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BASEBALL HOF VOTING – SOME WRITERS DON’T DESERVE THE PRIVILEGE

As it happens every summer, for one weekend in July, the eyes of the baseball world will turn to Cooperstown, New York, for Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. After the ceremonies, thoughts will turn to next year’s candidates and Ken Griffey, Jr., who was elected to Major League Baseball’s All-Century team in 1999, will be up for Hall-of-Fame induction in 2016.

Griffey, before Barry Bonds started rubbing flaxseed oil all over himself (which made Bonds’ head grow, who knew?), was the greatest player of his generation, and certainly the greatest “clean”, i.e. drug and steroid-free player of his generation. When one is elected to Major League Baseball’s All-Century team as Griffey was, and with his unquestioned character, is there any reason for any baseball writer to not vote Griffey in on his first year of eligibility?

Griffey should be elected by a unanimous vote, but don’t count on it. Despite not having a valid reason, some baseball writers will not vote for Griffey on their Hall of Fame ballot. Inexplicably, 16 writers did not vote for Greg Maddux for the Baseball Hall of Fame on this year’s ballot.  No baseball player, no matter how great, not Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Henry Aaron or Willie Mays, has ever been voted in unanimously. Mind-boggling isn’t it?

Bill Conlin, who covered sports for the Philadelphia Daily News, was only one of six writers out of 497 to not vote for Nolan Ryan on his 1999 Hall of Fame ballot because he did not consider him among the elite of all-time pitching greats. Six out of 497! I guess it didn’t matter that Ryan is the all-time leader in strikeouts and no-hitters by a significant margin. Conlin and five other writers thought differently than their 491 counterparts.

Another line of thinking by some writers is that since no player has ever been voted in unanimously, that no one should. Trying to right a wrong with another wrong to make a right is wrong. In math terms, one wrong plus another wrong does not equal a right. It simply equals greater wrongdoing. In other words, a stupid act plus another stupid act equals further stupidity.

When you think of all-time great shortstops in baseball history, Honus Wagner immediately comes to mind followed by Cal Ripken. Ripken, also one of baseball’s greatest ambassadors ever, inexplicably was not voted into the Hall of Fame unanimously. One would think that arguably the second greatest player ever at his position would be voted in unanimously. Amazingly, eight baseball writers out of 545 did not think Ripken worthy of being voted in on his first ballot, which is utterly ridiculous.

How many voters will leave Derek Jeter off their ballot when he becomes eligible for induction in five years?

It is an honor and a privilege to be a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame and that responsibility should not be taken lightly. That vote helps determine a player’s legacy and helps define the sport’s history and its greatest players. It is not the time for a writer to make a statement or to self-promote himself and upstage the Hall of Fame and the sport itself. Write a column if you want to make a statement and not deny someone obviously worthy of a first ballot vote.

When you hear the name of hall of famers such as Stan Musial, Mays, or Aaron, the thought of what great players they were and unquestionably amongst baseball’s all-time greats should immediately come to mind.

Musial, winner of six batting titles, had a .331 lifetime batting average and 3,630 hits (4th all-time), and was a record 24-time All-Star, yet 23 voters did not vote for him in 1969 when he was on the ballot for induction. Twenty-three voters! At the time of his retirement, Musial held or shared 17 major league records, 29 National League records and nine All-Star Game records. What possible reason could any writer not vote Musial in on his first year of eligibility?

Twenty-three voters did not vote for Mays, the greatest all-around baseball player of all-time, when he was eligible for induction. Aaron retired as the all-time home run and runs batted in leader, and yet was left off nine ballots. That is comparable to having an Art Hall of Fame and not voting for Michelangelo. When 97.8% of your counterparts are voting for Aaron and nine writers do not vote for a true all-time great of the game, it is no longer a question or whether the player is worthy or not, but for what reason are they not they voting for him. For a writer not to vote for someone obviously first ballot worthy, and without a valid reason, then their voting privilege should be revoked.

Twenty writers did not vote for Ted Williams, arguably the greatest hitter of all-time, in 1966 when he was on the ballot. Sixteen baseball writers left Johnny Bench, arguably the greatest catcher in the history of the game, off the ballot in 1989. How could 13 voters out of 545 not vote for eight-time batting champion Tony Gwynn? Gwynn’s lifetime batting average is a remarkable .338.

If asked who was baseball’s greatest third baseman years ago many might have said Brooks Robinson, and then Mike Schmidt started to change a lot of people’s minds about that. If you are that good that you are in the conversation of being the best ever at your position, shouldn’t everyone vote you into the Hall of Fame? Yet, 16 writers out of 460 did not think so in 1995 for Schmidt.

Eleven voters did not vote for Honus Wagner back in 1936, that very same number that did not vote for Ruth! Cy Young, the all-time wins leader with 511, got less than half the writers’ votes in 1936 and had to wait until the next year and barely got voted in. In 1974, there were 365 votes by writers and 43 of them did not feel Mickey Mantle was worthy of induction. Someone please enlighten me how Mantle was not worthy of the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

I am not saying that Griffey is better than Mays, Ruth, etc., or even more deserving of being the first unanimous first ballot electee into baseball’s hall of fame, but he is unquestionably a first ballot hall of famer. To not vote him on the first ballot would be a terrible mistake. It is time to stop repeating egregious mistakes.

As idiotic as it is to not vote for someone who should be an automatic first ballot Hall of Famer, it is also wrong to vote for someone who should not be considered for the Hall of Fame. That is a mockery of the system and an insult to the sport’s history. Those voters should be exposed.

There are many examples of this over the years. In 2010, David Segui, Kevin Appier, and Pat Hentgen all got one Hall of Fame vote, and Eric Karros got two. None of these players should be on the ballot much less receiving a vote for the Hall of Fame.

In 2009, Jay Bell got two votes. In 2008, Chuck Finley and Todd Stottlemyre both got a vote. Who are these writers and what reasoning do they have to give such players a Hall of Fame vote? The writers should come out and explain the lunacy of their actions. In 2005, one writer, yes one writer out of 516 thought Terry Steinbach deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. That writer should have his voting privilege revoked.

When you think about players that are worthy of the Hall of Fame, one thinks of Ruth, Musial, Aaron and…..Grady Hatton? You never heard of Hatton? Me either, yet some writer voted for him in 1967. Hatton has a 12-year career beginning in 1946, had a lifetime batting average of .254, and hit 91 home runs, 533 RBIs, and 1,068 hits, which averages out to less than nine home runs a year, 44 runs batted in and 89 hits a season. This is Hall of Fame worthy?

These writers are belittling the process and the responsibility they have been given, and it is time their voting privilege be taken away for if no other reason than stupidity. Over the years, the numbers of voters has increased substantially. In 2007, there were 545 votes cast so eliminating those few writers who do not vote intelligently will not be missed at all.

I am not suggesting singleness of thought by all the baseball writers, but let’s be serious. Automatic first ballot hall of famers and those who have no business getting votes are easier to pick out than someone wearing scarlet and gray at a University of Michigan pep rally.

The American Sportscasters Association has been lobbying to let sportscasters vote for baseball’s Hall of Fame inductees. Boston Red Sox announcer Joe Castiglione has broadcast more than 5,000 games and cannot vote. Castiglione once said he knew one writer that has not covered a game since 1972 and voted year after year.

I certainly would not advocate for fans to vote when it comes to who belongs in the Hall of Fame, but judging by how some baseball writers have voted over the years, they couldn’t do any worse.

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. 

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