By In Baseball, Hall of Fame

Unanimity and the Hall of Fame

From NBC SportsWorld:

I wrote a little something (in honor of Ken Griffey) about the BBWAA’s history of never electing a player into the Hall of Fame unanimously. I have heard some sensible people say that there’s something poetic and even romantic about this, something that speaks to the imperfections of all baseball players. I can see this somewhat, though when you look a little closer at WHY no player has been elected unanimously, well, it isn’t quite so romantic.

I particularly enjoyed learning the Mike Schmidt story in here.

Bad Process

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46 Responses to Unanimity and the Hall of Fame

  1. Marc Schneider says:

    It makes one wonder how some of these people are actually allowed to vote, drive cars, and get paid for being incompetent boobs. And, I’m sorry, not voting for Schmidt because he wasn’t so nice to kids is about like saying I wouldn’t vote for Abraham Lincoln because he’s too tall. Having a “principled” reason for doing something stupid doesn’t make it not stupid.

  2. Richard says:

    The obsession with unanimity is just something for all the numbers nerds to obsess over. Nowhere in the Hall of Fame – not on the plaques, not in any of the exhibits, not in any of the display cases – does it mention how many votes a player received. Tom Seaver is just as much a Hall of Famer as Ralph Kiner (made it by one vote in his last year of eligibility) and Ron Santo (Veterans’ Committee selection). It might be fun to pour over and analyze and gripe about how anyone could have not voted for Player X, but it doesn’t really matter in the end. All it does is distract us from appreciating the greatness of the players.

    • DJ MC says:

      1) It’s not an obsession, it’s a symbol of the basic problems with Hall of Fame voting. Problems both at the micro level with baseball itself and at the macro level of having such subjectivity involved in something that we all deem at least of some importance.

      2) I don’t know how you could read Joe’s article and suggest that this kind of discussion distracts from appreciation of greatness. The whole point is in saying just how great these players were and how a small number saw things differently.

      • lazermike says:

        But does it reflect a basic problem with Hall of Fame voting? The players for whom unanimity (or lack thereof) is an issue get elected, almost always on the first ballot. That’s why we don’t require unanimity. I agree anyone who doesn’t vote for Mays or Aaron or Seaver or Maddux or Griffey is either an idiot or misguided, but the system is designed so those voters don’t derail the process. I certainly don’t think we should boot everyone out who doesn’t vote for Junior: If we’re going to have a vote, then we have to allow that some will use their vote unwisely. We can’t even get five dentists to agree that sugarless gum is better.

        It’s an interesting history and a fun topic for discussion, but I’m not sure it’s actually a problem.

    • BobDD says:

      Distract from appreciating greatness? You mean someone thinks less of Tris Speaker and Ernie Banks now? Of Willie Mays? And pouring over and analyzing to the nth degree is what we do here – get used to it.

  3. Anon says:

    I wonder if Jeter doesn’t finally break down the unanimous barrier. There really is no argument against him – all the younger voters will vote him without even stopping to think about it and he has all the intangilble qualities that older voters like: numbers, lengthy career, leader, winner, visibility (New York), etc. Even moreso than Griffey, there just isn’t even a poorly thought-out argument against Jeter.

    Especially in the Internet age where the people who don’t vote for a guy can be pinned down, it’s going to be hard to come up with any rationale for not voting for Jeter.

    • Anon says:

      Oh, forgot to add in Jeter’s qualities that he has also avoided the steroid stain and unlike Griffey, his argument doesn’t rely on power numbers piled up during the (unfortunately named, but now probably permanently named) Steroid Era. There is a certain part of the electorate that will look at any HR numbers put up from 1990-2010 or so as horribly inflated and will over-discount those numbers. Jeter also benefitted but because HR weren’t really his calling card, those voters will overlook that he played during the Steroid Era.

