Mariners Insider

Edgar’s chances, and the Hall of Fame debate

Post by Bob Dutton / The News Tribune on Jan. 6, 2014 at 3:34 pm with 11 Comments »
January 6, 2014 3:34 pm

The announcement will come out around 11 a.m. Wednesday and, barring a major surprise, Seattle Mariners fan favorite Edgar Martinez is ticketed for at least another year on the Hall of Fame’s waiting list. I want to be wrong about this. Heck, Martinez so defined the role of designated hitter that baseball’s annual award for the game’s best DH now bears his name.

But:

A: Martinez failed to hit the 40-percent threshold in any of his four previous years on the Hall of Fame ballot. (He checked in last year at 35.9 percent, down a bit from the 36.5 percent in 2012).

B: A player must be cited on 75 percent of all ballots cast to win election to the Cooperstown shrine. (It requires 5 percent for a player to remain on next year’s ballot; up to a maximum of 15 years on the ballot.)

C: This year’s ballot is more packed than any time I can remember with candidates deserving consideration, and the rules permit voters (yes, I’m one) to list no more than 10 players.

Now, you can protest that it’s inconceivable that there are 10 players more deserving than Martinez, and you might be right, but your opinion carries no weight — zero — unless you’re one of the roughly 600 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who comprise the electorate.

That might not be fair. You can argue such a voting setup is lunacy.  Fine. But that’s the system in place — and that’s a decision made by the Hall of Fame, which is a private museum that gets to make its own rules. The Hall can change that voting process at any time, and do so at its sole discretion, but for now, it entrusts the primary voting power to those in the BBWAA who have at least 10 consecutive years of active membership. End of discussion.

(I say “primary voting power” because the Hall has various historical committees that consider players and others either bypassed or not eligible under the yearly BBWAA balloting. One of those committees decided last month to induct three retired managers: Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre.)

OK, back to Martinez’s chances. For one thing, he continues to battle a disinclination among some voters to put a DH in the Hall. That bias is softening; just as it softened for closers in recent years. (Not other relievers, though. Even top set-up guys are universally ignored. And defensive specialists similarly fail to move the voting needle.) Even so…while being a DH remains a hurdle, it might, in other circumstances, easily be a surmountable one.

Right now, though, consider:

This year’s ballot has nine other returning candidates who last year received greater support than Martinez. There’s no guarantee that happens again, but that, as gamblers say, is the chalk. Those nine are Craig Biggio (68.2 percent), Jack Morris (67.7), Jeff Bagwell (59.6), Mike Piazza (57.8), Tim Raines (52.2), Lee Smith (47.8), Curt Schilling (38.8) Roger Clemens (37.6) and Barry Bonds (36.2).

Alan Trammell is also back after falling just shy of Martinez at 33.6 percent.

Now, add a flood of notable newcomers that includes Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent, Luis Gonzalez, Mike Mussina, Kenny Rogers and Hideo Nomo. In all, there were 36 players on the 2014 ballot. (All votes are already in, by the way.)

If you’re the inclusive type, even if you vote for the maximum of 10, there are some pretty good players who must be left off any ballot…unless you throw out players with ties, proven or merely alleged, to performance-enhancing drugs. Many of my friends and colleagues in the ballwriting world do just that; they refuse to vote for anyone with even a whiff of taint from PEDs.

That’s why, of course, players such as Bonds, Clemens, Sammy Sosa and many others — players whose statistical resumes would once have virtually guaranteed election — remain on the outside. And let’s face it; there’s a whiff of that taint, fair or not, around Martinez.

I disagree with this punitive approach, although I respect the point of view (assuming it’s not selectively applied). I choose instead to vote solely on the player’s on-field performance. I can’t say it doesn’t make me feel a bit queasy at times with certain players, but the fact is, overwhelmingly, I don’t know who used and who didn’t. (Yes, obviously, I have a stronger suspicion with some players than others.)

My view is this: All of those records, to whatever degree they were (or weren’t) PED-fueled, are still in the books. Baseball didn’t erase their accomplishments.  So if a player is on the ballot, I’ll consider him on the basis of what he did on the field.

