Bob Costas: Hall of Fame ‘Too Big’

I lied! Granted, I didn’t realize I was lying when I wrote in my recent blog about Bert Blyleven’s inevitable Hall of Fame election that I wasn’t going to get into a “lather” about it.

But now I realize that I’m at lather stage not only because of the inclusion of another unworthy player into the Hall, but also because his induction represents another step in the deterioration of a once great institution.

What got me “lathered” up was Joe Posnanski’s blog wherein he revealed that Bob Costas thinks the Hall of Fame is “too big,” my position exactly. According to Costas, again echoing my feelings, the Hall should be reserved for the “great” and not include the “very good” which Posnanski interpreted as a reference to Blyleven.

Posnanski further speculated that if Costas could do it without hurting anyone’s feelings, he’d cull several existing members from the Hall. Once again, Costas and I share the exact restrictionist philosophy.

Then, in a joking response to Costas, Posnanski created what he called the “Willie Mays Hall of Fame” that would use Mays as the standard for all future inductees. If a player didn’t compare to Mays, he wasn’t Hall material. By the time Posnanski completed his analysis, the Hall only had one member: Willie Mays.

If you’re willing to considering Costas’ (and my) approach, here’s a few things to keep in mind.

The first 1936 Hall of Fame class included the following: Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner. These players didn’t qualify: Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Rogers Hornsby and others with imposing stats. In 2008, 2009 and 2010, the Hall elected Andre Dawson, Jim Rice and Blyleven. Is there anyone out there that, no matter what convoluted sabermetrics you may use, wants to argue that that Ruth and Dawson are comparable players? Can anyone successfully debate that, regardless of the era they pitched in, that Blyleven is the equal to either Johnson or Mathewson?

Here’s something else. Tell me who doesn’t belong in this picture: Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer and Blyleven.

Yet despite the huge disparities in their skills and careers, at the end of the day, baseball fans can accurately make this all-inclusive observation: “Seaver, Gibson, Palmer and Blyleven are Hall of Fame pitchers.”

Unless you go into a long-winded breakdown of their careers, that simple statement puts them all on equal footing. That is, they’re all Hall of Famers.

That’s ludicrous!

Maybe you’re okay with Dawson, Rice and Blyleven. But if the current relaxed standards trend continues, as I sadly expect it will, the Hall will soon be seriously evaluating, for example, Bobby Abreu.

Like Blyleven, Abreu will have played for several teams including three with strong public relations machines, the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angeles, all of whom will work hard to advance his Hall case.

For that matter, Abreu has enough money to hire his own public relations firm or, like Blyleven, develop an influential Web site to do his own advocating. Then, perhaps most helpful of all to Abreu, he’ll stay on the Hall ballot for an interminable 15 years. Since Abreu will have made friends among the voting sportswriters, locally and nationally, eventually his train will come in. By the time the spin ends, Abreu will be as good as Roberto Clemente.

In the meantime, I’m finding comfort where I can. I have Costas and some readers as allies in my losing fight for a meaningful Hall. That’s good company to be in.

10 Replies to “Bob Costas: Hall of Fame ‘Too Big’”

  1. I think no matter the size of any Hall Of Fame you’re going to end up with the best players being WAY better than the ‘worst’ players. Granted, if the (baseball) Hall of Fame were to be smaller there would be less of a gap, but it would still be ridiculous to compare the best player in the Hall to the worst player in the Hall. Anyway, I definitely agree about Jim Rice being a poor choice and I’m also pretty sceptical about Andre Dawson, but to me Blyleven pretty clearly does belong.
    Seriously, it seems to me that your Hall of Fame argument really doesn’t hold water. I could see you arguing for different levels to the Hall of Fame or something, but I think your statement “That’s ludicrous!” about Seaver, Gibson, Palmer and Blyleven is…ludicrous.

  2. Yes, it’s me again. I decided I would read the article paying closer attention to details to maybe give your argument more of a ‘fair hearing’ after I thought my previous comment might have been too harsh. But… it didn’t help! Seriously, you wrote that Gehrig, Foxx, and Hornsby ‘didn’t qualify’ for the Hall of Fame on the initial ballot in 1936. First of all, I think the main reason those three players ‘didn’t qualify’ is because they were still active! Aside from that issue, I believe the plan was too induct only 5 players from that time period (as well as 5 players from earlier baseball but if I recall correctly there was a problem and those 5 weren’t added until the next year). So… it wasn’t that ONLY Ruth, Cobb, Johnson, Mathewson and Wagner were worthy, it was that they were the MOST worthy.

  3. Bob makes a very good point: that inclusion in a group does not imply equal status of all members of the group. Variation can always be detected, even among the elite. If Gibson and Seaver are the Jefferson and Lincoln of MLB pitchers, then perhaps Blyleven is Calvin Coolidge, but last I checked we’re still counting Coolidge among our presidents.

