles will find tons of useful, educational material that has very little to do with snarky attitude.

It ain't me who's underrating Ol' Diz, podner, it's those HoM voters.

I don't remember the Dean HOM thread, but I'm 100% positive the no-vote on him has nothing to do with the quality of his play and everything to do with its quantity.
   65. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 26, 2008 at 12:18 AM (#2676336)
Your point has some validity, but I think you're pretty significantly underrating just what kind of a pitcher Dean was. His career does indeed fall far short of the volume standards of the HOF, but what's there is freaking fabulous. He was a great peak pitcher, elbow-to-elbow with the elite aces of his era.


True, but making the HOF with just 230 innings after the age of 27 was still a neat trick :-)
   66. Steve Treder Posted: January 26, 2008 at 12:24 AM (#2676337)
True, but making the HOF with just 230 innings after the age of 27 was still a neat trick :-)

It sure was. But working 1531 innings at ages 22-26, with a 120-65 W-L record, 29 saves, and a 133 ERA+ might have had something to do with it.
   67. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 26, 2008 at 12:37 AM (#2676345)
It sure was. But working 1531 innings at ages 22-26, with a 120-65 W-L record, 29 saves, and a 133 ERA+ might have had something to do with it.


Interesting in light of Gooden's first 1531 innings:

120-46, 2.81 ERA
   68. rr Posted: January 26, 2008 at 12:44 AM (#2676348)
And if you want the best of both worlds, turn the selection process over to Bill James, who will be allowed to consult with anyone of his choice, including his computer, plus have seances with Leonard Koppett and other permanently retired analysts. Every Halloween he could release the names of his top dozen or so candidates and let us all argue it out till the end of the year, and if we have added anything new to the debates, he can take it into consideration before making his final selection.

As to what happens after James croaks, he will be asked to have a list of successors put away in a vault, ranked by preference, not to be seen by anyone until his death. He can revise that list once a year, to allow for any premature deaths or mental breakdowns. We can entertain ourselves with guessing games as to their identities, but anyone caught approaching James with a bottle of Schnapps will be permanently blackballed from our little community.


I assume you are aware that James proposed a ludicrously complex system where EVERYBODY got to vote, and also used your little rhetorical trick of "Why can't ______________ vote?" at length in his HoF book.

And FWIW I'm for McGwire in the HoM now just as much as I was before 2005. He's a prime example (though not the only one by any means) of why I'm glad we have two institutions.


I am going to keep you calling you on this, I guess (I am as stubborn as you are). The HoM is cool, but it's not an "institution", and if you want it to get more play, start emailing thread links to the BBWAA and other internet writers, like Posnanski, say, who might write about it and get it some buzz.
   69. Steve Treder Posted: January 26, 2008 at 12:48 AM (#2676355)
Interesting in light of Gooden's first 1531 innings:

120-46, 2.81 ERA


That's a good comparison. As jaw-droppingly impressive as the young Gooden was, that's exactly how impressive the young Dean was. He just blew everyone away with his unhittable combination of stuff, poise, and control.

Andy's point was that Dean's mystique, his mythological status as the center of the storied Gas House Gang (artfully enhanced by Dean himself as a popular national broadcaster in the 1940s & 50s), was as much or more of what gained him election to the HOF as his actual playing performance. As I say, that's debatably true, but what I hope Andy doesn't think is that Dean wasn't really as great as all that.

Dean was every bit as great as all that. His career was really too short to merit HOF election, but its brevity is its only flaw. Dean was astoundingly good over that brief period.
   70. rr Posted: January 26, 2008 at 01:17 AM (#2676360)
One thought might be to begin by writing a series of THT articles extolling the virtues of some the people you just mentioned---James, Miller, Scully and Neyer---and devoting space to reminding the BBWAA of their distinct qualifications to make HoF judgments. I wouldn't dwell on the stupidity of the BBWAA, because that gets you nowhere.


Right, and one problem is the "take-the-vote-away-from-those-clowns" rhetoric, which is not just restricted to musty corners of the net, but has been used Sheehan and Jay Jaffe among others.

In his book, James called for the kind of grassroots movement among the media you suggest--mentioning Olbermann, Barra, Scully, Santo, Jon Miller and many others by name and asking them to speak up. Nothing came of it, obviously. And, while the BBWAA obviuously would have some say in who votes, it is the HoF that decides who votes. Lobbying the HoF and MLB might be as effective.