It is, however, a debate that remains heated, and it affects every player on the ballot — not just those suspected of PED use. Bonds and Clemens, for example, are sufficiently suspect that many voters withhold support. But they continue to draw enough votes to remain on the ballot, which means they’ll siphon votes this year and in the future from other candidates.

This ongoing crunch is particularly damaging to candidates like Martinez, who generate widespread support but face a challenge to reach the 75-percent threshold. A vote for Bonds or Clemens, etc., is a vote that can’t go to someone else for the increasingly number of voters who submit 10 names.

(And look, even without the PED debate, getting 75 percent of the people in any group to agree on anything is no small feat. Say you and three pals want to order a pizza. Ignore the heretic who wants fruit on it. Even then, how easy is it for you and your two normal friends to agree on a specific set of toppings?)

For what it’s worth, I think voters will get past the PED question at some point. I think somebody slightly tainted will be elected at some point in the next few years. I think that will open the floodgates. (If you let this guy in, who do you keep this guy out…and so forth.) My guess is it will then take a few years for the backlog to clear.

And then, guys who deserve serious consideration but who aren’t universally regarded as slam dunks — guys, well, like Martinez — will get a longer and more-encompassing evaluation. And some will, deservingly, get in.

I don’t see it happening this year, though.

Leave a comment Comments → 11
  1. plivengood says:

    Bob: First of all, a belated welcome to the Northwest.

    Everything you say about Edgar’s chances is true…well, except for the part where you say “there’s a whiff of that [PED] taint, fair or not, around Martinez” (there has never been even a suggestion of PEDs tied to Edgar; unless anybody who played in the 1990s is subject to “a whiff of that taint,” it’s not fair to even suggest it). This is a very crowded ballot, and as much of an Edgar fan as I am, and as much as I believe he is a legitimate, bona fide Hall of Famer, even I have a hard time ranking him higher than about 12th on this ballot. That is, unless I table some candidates tied to PEDs in credible ways (Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro), which I *would* do. But of course, that still leaves him near the bottom of most 10-person ballots, and unfortunately too many voters still ignore the fact that there are more well-qualified candidates than ballot spots and refuse to vote for ten players, anyway.

    The real issue is the BBWAA’s (or really, the Hall’s – but I doubt the Hall would act without first being asked to by the BBWAA) failure to extend the ballot limit beyond ten through the expansion era (which would theoretically double the number of qualified players from the days when that limit was adopted). That hasn’t been much of an issue until recently, but given that 22% of the electorate voted for ten players last year and nobody was elected (because of ballot dynamics based on intractable voting factions that might make Congress blush), what are those 1 in 5 voters supposed to do when *at least* four very strong 1st time candidates are added to that this year? How is that fair to either the electorate, or to the players who have their support?

    In many ways, Edgar is the poster child for this problem. I track Edgar’s votes and have for a few years now. At this moment, a little less than 48 hours before the announcement (though I lack YOUR vote…), I have 123 known votes recorded, or a sample of a bit more than 23% of the electorate (based on the 2013 vote). 34 of those 123 are a “yes” on Edgar (27.64%). More interestingly, 23 voters out of that 123-ballot sample (18.7%) switched from voting FOR Edgar in 2013 to NOT FOR Edgar in 2014; another 4 switched from “yes” to “no” in 2013, 3 others from “yes” to “no” in 2012, and 1 more switched in 2011. And of course, MANY more voters who have never before voted for Edgar indicated that they would support him if they had room.

    Edgar’s support is not stagnant, or even declining, once If all of those voters who previously decided Edgar was worthy had room to vote for him again in each of those following years, his support this year would be 52% (if not higher, if you take those who’ve never voted for Martinez at face value in saying they would if they had room) – a significant increase in support over anything he has previously done. And as you know, of players who have ever garnered support at at least a 50% level! only one player who is not still being considered (Gil Hodges) is not in the Hall of Fame. It is disingenuous to suggest that Edgar’s candidacy is somehow “stalled” when in fact it s natural progress along the usual historical progression is ENTIRELY because of structural flaws in the voting process.