    • Darrel says:

      While I agree that Jeter is a HOF player lets not get too excited about how unfailingly great he was. An absolutely brutal defensive SS with minimal power does not make him Mays or Ruth. As for intangible greatness I would strongly disagree. A great leader who only wanted to win with no regard for his personal status would have us discussing the merits of Jeter as a candidate for the HOF as a LF. He stubbornly and at the harm of his team insisted at staying at SS when the team acquired a better one(A-Rod) and to the point where he was an embarrassment. Yankee fans won’t admit it but I’m sure they were shocked at what an actual competent SS looks like on D once they got a look at Grigorious on a daily basis.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        I find your comment interesting that “Jeter is a HOF player . . . [a]n absolutely brutal defensive SS with minimal power. . . ” If he was that bad of a shortstop, is he really a HOF player? There are certainly lousy defensive players in the Hall, but most player a non-premium position or were such great hitters that it overshadowed their defense. Jeter was a very good hitter for a shortstop but not a Rogers Hornsby, for example. So, if you put it this way, how good a player actually was Jeter? I always felt he was Hall-worthy, but it seems that your comment is a bit contradictory. What actually makes him a Hall of Fame player? I’m not criticizing, just asking about your reasoning. (My own belief, but with no analytical basis, is that he couldn’t have been that bad a shortstop in his prime but I’m willing to say I’m wrong.)

        • Darrel says:

          I believe he was a bad defensive player at his best and an awful one for the last 5 or so years of his career. He was however one of the premier offensive players at his position for a very long time. While others eclipsed him offensively at times most of those players have since been shown to be PED users. The sheer length of time that he put up good to very good offensive numbers, and the counting totals that led to, make him a surefire HOF’er. At some point in baseball the sheer volume of non-tainted numbers is impossible to ignore. What his career doesn’t make him is a top 5, 10, or even 50 all time great.

          On the D front I believe that by the time A-Rod was acquired and the Yankees had a better option Jeter was already “The Captain”. He was an Icon and beloved and nobody had the guts to say to him that he was now the new LF. So he stayed at SS and spent the next decade causing his pitchers nearly as much grief as he caused the opposing pitcher.

        • He is Hall worthy, but to me he’s an “average” or even below Hall of famer, and I totally agree with Darrel. He was a brutal defensive shortstop. You couldn’t watch a Yankees game without hearing “just past a diving Jeter” two or three times as a moderately hit ground ball evaded him. His power was good for a shortstop but hardly A-Rod, peak Nomar or even Tejada. His “leadership” and “intangibles” were probably a slight positive but were exaggerated to the point of absurdity. Not for nothing did Joe invent the word “Jeterate”. Also ridiculously exaggerated was his postseason play. While A-Rod got exorciated for every tiny failure, nobody noticed that Jeter was usually just as bad in the series’ the Yankees lost without ever catching a smidgeon of grief for it. He did have some great moments and series too, but his overall level of play was about what it was in the regular season.

          How Alex Rodriguez moved to third base when Jeter couldn’t hold his jock and somehow came out of this looking like the bad guy compared to cap’n Jeets is beyond me. Note: I’m saying nothing about the steroids stuff here, this predated all that.

          Much like Tony Gwynn, he shows that it’s possible to be both an excellent player and really overrated at the same time. Even with all his injuries, I’d say that someone like Barry Larkin was a better player than him and yet 95% of baseball fans would act like the two are just incomparable. Ditto Alan Trammell who can’t even get in the Hall. Nomar Garciaparra had a short peak, but was just as good for 6 or 7 years etc.

          • Chris says:

            He’s going in. Period. He put a lot of butts in the seats. He sold YES advertising space. He made a lot of people a lot of money.

            Like it or not, he was the face of baseball for a generation. That gets in.

