The Politics of Glory

>> Thursday, January 07, 2010

Scott's thoughts on the latest HOF ballot got me thinking about the whole "the first ballot ought to be sacred" line of thinking, this year ably represented by Jay Mariotti's nonsensical preening.

Although I think the apparently increasingly common practice of having a different voting standard for players on the ballot for the first time is silly, it does highlight a problem with institutions like the HOF, which this year can be called the Andre Dawson Dilemma. Was Dawson an outstanding player for a long time, and a truly great player for a short one? Absolutely. Can he be compared to, say, Willie Mays without laughing? Absolutely not. Now there are some people who think the HOF should be reserved for players who can be more less reasonably compared to Willie Mays, which would mean that, ballparking it, there would be maybe 50 in there, tops.

I'm not saying, of course, that there have been 50 players as good as Mays -- I'm saying that the difference between Mays and, say, Stan Musial is one of degree. The difference between Mays and Dawson is more one of kind.

But it seems a shame to have a Hall of Fame that is so restrictive that you end up shutting out lots of legitimately great players, including guys like (to just stick with Dawson's fellow right fielders) Clemente and Kaline and Gwynn, all of whom in my opinion flunk the Willie Mays Test. On the other hand you don't want to start putting Paul O'Neill and Jesse Barfield in there either, at least if you're trying to maintain some standard of greatness as opposed to nostalgia-drenched pretty goodness. Dawson, who is south of Kaline but well north of Barfield, is very much in my particular gray zone.

One solution to this dilemma has been suggested by Bill James, who recommended having a Hall of Fame with different circles. Mays and Musial would get monuments. Kaline and Gwynn would get plaques. And there could be a place for the Jesse Barfields as well.

For now, the only division the voters have is this unwieldy informal business of not voting for guys on the first ballot, which seems arbitrary and ultimately pointless. (There's the Veterans Committee of course but that's another post).


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