The hall is broken

How a Cleveland sports writer exposed another flaw with baseball’s highest honor

JP. O'Hagan, Sports Editor

\Paul Hoynes had every good intention when he wrote about his recent dilemma. Hoynes has been entrusted with the preservation of the history of “America’s favorite pastime,” but more on him later.

Baseball has been a part of American life since the late 1800’s, and despite modern complaints that the game is “boring” or “dull” due to the lack of constant energy in sports like hockey or basketball, or fancy camera work in football, it has earned its spot as the nation’s favorite pastime.

Of the hundreds of thousands of kids who learned to play catch with their dads in the front yard, played little league and ever dreamed of playing in one of the cathedrals of baseball that are ballparks like Wrigley Field, Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium, very few ever grow up to have that chance. Only the greatest amongst them will then be enshrined in Cooperstown, at the Baseball Hall of Fame alongside the likes of Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Jackie Robinson (just to name a few).

However, the system by which former players, managers and executives are given a position in this palace of baseball is flawed, has always been flawed and needs to be replaced.

For a player to be enshrined in the hall, they must be elected by one of the now many committees of voters. The most direct entrance is through the Baseball Writer’s Association of America annual vote, where writers who have covered the sport for years are given the great responsibility of choosing the players who will join the list of the game’s greatest; our friend Hoynes is amongst this group of individuals.

To be eligible for election, a player must have played in the MLB for 10 years and have been retired for five. It seems simple but after that first ballot, the process becomes bogged down in dozens of subsequent votes, other committees and years of anguish. Players have roughly a one in 70 chance to make the fall of fame, and only one out of seven of those players make it in on the first ballot.

However, this system is broken, as our friend and Plain Dealer Indians reporter Hoynes inadvertently pointed out when he wrote about how he refused to vote for new inductee to the hall, Pedro Martinez.

Hoyne wrote that he was unable to force himself to vote for Martinez last week because, “I thought he was a punk on the mound.” He went on in his article to explain that Martinez, who made it into the hall on his first ballot and was obviously deserving of the honor, was at times a jerk on the mound and had historically done so well against the Indians that Hoyne could not bring himself to vote for Martinez.

If that sounds like a dumb reason to keep someone out of the hall of fame in their sport, you aren’t alone. Babe Ruth, considered by many to be the best baseball player of all time, routinely destroyed the Indians, Michael Jordan used to light up the Cavaliers on a regular basis; just because of that, should the greatest to play their sports not be voted to be entered into the hall of fame? However, that is what Hoyne’s article boiled down to, and though it didn’t matter, his lack of a vote could have kept a deserving player out of the hall.

However, this is not a rare case in the history of the hall of fame. A sports writer this year said he voted without “looking at a website or picking up a book,” which would seem to be important in critiquing the careers of 34 players against their counterparts and against the history of great players on their ballot this year.

Furthermore, the hall has long held out players who were obviously deserving. Amongst the most obvious is third-baseman Ron Santo, whose long career, predominantly with the Chicago Cubs, was by many measures worthy of the hall of fame. Despite this, year after year, Santo was not voted in by first the baseball writers and later the different veterans’ committees. Finally, after Santo passed away following a long battle with diabetes, the beloved former Cub was elected. Did his stats change after his death? Of course not, but now he was worth something, when before he was not, according to the voters.

Hoyne’s desire not to vote in Pedro Martinez was just the latest gaff in the attempts to add players to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The system has long been broken, but the Indians and other clubs, notably the Cleveland Hall of Fame, have taken it upon themselves to recognize their greatest players. Perhaps this gives hope of the greatest to ever play the game receiving recognition. In the meantime, all we can do is sit, wait and hope that those entrusted with this great responsibility will make the correct choice.