          • Foob says:

            Depending on what happens with the ballot over the next few years, I think Jeter actually could stand a chance of being voted in unanimously, even though he obviously wasn’t anywhere near the best player of his (or any other) generation.
            Those who vote purely on merit will acknowledge that he’s deserving based on numbers (crappy defense notwithstanding, he hit well as a shortstop for a long time).
            Voters who stomp their feet and shout “it’s the Hall of FAME, dammit! Not the Hall of Numbers!” will certainly give him a vote.
            Voters who vote based on gut and feel are (I would assume) highly likely to buy into the narrative and mythology of the captain. Hell, some older voters who don’t want to vote for any of today’s players, or won’t vote for anyone their first year on the ballot would probably be more likely to make an exception for him than for anyone else because ERMAGERD! DEREK JETER!
            The two things working against him in my mind are the era he played in (some voters may just blackball everyone who played in the 90s) and the super-stacked ballot.
            For the former, I could actually see some voters voting for him anyway, because of the belief that he was clean and is all that is pure and good about baseball, sports, life, the universe and everything.
            For the latter, some voters may vote strategically, figuring he’ll sail in without their vote whereas other players may need votes just to stay on the ballot. There could also be cases where people who aren’t using HOF voting as an anti-steroid soapbox look at the jam-packed ballot and honestly say “he’s not one of the 10 best guys on here.”

      • Anon says:

        The point wasn’t that Jeter was the greatest player, the point is he unfailingly clears all the hurdles to be a HOFer without question and I think there is at least some chance every single voter votes for him.

        • Darrel says:

          Yeah, I understand what you were getting at and my counterpoint was simply that in that regard there are numerous players either decades ago as Joe mentions, recently, or still to come in the near future(think Pujols) that have far better credentials for unanimity. I pointed out a few flaws that some may rationalize as fatal just off the top of my head. Once we get away from the “Icon” aspect of his career I think you will see more people making the case that while great he wasn’t quite the player the mythology presents.

    • DJ MC says:

      The rationale against Jeter will be the same as against Ripken: he played in an era of widespread PED use, and since there is no way to truly know who did and didn’t use before testing came along, there are at least a couple of writers who simply will not vote for players from that era.

    • otistaylor89 says:

      I just don’t think Jeter is good enough to be the 1st unanimous selection. He was the best player on the best team for several years, but his fielding just wasn’t very good most of his career. And the “leadership” thing is worthless when you are playing on a stacked team most of the time.

  4. duffy01 says:

    There are limits to the number of people you can vote for, as there should be. It is the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good. You can vote for Joe instead of Bill because you know Bill will get in anyway, and Joe will need the votes. I see no problem with a player not getting 100%. A player waiting years or not getting in because Jeter, Mays, etc must get 100% is much worse.

    • Ian R. says:

      I’m not sure why there needs to be a limit on the number of votes – it’s clear that the vast majority of voters don’t check 10 boxes anyway. When you have a loaded ballot with more than 10 worthy candidates, why not vote for more?

      Otherwise, you get cases like Craig Biggio in 2014 – he missed election by two votes (two votes!) because several voters either voted strategically (as you said) or couldn’t fit him on their ballots.

    • Bill says:

      This is an excellent point. I understand that it doesn’t seem to have happened during the Seaver election, but if you’re a voter with only ten votes, and you want someone to remain on the ballot and you suspect that said someone may not have the votes to stay on and you know that there are a couple of definitely-getting-in candidates… why not sacrifice voting for the sure things to vote for the longer shots and the keep-on-the-ballot folks?

  5. Dan says:

    The problem with “I’m not voting for this guy simply so that he will not be elected unanimously” is one Kant’s ethics directly addresses. It’s not something that everyone could do. If everyone did it, there would be no person ever elected to the HoF (at least, not by the BBWAA), because everyone would withhold their vote so the person didn’t get elected unanimously. The candidate would receive no votes and get punted off the ballot.

    Those who withhold their vote are COUNTING ON OTHERS to do the voting for them. And that’s just wrong. Maddux is a first ballot HOF’er, but ooh he can’t be unanimous, so everyone else has to vote for him except for me. WTH?

    I always wondered how that voter rationalizes their actions at the end of the day. How would you explain that to your kid? “Yup, I had the honour of being allowed to vote on some of the greatest players ever to set foot on a field.” “So did you vote for Unit, Dad?” “Ummm, nooo, but I made sure his election wasn’t unanimous…”

    • Brent says:

      Dan, here is how I imagine the conversation between the principled voter who is not going to vote anyone in on the first ballot and his grandson while visiting the Hall of Fame:

      Grandson: Gramps it is so awesome that you got to vote for the HOF. What an honor!