I find it interesting that Jim Rice has led to all this bandwidth, but it makes sense when one looks at the confluence of circumstances suurounding his apparently impending election.
   71. Wes Parkers Mood (Mike Green) Posted: January 26, 2008 at 01:25 AM (#2676365)
Don Drysdale would be an example of a "fame" choice. Catfish Hunter would be another. Bruce Sutter might fit too. It's a bit strange that the examples that tend to come to mind are pitchers. I guess that Jim Rice was more famous than Dwight Evans.
   72. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: January 26, 2008 at 01:25 AM (#2676367)
Well, I guess I'd say that while I fully acknowledge that all of us are human and no one likes to be insulted, what mature adults tend to do is avoid getting hung up on reacting to juvenile insults. And BBWAA members are (supposed to be) professionals, doing a job, and as such it isn't unreasonable to expect from them a sincere attempt to detect signal through noise when it pertains to information that might help them to their job better.

I don't expect any BBWAA member to read every wild-hair baseball blog. Hell, I sure don't. But it isn't unreasonable in the least to expect a BBWAA member, as part of his professional accountabilities in preparing his annual HOF vote, to give a sincere reading of pertinent articles on baseball websites of substance and seriousness, and those would certainly include BPro, the HOM on this site, and THT. And any sincere reading of such pertinent articles will find tons of useful, educational material that has very little to do with snarky attitude.


No argument with the "should," Steve, but I'm talking about the "is." Strategy as opposed to principles.

Andy's point was that Dean's mystique, his mythological status as the center of the storied Gas House Gang (artfully enhanced by Dean himself as a popular national broadcaster in the 1940s & 50s), was as much or more of what gained him election to the HOF as his actual playing performance. As I say, that's debatably true, but what I hope Andy doesn't think is that Dean wasn't really as great as all that.

Dean was every bit as great as all that. His career was really too short to merit HOF election, but its brevity is its only flaw. Dean was astoundingly good over that brief period.


If I could get hold of a time machine in order to see any World Series in history from start to finish, I'd probably take 1934, just to see Dizzy Dean in all his glory. I have the NY Times bound volume for that entire month and I wouldn't sell it for a thousand bucks. No, I don't underrate Dean for a moment. When I say that he's a marginal HoM candidate, I'm referring entirely to what you said in #66, meaning that he was denied entry due to the lack of quantity rather than quality.

Your point has some validity, but I think you're pretty significantly underrating just what kind of a pitcher Dean was. His career does indeed fall far short of the volume standards of the HOF, but what's there is freaking fabulous. He was a great peak pitcher, elbow-to-elbow with the elite aces of his era.

True, but making the HOF with just 230 innings after the age of 27 was still a neat trick :-)

It sure was. But working 1531 innings at ages 22-26, with a 120-65 W-L record, 29 saves, and a 133 ERA+ might have had something to do with it.

Interesting in light of Gooden's first 1531 innings:

120-46, 2.81 ERA


That's a pretty good example of the limitations of statistics and the virtues of literature when it comes to picking HoF members. To a computer there's no difference between a career cut short by a fluke injury and a career severely diminished by cocaine. But in this case different generations of writers knew how to make such distinctions, and voted accordingly.

I assume you are aware that James proposed a ludicrously complex system where EVERYBODY got to vote, and also used your little rhetorical trick of "Why can't ______________ vote?" at length in his HoF book.

I'd forgotten that, though in looking it up I do notice that he also used that "horse designed by a committee" line that I wrote a few hours ago. And in re-reading the chapter I'm impressed with his faith in the logistics of that December confab. Thatsa big hotel they're gonna need for thata one.

And FWIW I'm for McGwire in the HoM now just as much as I was before 2005. He's a prime example (though not the only one by any means) of why I'm glad we have two institutions.

I am going to keep you calling you on this, I guess (I am as stubborn as you are). The HoM is cool, but it's not an "institution", and if you want it to get more play, start emailing thread links to the BBWAA and other internet writers, like Posnanski, say, who might write about it and get it some buzz.