  2. oldtallguy says:

    A whiff around Martinez? Dutton you’re crazy

  3. Skysport says:

    I’m so weary and worn of the Baseball Hall of Fame (for a variety of reasons not just the omission of Edgar) that at this point it’s hard to care what they do. They could put in Bozo the Clown on the grounds that he had a high batting average in making kids laugh (OK, I buy that) and I would just shrug my shoulders. Who gets in and who stays out? Well, these days that really is a clown question, bro.

  4. Quinault says:

    Gar belongs in the HOF, period. His numbers could be better if he wasn’t blocked at 3B until later in his career or hurt in an exhibition game in Vancouver, but the numbers are the numbers. You cannot find a more imposing right handed bat in recent history. Two batting championships, four silver sluggers, being DH of the year for 5 years and having the award named after you sort of says this guy belongs. In the post season, this guy was a killer – a Yankee killer.

    There is already a DH in the HOF – Paul Molitor.

    While Edgar would be the first vote on my ballot, I think that maybe in Randy’s second year and Junior’s first year – all three go in together. Sort of like the Skipper, and 2 pitchers from ATL this year. [Although Maddox should go in as a CUB!] It is called marketing. And that is what this little museum is doing, selling tickets to their attraction by adding new attractions.

    And for pizza, I would insist on jalapeño peppers. They kick up the pepperoni.

  5. Quinault says:

    EDIT: it should real: selling tickets to their venue by adding new attractions.

  6. Coach81 says:

    Why would Maddux go in as a Cub? The majority of seasons played, wins, Gold Gloves, and obviously playoff appearances came as a Brave.

  7. Quinault says:

    Why would Randy Johnson go in as a Mariner? ‘Cuz that is where he got his start? Or maybe as an EXPO. AZ went to the World Series because of him, so of course he will go in as a Diamondback. I will discount the time as a Yankee.

    Again, I say marketing. Greg will go in as a Brave, just like you say, but when the camera pans the crowd – look for Cub jerseys. It will be where he earned his fame. He earned his place in the HOF because of his record in ATL.

  8. Why isn’t @plivengood writing this column?

    Well said, my friend.

  9. plivengood says:

    @MrGenre: Maybe because auto-correct isn’t my friend (I actually just caught that trying to change “auto-correct” to “auto-colorectal”…jeez), I’m too lazy to proof-read, and there is no comment editor here? But, thank you very much.

    I don’t want that comment to come across as a criticism of Bob, who I think was a progressive president of the BBWAA and is somebody I believe listens to and is willing to engage with fans. My only criticism is the PED insinuation (based on what? The Shane Monahan broad brush that never even mentioned ‘Gar? Please – nothing *ever* came of that). Just wanted to vent about what the REAL issue is, which is a systemic issue as much or more than it is an issue with any individual voter. Maybe with Mr. Dutton’s influence in the BBWAA, if we bark up this tree, it may do some good….

    If anybody’ sinter stead, I will update Edgar’s percentages among known ballots here tomorrow, and again after ballots are released through the BBWAA after the official announcement.

  10. plivengood says:

    As long as I am on the systemic failures of the BBWAA, just take a look at the MLB.com writers’ ballots and you’ll have every reason why people criticize the BBWAA for allowing honorary members to keep their vote. Good grief! It would be interesting, and telling, to look at the average number of votes per ballot by the active members, versus the honorary members….

  11. plivengood says:

    As of 12:30 am early Wednesday morning, I have 169 known, public ballots, which amounts to about 32% of the electorate (based on last year’s totals). Edgar has 47 votes, 27.81%. 25 “no” voters in this sample voted “yes” last year (14.79%), and if all of those voted “yes” this year, Edgar would have 42.6% of the vote (see above for the 8 other “yes” voters who switched to “no” in earlier years, whose yes votes this year would bump that further, to 47.34%).

    There will be more votes revealed just before the announcement, and plenty more on the BBWAA website after the announcement.

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