    I do not necessarily disagree with Joe’s point that the standards have slipped, but I think that argument is much better supported by citing Dawson and Rice, rather than Blyleven. But if the standards have slipped, where’s the deluge of players entering the Hall? Except for the large group of Negro Leaguers inducted in 2006, the writers and the Vet Committee have combined to elect only about two players per year over the last ten years. If that represents slippage, it isn’t much.

  4. You don’t help your argument for a smaller HOF by suggesting that
    because, “Seaver, Gibson, Palmer and Blyleven are Hall of Fame
    pitchers.” they are now considered to be “on the same footing”.

    That’s like saying that putting Aubrey Huff on the NL all star
    team would put him on the same footing as Albert Pujols. Huff
    can be a deserving All-Star without being at the same level of
    greatness as PUjols.

    Likewise, Blyleven can be a Hall of Famer without being at the
    same level as Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson and Christy Mathewson.

    And your comment about the 1936 HOF class not including Gehrig,
    Foxx, and Hornsby was not well thought out. All three of them
    were still active, in fact Foxx would not retire til 9 years
    later! So they weren’t even eligible yet!

    Regardless, what is the point you were trying to make by bringing
    up the 1936 class? If you’re suggesting that the HOF should not
    have anyone who is not of the same stature as Ruth, Johnson, Cobb,
    Mathewson, and Wagner, your HOF is going to have about 20-25 players
    in it. Is that what you want?

    On the other hand, if you acknowledge that players such Palmer,
    Spahn, Banks, and Ripken are HOF-worthy, then you are recognizing
    that not everyone in the HOF are of equal stature, because none
    of those 4 are the equal of Ruth, Johnson, Cobb, Wagner and Mathewson.
    And if that’s the case, then the matter of who was or wasn’t elected
    in 1936 becomes irrelevent.

  5. I’d vote for Bobby Abreu. Why not?

    Abreu’s lifetime OPS is 100 points higher than Cal Ripken, who went in on the first ballot.

    Abreu has stolen 372 bases, scored 100 runs eight times, has had eight 100 RBI seasons, and has the
    10th highest career On Base Percentage in history.

    He was a good defenive player for much of his career
    though he’s slipped in recent years.

    He has 857 extra base hits,which puts him ahead of Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente, Jim Rice, Orlando Cepeda, Brooks Robinson and Joe Morgan, to name a few. And if he plays two more seasons he could easily pass HOFers Willie Stargell, Mickey Mantle, Billy Williams, Eddie Mathews, Goose Goslin, Willie McCovey, Paul Waner, Charlie Gehringer, Joe Dimaggio, Nap Lajoie, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Heilmann, Ricky Henderson, Sam Crawford, and Joe

    So you’ve got a durable player who can hit for average, hit for power, steal bases, has a high on base percentage and plays solid defense. He could easily end up with over 2500 games
    and over 4000 times on base. Sounds very impressive to me!

  6. In re-reading your post I noted your Clemente reference. Since you seem aghast at tha thought that Abreu may end up being considered as good as Abreu, allow me to point out that the numbers back
    up that possibility.

    Games : Clemente 2433, Abreu 2105
    Hits plus walks : Clemente 3621, Abreu 3598
    Doubles : Clemente 440, Abreu 524
    Triples and Homers : Clemente 406, Abreu 333

    OPS : Clemente .834, Abreu .888

    Clemente has the advantage in average (.317 to .296),
    Triples (166 to 57) and hits (3000 to 2257). He was
    also certainly better on defense.

    Clemente hit into 18 DPs per 162 games over his career, while Abreu hit into only 11 DPs per 162 games.

    Abreu needs only 59 more runs to pass Clemente on the career list and 41 more RBI. He should do both
    in the upcoming 2011 season.

    Is Abreu as good an overall player as Clemente? Given his advantage in OBA (.400 to .359), slugging (.488 to .475), steals (372 to 83), and the fact that he will probably end up with more runs and rbi as well, I think the idea is not all that far-fetched.

  7. Graham, essentially you are correct. The first 5 into the Hall are so great that few players will match real closely with them, but if a player is nowhere near their caliber, he doesn’t belong. It’s not that hard to determine who is or isn’t NEAR that caliber. No sane person would argue that Koufax isn’t the close equal of Johnson and Mathewson. And can we be so sure that Matty and Johnson are that far ahead of Spahn, who worked with a live ball? I don’t think so. My Hall of Fame pitchers’ list would be limited to the following: Mordecai Brown, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh, Cy Young, Matty, Alexander, and Johnson from the Deadball days; Hubbell, Grove, Vance, and Dean from between the wars; Feller, Spahn, Ford, Koufax, Marichal, and Gibson from the postwar thru the 1960s era. And Seaver, Palmer, and Carlton from the age of chaos (post-’60s). From the steroid era, I’d include Pedro, Clemens, Maddux, and Randy Johnson, at least to date. It would be hard to argue that these 22 pitchers are not all at least very close in greatness to Matty and Sir Walter. But Blyleven? Only a dyed-in-the-wool Twins fan might think so.

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