There has been much discussion around these parts (and elsewhere) about the merits of the Hall of Fame voting system. Jim Rice's election yesterday has heightened awareness of that system, and based on yesterday's results it seems like a (perhaps minor and solely YFSF-based) groundswell is asking for this system to be "fixed". But first something else needs to happen: someone needs to articulately spell out what, exactly, is "broken". At that point then the proposition to "fix" it will serve some greater purpose. But nobody can define, lucidly, the parameters by which someone is judged to deserve enshrinement – the Hall as far as I can tell doesn't even do this, I've searched their website to no avail: they simply do not define "greatness", or, rather "fame". In their mission statement they bullet the following:
- Honoring, by enshrinement, those individuals who had exceptional careers, and recognizing others for their significant achievements
It leaves something to be desired, specificity-wise. We can go back to the pornography discussion and apply it to the Hall, I suppose, you know it when you see it (sabermertricians put down those sabers!). And that leaves a LOT of room, so much so that arguing that something is "broken" seems like a dead-end job. The Hall enshrines, by a fan's definition, those who are supposedly "great", but the standards by which we (and the record books) define greatness are ever-shifting, whether statistically or contextually. Had Rice played in an era where OBP was valued like it has been the last decade+ would his counting stats be that much more impressive? Would he have had more players to knock in? (Seriously – Jerry Remy and Rick Burleson hit in front of Rice, in 1978 they had OBPs of .321 and .295, respectively) Had Rice played in the "steroid" era would we be thinking of him not as great or even good but simply as an enormously inflated pariah and non-candidate?
I think there has been too much venom on this issue - from both sides. From those who think that Rice is undeserving — Rob Neyer's "we won't need to make stuff up" comment about Tim Raines from yesterday was a particulary and uncharacteristically unprofessional swipe from a superb writer pointing towards Dick Bresciani, an historian of the game with proven credentials (full disclosure – he's a family friend). Just as some of Peter Gammons' comments about Neyer and the Rice non-supporters have been equally juvenile.
We shouldn't be so absolute in proclaiming to know the rightness or wrongness of the awarding of such a cherished yet vaguely defined honor – that goes for those supporting both election and rejection of any player's candidacy.
For those who wish to take this discussion further, I'd be curious to know how people define "greatness", and how the Hall might legitimately define this vague term for future voters. I have my doubts that it could ever be done with any modicum of success.
The comments are obviously open for this debate. And don't make it personal.