      Grandpa: It was indeed an honor, Johnny.

      Johnny: Wow, it would be so cool to have voted for Willie Mays and Mike Schmidt and George Brett.

      Grandpa: Well, actually, I didn’t vote for any of those guys.

      Johnny (slightly confused): Ok, well at least you got to vote for Steve Carlton and Mickey Mantle and Nolan Ryan.

      Grandpa: Well no, actually, I didn’t vote for any of them either. You see Johnny, I had this strong principle that no one should be voted in the first time unanimously, so I never voted yes on any of the strong candidates who were obviously getting in the first year.

      Johhny (obviously disappointed): Oh, OK.

      Grandpa: But, look here of the exciting people I did vote into the Hall: Don Drysdale, I helped put him over the top in 1984. Hoyt Wilhelm, I was part of the gang of 100 in 1985 that helped him get in. Catfish Hunter, we got him in 1987. When you see Rollie Fingers’ name as HOFer, you can know that I helped him get in.

  6. Kuz says:

    It is my opinion that the 100% thing is no big deal. Kramer didn’t wear the ribbon in the AIDS walk.
    Having said this, I do think some voters do not want HOF membership to be stratified, e.i., one hundred percenters vs. less than one hundred percenters. Also, it would be fun to see Jeter and Mariano go in at 100% to further infuriate their detractors.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      It’s not a big deal other than to show that some of the writers are incompetent or unwilling to do their job. They are supposed to vote for the players they think are deserving of admission. Unless they somehow think Willie Mays in not worth of inclusion in the HOF, there is no justification for not voting for him even if they know he will get in anyway.

    • Triston says:

      If a writer thinks a player’s unanimous election is nothing more than a nifty bit of trivia, then I don’t really see any reason why they should have any qualms about not voting for a player they know will get in if they use that vote on another player they think are Hall-worthy. People get upset about players not getting in unanimously; but they get more upset that a player is not in the HOF. Momentum can be big in HOF voting, and a vote here can lead to induction later.
      Especially if a voter sees their job not as voting for the best players per se, but getting those they think are worthy actually get elected.
      The Kramer thing is actually a good analogy, I think. Voting for ten players you think are Hall-worthy is doing the AIDS walk. Voting for a player you know will get elected either way while leaving a player you also think is Hall-worthy off the ballot because you can only vote for ten is wearing the ribbon.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        Are there really going to be more than 10 players in any year that you think are Hall-worthy so that you would need to leave one off in order to vote for, say, Hank Aaron? I’m very skeptical about that. Nevertheless, I agree that’s at least a plausible reason to not vote for someone like that. But the problem is many of these clowns have not voted for someone because of personal grievances, don’t like their character, etc. such as the Schmidt story.

        • Triston says:

          It would have been a problem the last two years, and may be why no one on the first ballot in 1936 was elected unanimously- EVERYBODY EVER was eligible.
          But this year? Not so much.

          I forgot that the HOF recently adjusted the eligibility for writers who can vote. So I’d say that the possibility of a unanimous inductee may have increased simply by removing writers who haven’t covered anything in ten years.

          Although that makes me wonder: If someone does get 100% of the vote at some point, will they then become a standard? ie, “So-and-so is a clear HOFer, but he wasn’t Mr. 100% guy…”

  7. john4psu says:

    Let’s go even further and remove those writers who mock the process by their egregious mistakes which also includes voting for those who have no right to be even considered for the Hall of Fame.

    • Kuz says:

      OK……let’s see your list of who should be removed from voting.

    • lazermike says:

      So essentially, your suggestion is we have an election, and everyone who doesn’t vote with the majority (or supermajority) loses his or her vote? That seems to me to defeat the purpose of an election.

      • john4psu says:

        The numbers and percentages I use below lazermike are strictly for demonstration purposes.

