Welcome back. That isn’t so much for you as it is for me. It feels like it’s been quite awhile since I’ve written a piece for the blog. What better way to kick off the new year than a piece about baseball?
Specifically, let’s talk about the recent MLB Hall of Fame vote. Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza were voted into the Hall of Fame–Griffey was a first ballot hall of famer, Piazza had been on the ballot since 2013. The Kid set a voting record with 437 of the 440 possible votes from the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America). I have plenty of choice words for the three abstaining, the socially acceptable ones can be found below.
Griffey’s induction by an overwhelming margin in his first year of eligibility serves as a leading indicator that the guard may be changing in the BBWAA. As the stodgy old bastards retire and the younger journalists receive their membership cards, we may see more common sense in HOF voting in years to come. Let’s discuss what I mean by that. For too long, and longer still if you look at the ethereal lexicon of the Unwritten Rules of Baseball, common sense has waged war with a solitary word–the word…ought.
Take a moment. Think about baseball’s past-its dark past.
“His whole team ought to be banned from baseball, regardless of individual levels of involvement in cheating.”
“He ought to go back to the Negro League where he belongs.”
“He ought to have an asterisk next to his record because it took him more games to hit those home runs.”
“He ought to be kept out of the Hall of Fame because he bet on baseball as a manager.”
“The home run records ought to go back to Maris and Aaron.”
And finally, “we ought to keep him out of the Hall of Fame because this is his first ballot. He ought to have to pay his dues before we vote him in.”
Consider all the times in baseball when the notion of duty and the idea of the correctness prevailed over reasonable thinking. It’s hard to talk about baseball without alluding to some kind of enforcement of these special mores in baseball-like when the home team plunks a batter for the sake of retribution by proxy for its own hit batsman. We talk about a Hammurabi-like code of baseball justice and the way things ought to be handled. The rational guy says, “why would you hit one of their guys? You just give him a free base and possibly lose an out.” I’ve learned, however, that Rational Guy sits in front of the classroom and answers every question correctly. You may be right, Rational Guy, but nobody likes you.
The bottom line is that baseball has long had the notion of being a purer game than other sports. It’s leaned long on tradition and nostalgia to determine future courses of action. This has not manifested itself in a more prominent way than with the Hall of Fame voting. In the past, former players have been punished simply for having the nerve to have their name put on the ballot. Keep in mind, these guys have been out of baseball for 5 years. If they come out of retirement, that clock resets. So, their stats aren’t changing. The whole reason that the BBWAA withheld votes for first ballot players was to punish them solely on the basis of them being first ballot players. They created the notion that a “first ballot hall of famer” was more prestigious than simply being a hall of famer–a notion motivated completely by the hubris and self-importance of the journalists who comprise the BBWAA*.
*Editor’s note: pretty big egos for guys who think that the word baseball is two words.
But, of course, that’s the way things have been, but not necessarily the way things will stay. Ken Griffey, Jr. marks a stark departure from stupid on behalf of the BBWAA. The Kid was certainly no slouch by any measure of the imagination. Griffey is in the top ten for homeruns, 13 All Stars, 10 Gold Gloves, 7 Silver Sluggers, and an All Star Game MVP. But, Griffey was injured often and many of his stats are pedestrian at best (I will fight you on this, Caleb). He barely cracks the top 50 in hits, he’s not in the top ten in any other all-time offensive category. Please understand, this is not an argument against Griffey in the Hall of Fame. I am simply highlighting the fact that Griffey’s stats do not support him being a first ballot Hall of Famer by the “old way of doing things.” Moreover, based on his stats, and his injury-riddled career, he should not have been in on his first ballot, nor should he have set the all-time voting record. But, again, that’s if we consider this vote in terms of the word ought.
Simply put: if the BBWAA wanted to keep the status quo, then The Kid ought to have been kept out of the HOF on his first ballot. But, that’s the beauty of this vote. He wasn’t. Ken Griffey, Jr. is an all-star by the widest margin ever recorded by the hall of fame. He missed unanimity by 3 votes. Now, while those 3 writers are assholes, I’m flabbergasted. Do you know how hard it is to get 2 baseball writers to agree about something, much less 437 of them?! It’s a miracle that anyone ever received 99% of the votes. That record, now squarely Junior’s, will stand for a long time to come.
In a way, this vote has shown a willingness in the BBWAA to drop rhetoric and eschew the contrivance of the way things ought to be. Instead, the BBWAA may be beginning to see themselves as stewards of the Hall of Fame, and not its gatekeepers. A decade of relevance in baseball, not the miserly opinions of nostalgic journalists, ought to be the primarily hurdle to the Hall of Fame.
God knows it’s a high enough bar to clear.
Ken Griffey, Jr. was one of my favorite players growing up. I’m profoundly excited that he is now a Hall of Famer.
Congratulations, Kid. You can finally go in the Hall of Fame.