No more ducking under the desk for me tonight. My wife's starting to give me fish-eyed looks.
But anyway, in this case I'm just glad it gives me a chance to vote for McGwire without throwing up.
   73. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: January 26, 2008 at 01:31 AM (#2676371)
Don Drysdale would be an example of a "fame" choice. Catfish Hunter would be another. Bruce Sutter might fit too. It's a bit strange that the examples that tend to come to mind are pitchers. I guess that Jim Rice was more famous than Dwight Evans.

All five marginal candidates one way or the other, and I can't imagine devising any system that could separate them other than a wholly personalized set of criteria. If the HOF line is a 75 on a 100 scale they all fall somewhere between 72 and 78. I could easily live with all five of them either being in or out, and however you'd want to rank them I can't see berating anyone who would disagree in any of those cases.
   74. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: January 26, 2008 at 01:50 AM (#2676390)
There are plenty of authentic ways in which the BBWAA status quo is problematic. Is there a valid argument why Buster Olney is provided the opportunity to vote, but Vin Scully, Jon Miller, Bill James, and Rob Neyer aren't?


I'll grant Neyer, but with Scully, Miller (I'm guessing) and James (definitely), their employment by major league baseball teams is a valid argument why they shouldn't be voting.
   75. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 26, 2008 at 01:59 AM (#2676394)
That's a pretty good example of the limitations of statistics and the virtues of literature when it comes to picking HoF members. To a computer there's no difference between a career cut short by a fluke injury and a career severely diminished by cocaine. But in this case different generations of writers knew how to make such distinctions, and voted accordingly.


I'd say that's a bit of a stretch, Andy. The writers didn't vote for Gooden because the second half of his career was nothing like the first half; he flamed out. What was left was a pitcher with a Hall of Fame peak -- and a whole lot of mediocre pitching after that, short on quantity as well.

I grant you the cocaine issue didn't help, but I don't see that it would have kept him out had he been deserving on performance.

I would also take issue with your conclusion that his career was "diminished by cocaine," if by that you mean that it was the reason his performance dropped off. It's certainly possible that cocaine was the reason, but might there be a more logical cause? I would go with the theory that he was worked hard at a very young age, which played a role in the decline in his performance and led to the shoulder injury in 1989, after which he was never the same pitcher.

Certainly the cocaine didn't help; although missing two months of the 1987 season for drug rehab at least accomplished something the Mets organization failed to accomplish: protecting his shoulder.

He couldn't be overworked if he wasn't on the mound.
   76. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 26, 2008 at 02:07 AM (#2676399)
I'll grant Neyer, but with Scully, Miller (I'm guessing) and James (definitely), their employment by major league baseball teams is a valid argument why they shouldn't be voting.


What's the argument? That they won't vote for players who played for rival teams, or that they'd be more inclined to vote for players who played for their own team?

I don't think any inherent bias that Scully, Miller, or Morgan would have would be any worse than the biases of the writers who basically cover one team/city.

Although I don't really see why broadcasters should get a vote. Not that I think they shouldn't; I haven't thought about it much. But that would be the kind of radical change to the system that could lead to some unintended consequences if it proves that broadcasters generally are worse suited for this than the writers are. The argument for including someone like Neyer is that he is at least as informed as the average BBWAA writer (I of course think Neyer is moreso, but I'm just stating the argument). Do we know that to be the case for broadcasters?
   77. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 26, 2008 at 02:15 AM (#2676402)
Don Drysdale would be an example of a "fame" choice. Catfish Hunter would be another. Bruce Sutter might fit too.


I don't know; Drysdale scores pretty well on the HOF monitor, and has a couple of Hall of Famers on his comps list (granted one of them being Hunter).

Hunter also scores well on the monitor, and he also has the 20-win seasons and thus was seen as a "winner" -- which is kind of a different concept from "fame."

Maybe the "fame" aspect applies a bit more to Sutter, although the brownie points he got were more due to being a "pioneer," which I guess is related to "fame" but is kind of different also.
   78. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: January 26, 2008 at 02:35 AM (#2676414)
What's the argument? That they won't vote for players who played for rival teams, or that they'd be more inclined to vote for players who played for their own team?


I have no doubt that Scully, James and Miller (don't know where Morgan comes in) would want to approach the task dutifully. Other annonncers may not be so honest. Moreover, the employers of Scully, James and Miller could try to pressure them to vote for Orel Hershiser, Jim Rice or Jeff Kent. It's a potential conflict, and the HOF would be best served to avoid it.
   79. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: January 26, 2008 at 02:36 AM (#2676416)
That's a pretty good example of the limitations of statistics and the virtues of literature when it comes to picking HoF members. To a computer there's no difference between a career cut short by a fluke injury and a career severely diminished by cocaine. But in this case different generations of writers knew how to make such distinctions, and voted accordingly.