        No, say for example one person votes for Frank Tavares for the HOF. No one, in their right mind, believes Frank Tavares should be in the HOF. That voter either has lost track of their senses or is making a mockery of the election process. That person no longer gets to vote. Voting for Tavares would put that elector in the less than one percentile faction. If an elector votes for someone who receives less than 5% of the vote (and that’s being kind) then they’ve proven they no longer have the capability to rightfully determine who is qualified for the Hall of Fame.

        The same could be applied to those who are definitely qualified for the Hall of Fame. If an elector, on two occasions, shows they are incapable of rightfully determining who is qualified for the Hall of Fame, remove their voting privileges. For example, voter A did not vote for Cal Ripken or Tony Gwynn for the Hall of Fame, which is truly absurd not to. There is no good reason to not vote for either Ripken or Gwynn. If you fail to vote with 98% of your peers or more than two occasions, then maybe that person no longer can determine who is qualified for the Hall of Fame.

        • lazermike says:

          I guess I don’t see what problem this solves. The system is already set up so 75 percent of the vote gets a candidate elected and getting less than 5 percent of the vote gets a candidate tossed from the ballot. Those two rules ensure that no one voter (or small handful of voters) can disrupt the election. Griffey will be in; Eckstein will be out, regardless of whether one or a few voters disagree with the majority on either.

          The real issue I see is that your proposal discourages voters from making an honest assessment of the candidates for fear of getting bounced. I may like closers and think Billy Wagner deserves a vote, but now I’m afraid to vote for him because I can’t know that enough other voters will agree. Maybe that seems like a minor cost to you, but to me the fact Eckstein may get a single vote isn’t enough of a reason to force out dissenters.

          • john4psu says:

            Do you believe any voter had justification not to have voted for Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, or Stan Musial?

            I understand your reasoning but that doesn’t prevent a voter from writing in Mickey Mouse or Mario Mendoza every year if they feel so inclined.

          • lazermike says:

            Well, sure there is: Mickey and Mendoza aren’t on the ballot.
            Look, there are contrarians in every crowd. That’s why we set up decision-making systems so they can’t hijack a consensus or majority. But if we are going to predetermine that Junior is such a sure thing that a voter who disagrees could lose his right to vote, then let’s just skip the voting part.
            And I agree that it’s appropriate to review the qualification of voters who misuse the process: submitting blank ballots, writing in Mickey Mouse, maybe voting only for Brad Ausmus (or the equivalent) year after year. But that’s different from making a rule that if you don’t agree with the predetermined outcome you don’t get to vote.

  8. heavy c says:

    It’s not so much the lack of unanimity that bothers me, but as mentioned when votes go to less worthy or unworthy candidates instead. There needs to be some vetting for voters and there needs to be an unlimited number of selections, maybe even a ranking and points like Cy Young or MVP voting, though that might get too complicated. Recently, I blame the vote limit especially on the more crowded years. It’s been talked about before. Joe’s favourite pitcher Jack Morris somehow gets a full eligibility ride for years, while other comparable or better players fall off the ballot in tough talent rich years. There is no accountability either, just like playoff umpires used to assigned. It only takes years of service, not merit. Make ballots public and anyone with things too far out of wack gets suspended for 5 years. I’m not talking about borderline calls, but the big ones. I believe someone voted for Jack Morris over Maddux and how does Jacque Jones get a vote?

    • Kuz says:

      If you disagree with me you can’t vote.

      • heavy c says:

        nah, that’s not it. The BBWAA already suspended a member for trying to approach the vote a little differently. There needs to be some standards. Why let bad umps oversee big games just on seniority if they can’t make the calls. Same goes for baseball writers upholding personal grudges or misguided ideas about unanimous election. If writers can’t look at HoF cases objectively, why should they get a vote? In this era there are a lot of baseball minds that aren’t BBWAA members and are willing to research the ballot while some members don’t even cover the sport anymore. I’m all for the Morris debate or other borderline cases we all value different attributes, personally I think Schilling and Raines should be there. Bonds, Clemens too, but at least I understad the how the anti-PED camp gets there. But just looking at last year’s vote, please tell me how Jacque Jones, Aaron Boone and Darin Erstad deserve to be in the Hall.

