Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Friday Baseball Post

Yeah, I know, it's not Friday. But before the HOF results are announced, I did have one other process point to make, and I didn't get to it when I was supposed to over the weekend...

Rob Neyer has a good column out, by the way, on the current ballot. But while he says that the current voting process is probably fine, I think there's one reform I'd like to see.

It's about the notion of "first ballot" HOFers. We know about it: some writers believe that they can come close to the sensible notion that there are regular and "inner circle" HOFers by only voting for the best-of-the-best the very first time they're on a ballot, and making everyone else wait a year.

Is that a sensible thing to do? Well, as I said, it really does mimic the way we all talk about HOFers. On the other hand, it doesn't quite get at it, and at any rate not all voters use it, so I'm not sure it really works.

However: what really doesn't work is having a large chunk of voters penalize guys who are new to the ballot...and a procedure in which players roll off the ballot if they don't get votes the first time.

The Hall really should correct this one. Either it should give a strong directive to voters to knock it off and forget about this first-ballot nonsense...or it should shift to a two year window before anyone is knocked off the ballot. Either solution works just fine, but the present situation is just asking for trouble.

Granted, it's not as bad as the writers making idiots of themselves over Bonds and Clemens and the rest, but this one really could be solved with a small rules patch.


  1. In case you guys didn't hear, Richard Ben Cramer passed away this night:

    I'd rate "What It Takes" as one of my favorite books overall in addition to one of the best things ever written about American politics.


  2. Silver has some interesting data (that he got from somebody else):


    People who didn't vote for Bonds....were also less likely to vote for Bagwell and Piazza. Apparently, ANY power hitter is suspect. They're also slightly penalizing Biggio (?!?).

    I'm definitely on the other side of the fence from you on steroids affecting the purity of the game, but Bonds and Clemens are so clearly deserving WITHOUT the steroids that I think that anyone who votes against them on the NEXT ballot (they might be trying to send that "not first ballot" signal, regardless of whatever....) is a fool. Since we attach this significance to "first ballot," I can appreciate the logic of a writer leaving them off this year, even if I disagree.

    McGwire, Palmeiro, & Sosa are the bubble cases. Sosa is less so, and I'm OK with him disappearing due to steroids. I'm not inclined to vote for Palmeiro. Palmeiro wasn't feared. When Mac wasn't injured, he was a terror. So, since Palmeiro's only about longevity, played in a hitter's park, AND the 'roids...yeah, that's a no. Mac is a really tough call. Without 'roids, he's on the plus side of the bubble. With them? Honestly, if McGwire is the only player to be kept from the HOF over steroids, that might be the right reaction to the steroid era.

    Oh, and somebody let Pete Rose in, for Christ's sake! Seriously: if there's a single person that voted for Bonds/Clemens and DIDN'T write a letter to Selig asking him to come to his senses, that person needs to be kicked out of the BBWAA. No excuse: the steroid argument is about inflated stats; the betting thing was as a manager, and irrelevant to stats.

  3. Tom Verducci, a generally reasonable fellow, has a piece up at SI.com about why he hesitates to vote for a steroid user. In it he talks of fairness and cheating and other banalities, and he mentions the infamous Fort Myers Miracle, in which four mediocre 20-something pitchers were mired in Class A; one (Dan Naulty) juiced and made it to the bigs, the other three faded into obscurity.

    Dan Naulty's story offends our sensibilities, particularly to the extent that "clean" peers were victims of lost opportunities to make it to the show. The Hall of Fame is supposed to be a shrine to the things we cherish the most about the sport. Thus, we should expect voters to have a similarly disgusted reaction to players whose Hall candidacy was perceived to be elevated by steroids.

    Cue Taylor Swift: Mark McGwire is NEVER EVER getting into the Hall of Fame. Never. Not ever. McGwire is a below-average Hall of Famer all-in; take out the balloon-head stats and he's really not close. The wretched manner in which he has addressed the issue of PEDs is only a further series of nails in the coffin of his candidacy.

