In another mind-boggling decision, the Base-Ball Writers Association of America last week decided to cut down the years of eligibility a retired player has for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Instead of the traditional 15 years, now a player only has ten to be voted into Cooperstown by the writers.
Given the logjam of players who will be eligible and worthy, and given the fact that the writers decided not to lift the arbitrary cap of ten annual allotments per ballot, the decision seems petty and arbitrary.
As we have seen in recent years, though, petty and arbitrary are what the BBWAA does best.
Now, I readily admit that this is me grousing because, well, it’s really, really easy to grouse over the decisions the writers make with regard to the institution whose gate they keep.
In this era, though, they haven’t done much to acquit themselves:
— It has become standard practice for many voters to leave first-year eligible players off their ballots, which effectively reduced a nominee’s eligibility through this year from 15 to 14 years, and now from ten to nine. The entire notion of a ‘first-ballot hall-of-famer’ matters only to those who cast those ballots and to no one else.
— As I’ve noted in several annual Hall of Fail posts, this seems like a Pyrrhic attempt at a ‘small Hall’, which is ridiculous for two reasons: first, the Hall of Fame will necessarily only get larger because the history of the game only gets longer. And secondly, reducing eligibility only kicks the can down the road, with worthy players from the retiring class of 2009 getting jammed by worthy players retiring at the end of this season (**cough**Derek Jeter**cough**) in five years and those in 2019 jammed again in 2024…
— …while having the unintended consequence of retroactively asterisking recent entrants like Bert Blyleven, Jim Rice and anyone else in baseball history who was inducted in their 11th to 15th and then-final years of eligibility.
All of this seems to be targeted at these mountebanks, these Miltonian serpents, these compilers.
For those uninitiated into the bizarro rubric of Hall of Fame consideration–and, if you are, I apologize for ruining the magic and majesty of Cooperstown for you–there are some viewed by these writers as players who hung around long enough to have stats worthy of beatific consideration, but ultimately not considered good enough for seamhead sainthood.
Tim Raines and Lee Smith are typically considered compilers, as was former nominee Jim Kaat, the recently-inducted and aforementioned Blyleven, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Edgar Martinez and others. Yet, as I recall, Carlton Fisk, who was a foregone conclusion for induction, but was elected in his third year of eligibility, himself said in an ESPN interview that he wasn’t great, but was good long enough to be considered great. If that isn’t a confession of compiling, or at least of modesty, then what is?
Truth be told, they’re all compilers. Jeter, slogging out the last season of a truly remarkable career, is only padding stats at this point. Ken Griffey, Jr., another guy who will breeze into Cooperstown, was a complete positional and payroll liability for the last third of his career (as well as anytime after the All-Star Break.) Trevor Hoffman was anything but invincible after his arm issues. (I know, I watched him struggle through the end of his career as a Brewer.) These guys will all be celebrated when their time comes, but when Raines gets in–as he deserves to–or, better yet, for awkwardness’ sake, if Martinez does, will they smile through their teeth and politely clap?