  9. rabidtiger says:

    The 75% minimum approval vote is a way of throwing one’s “institutional” hands up on the whole affair. To get in, a player needs a majority of a majority: half, plus half of the remaining half, or three quarters. The modest barrier for true excellence is sufficient to award even some who are not quite the best of the best. Does any player who gets in under the wire of time limit have less appreciation for his eventual admission? Ask Jack Morris when he turns 75.

    The fact that everyone understands how weird it is that no one is admitted unanimously softens the blow, I think. What if Mays had been admitted unanimously and Aaron not, or vice versa? Wouldn’t there be a distinction in excellence? It’s only one HOF for goodness sake. If you’re in, you’re justified in some sense, and if you’re not, you have to recognize that you couldn’t get an “overwhelming” majority of the voters, some of whom may simply be be too stupid to recognize your excellence.

    “Fame” does not always equal excellence. For a shining moment Daniel Murphy was the most famous player in the National League. Whether he can achieve a sustained level like that in the rest of his career is another matter. For someone like Alan Trammel (or Lou Whittaker, or Tim Raines, etc.), perhaps the excellence was there and the fame wasn’t. For Jeter, both seem highly adequate for selection. If he squeaks in, he should think that there are simply a lot of Yankee haters out there. If he misses out on only four ballots, he can rest assured that a few jerks are trying to send a petty message.

    On the positive side, if the Powers That Be see fit to award me with a ballot, I promise to disregard accusations or suspicions of steroid use and vote for Bonds and Clemens. Take away their years beyond age 35 and they are both still worthy. I used to be a Small Hall guy, but not any more. I think voters are likely to vote capriciously at the best of times, and I forgive them even if they vote like jerks. So it’s not theology, it’s a crapshoot.

  10. MCD says:

    While I don’t really disagree any of the points that Joe made, I do take issue with labeling it a “bad process”. The problem isn’t with the process, it is just with a few kooks who feel obligated to “protect the sanctity of the unanimous vote”. They seem to be afraid if someone gets 100% that implies that that player is better than all those players that didn’t get 100% of the vote. Nobody cares that player X got 96% and player B got 89%, but heaven forbid someone gets 100%.

    The process isn’t broken, on the contrary, it actually insulates against these silly voters impacting the vote.

  11. NevadaMark says:

    We may be over complicating things a bit here. If a writer refuses to vote for a Willie Mays or a Greg Maddux, he should lose his vote for A) having a huge personal bias that ignores the requirements to get elected (record, sportsmanship, etc..) or B) being too damn stupid to be entrusted with a vote. There is no other excuse. And writers who turn in blank ballots or joke ballots should be banned from ever voting for the HOF again. You were entrusted to make an informed vote on the best baseball players ever-doing one of the things above is an abdication of your responsibility. There is no VALID reason for it. What gives you the right to use your ballot for some personal protest? I think it’s an abomination.

  12. You can cite every statistic you want, but as long as human beings are voting on other human beings, there will always be controversy. It may be on the top side, or it could be at the bottom, the borderline greats. Consider that baseball writers are voting. Years ago, one writer didn’t vote for Theodore Ballgame for MVP because he said he could base his judgment only on how Mr. Ballgame (look, he called himself Teddy Ballgame after a kid called him that, and that’s good enough for me) had done in the games he had seen him play.

  13. jim says:

    The baseball hall of fame’s version of the “Florida butterfly ballot blunder” ended with Henry Aaron being elected to the baseball hall of fame. The United State’s version of the “Florida butterfly ballot blunder” ended with George W. Bush being elected president of the United States. Not to point to fine a point on it, but I’ll take the baseball hall of fame’s process.

    • jim says:

      In English (Which President Trump will insist that we all use in blog comments going forward):

      The baseball hall of fame’s version of the “Florida butterfly ballot blunder” ended with Henry Aaron being elected to the baseball hall of fame. The United States’s version of the “Florida butterfly ballot blunder” ended with George W. Bush being elected president of the United States. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’ll take the baseball hall of fame’s process.

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