    Bonds and Clemens probably get in, eventually: unlike Dan Naulty's MLB career, you can see a Hall of Famer in either Bonds and Clemens net of the alleged steroid use. For the rest of the suspects, the Palmeiros and Bagwells and Piazzas, it probably depends on what the CW is, which puts them in a weird spot: best to lay low and not arouse suspicion, but isn't it generally useful to campaign your way into the Hall?

  4. By the way, I didn't make this point yesterday, but in Lemieux's curious argument that steroid opposition is a boomer screed, he notes down the thread that he "doesn't give a shit if people used PEDs that aren't against the rules". Those of us in the (more or less) anti-steroid crowd are thus priggish prude moralizers, arbitrary rule makers, or worse. I think this argument, like everything from the steroid apologists, totally misses the point.

    If you've ever played golf with me, you quickly realized you should vigilantly watch for errant flying objects. Though I'm a poor golfer, suppose I discovered a magic elixir, call it "bare-roids", which allowed me to focus and perform like Ben Hogan never dreamed. After a couple sponsor's exemptions, I quickly join the tour, and amazingly win the Grand Slam for several years in a row.

    Rumors swirl. How is this possible, sportswriters want to know? There are whispers that perhaps I am consuming a drink that transmits magical powers, though Scott Lemieux helpfully reminds everyone that if I am doing so, it is not against the rules, so there is no issue with my racking up all these Major Championships. After five years of constant winning and your constant sniping, I grow tired of it all, so like Sidd Finch or John Galt, I take my french horn and go home, never to be heard from again.

    A few years pass and now it is time to enshrine me in the Golf Hall of Fame. My brief spectacular career statistically makes me eligible for the Hall, though in my Galt/Finch/cave years, the rumors of an elixir have grown to a deafening chorus. Fortunately, Scott Lemieux is there to remind everyone that if I did have the elixir, it wasn't illegal, so he sees no issue in enshrining me or in you taking your family to the Hall to pay your respects to my brief and glorious career.

    If you come to pay your respects, I thank you in advance, but you must know...you're a complete idiot.

    1. But Tiger Woods, like Greg Maddux, basically did the equivalent of that -- they got themselves surgically enhanced. Unlike steroids, which basically allow you to work harder and get more benefit from working harder, Woods and Maddux got surgical enhancements which required no effort on their part at all.

      Perhaps one can easily draw a line between those things. But between amphetamines and steroids? I've never seen a remotely convincing argument, and I can't imagine one. Which gets back to the only legitimate choices being either letting everyone in, or having only Dale Murphy for the last fifty years.

  5. Two things.

    First, Jonathan, you have gone to great and interesting lengths cataloging, 40 years after the fact, the extent of Nixon's felonious use of the office to influence an election, among other things. You have separately noted that the impeachment of Clinton was a disgusting overreach. Clinton too committed a felony by impeding discovery in a civil case; it wasn't quite the same as Nixon, but Clinton no doubt used the Oval Office to facilitate his crime. These two abuses of Presidential power are clearly vastly different to you; at a simple level, they are both abuses of Presidential power. Why are steroids not like amphetamines? Why is Nixon's abuse of Presidential power not like Clinton's?

    What's the difference between amphetamines and steroids? There are, at a minimum, two pretty clear ones: first, no one has ever groveled pathetically for forgiveness at the altar of public opinion for having taken a few reds or greens. McGwire's public expressions of contrition for past steroid use are noteworthy in a manner similar to a terrible train wreck.

    Second, while many folks praise the improvement to the sport from something like Tommy John surgery, no one has ever (to my knowledge) had a positive thing to say about the impact anabolic steroids have had on the sport. There is, I believe, no POV that says its a good thing we had these artificial supersubstances generating inflated stats; can't wait for the next generation of same! The only defense of PEDs, if a defense you can call it, is that they aren't that bad, or at least not worse than some other thing such as amphetamines. (A defense which, curiously, is never offered by anyone from the amphetamine era, fwiw).