I'd say that's a bit of a stretch, Andy. The writers didn't vote for Gooden because the second half of his career was nothing like the first half; he flamed out. What was left was a pitcher with a Hall of Fame peak -- and a whole lot of mediocre pitching after that, short on quantity as well.

I grant you the cocaine issue didn't help, but I don't see that it would have kept him out had he been deserving on performance.

I would also take issue with your conclusion that his career was "diminished by cocaine," if by that you mean that it was the reason his performance dropped off. It's certainly possible that cocaine was the reason, but might there be a more logical cause? I would go with the theory that he was worked hard at a very young age, which played a role in the decline in his performance and led to the shoulder injury in 1989, after which he was never the same pitcher.

Certainly the cocaine didn't help; although missing two months of the 1987 season for drug rehab at least accomplished something the Mets organization failed to accomplish: protecting his shoulder.

He couldn't be overworked if he wasn't on the mound.


I guess what I meant was that if instead of the perception of Gooden's career descending into verygoodness and then mediocrity due to cocaine, it'd ended more quickly due to a fluke injury after a brief flash of absolute brilliance (like Dean), he might have had a better chance at enshrinement. And if he'd gone onto a real HoF career in spite of the cocaine, he'd probably be in anyway---but that didn't happen.

And of course if he'd had one hundredth the color of Dean (no pun intended), it wouldn't have hurt his case, either. But that's a standard that almost no other player could ever hope to attain.

As to your specific point about his decline being due more to early overwork than cocaine, that's entirely possible (maybe more than possible), but I'm not sure that's how most people saw it.
   80. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: January 26, 2008 at 02:45 AM (#2676419)
What's the argument? That they won't vote for players who played for rival teams, or that they'd be more inclined to vote for players who played for their own team?

I have no doubt that Scully, James and Miller (don't know where Morgan comes in) would want to approach the task dutifully. Other annonncers may not be so honest. Moreover, the employers of Scully, James and Miller could try to pressure them to vote for Orel Hershiser, Jim Rice or Jeff Kent. It's a potential conflict, and the HOF would be best served to avoid it.


That's a very good point, though I think you might deal with it by having (a) secret ballots for broadcasters and other team employees such as James, and (b) a knowledge test of the sort discussed above. The truth is that broadcasters are likely every bit as varied in their knowledge of the history of the game as the writers, and that's especially true of broadcasters who come to the mike straight from the playing field. They may well have superior knowledge of "baseball," but little knowledge of its past---again, just like writers.
   81. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 26, 2008 at 02:52 AM (#2676426)
I guess what I meant was that if instead of the perception of Gooden's career descending into verygoodness and then mediocrity due to cocaine, it'd ended more quickly due to a fluke injury after a brief flash of absolute brilliance (like Dean), he might have had a better chance at enshrinement.


With that I agree.

And we pretty much know that we're right: it's hard to do worse than 17 votes, or 3.3%, which is what Gooden received before dropping off the ballot. :-)

As to your specific point about his decline being due more to early overwork than cocaine, that's entirely possible (maybe more than possible), but I'm not sure that's how most people saw it.


Yes, I agree with that. And I guess that speaks more to your point about perception.

One thing that seems clear: the overwork was a more likely cause of the shoulder injury than the cocaine.
   82. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 26, 2008 at 02:54 AM (#2676427)
That's a very good point, though I think you might deal with it by having (a) secret ballots for broadcasters and other team employees such as James,


But the writers' votes are already secret, unless you mean something different than that for this hypothetical voting group.
   83. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: January 26, 2008 at 03:29 AM (#2676438)
That's a very good point, though I think you might deal with it by having (a) secret ballots for broadcasters and other team employees such as James,

But the writers' votes are already secret, unless you mean something different than that for this hypothetical voting group.


You're right again, although I knew that already. What I meant was that we'd need a universal gentleman's agreement among the broadcasters to keep their votes secret. We know that the writers have nothing like that (for which I'm grateful, as their HoF columns are fodder for many BTF threads), but for the broadcasters it would be a matter of being collectively able to remain free of pressure from their employers.

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