    Which, in the Hall of Fame context, is amazing: we're gonna put a wing in there dedicated to the influence on the game of an era that defenders think is "not that bad" and opponents really hate. Should be fantastic for Cooperstown tourism!

    1. I'm sorry, but that's entirely circular. You're defending the difference entirely on the basis that people -- mostly meaning sportswriters, really -- believe there's a difference.

      I certainly agree that sportswriters believe there's a difference. The question is whether it's justified for some reason, or if it's entirely arbitrary.

      I can think of three potentially legitimate justifications of why some kind of enhancement should be punished by HOF voters: if it's illegal within the sport; if it's illegal in society, regardless of the status within the sport; if it has harmful side effects which create a collective action problem. The problem is that none of these, as far as I can see, separate steroids from amphetamines *at all*. (They do allow one to make a case for surgical vision enhancements, for example).

      Note, by the way, that currently MLB has exactly the same testing regime and punishment for both.

      If you're going to punish one and not the other and say that's fair, you really need some reason for the distinction that's better than noting that one of them is really, really unpopular and the other isn't. Especially if the people actually doing the rewarding and punishment are the people mainly responsible for that difference.

    2. In my golfing hypothetical above, let's assume that the magic elixir I'm drinking has no harmful side effects and is legal within society and sport (perhaps in large part because associated problems aren't known?) Does that change the hypothetical? Are you willing to pack up the family roadster and make a pilgrimage to honor my golf 'career' because my magic potion was not illegal or compromising of my health? If so, I'm sure I'd be flattered, but you may wish to rethink that conclusion.

      Wrt health, though...who cares? If a random guy I don't know on tv is doing stuff to compromise his health, why does that matter to me? I think the issue with the PED era ultimately comes down to the Santa thing below...if McGwire/Sosa's home run chase in 1998 was what you were waiting for since 1961, I think you'll be happy about their enshrinement. If, by contrast, you see it arising from something like my golfing magical elixir, you won't.

      Some will see it one way, and others will see it the other...there isn't really a right answer as there is no objective value (beyond entertainment) to something like a Hall of Fame.

      It does seem that there are more people in the "Bad Santa" camp wrt the Big Head Home Run Chase - but, as always, I could be wrong.

    3. One other aside: to the extent that some people think the '98 chase was what they waited for since '61, and others don't, the public expressions of remorse for PED use from McGwire are bizarre.

      If McGwire has a shot at the Hall, its only because the "Not Bad Santa" crowd shouts down the "Bad Santa" crowd. McGwire's hat-in-hand approach to the issue is grist for the mill for the Bad Santa crowd; I don't see how it helps him.

  6. Sorry for the overkill, but the Woods example is also interesting, to my mind as a defense of Lemieux's point: Woods has had the surgeries, yes, but he also had, at least early in his career, associations with steroid-tainted doctors, to say nothing of his close friendship with the go-along, get-along, happy-go-lucky mediocrity Mark O'Meara, who found Tiger Woods late in life and suddenly became the best golfer on the planet, and just as suddenly disappeared.

    But Tiger doesn't have a drug stigma. He is not, at least not widely, dogged by such rumors. Assuming no future revelations, it is fine to enshrine Woods with all the bells and whistles, even if the rumors have not been adequately investigated.

    Because its just a Hall of Fame, just celebrating sports. We don't know these people. They aren't our friends, our family. They aren't even, beyond physically being in the same stadium as us occasionally, real. So it doesn't matter what they do as athletes, beyond what we perceive.

    Without the intergenerational warfare connotation, I think this may be a legitimate point of Lemieux's: a generation of fans waited for 62 home runs in much the same way that good little boys and girls wait for Santa Claus every December, and when 62 home runs actually arrived, it was like the Billy Bob Thornton character in the movie Bad Santa.


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