Cooperstown

Shutout! The Baseball Writers Association of America fails to elect anyone to the Hall of Fame

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It’s possible that this year’s Hall of Fame ballot was the most stacked in the history of the institution.  It contained the all-time home run leader. It contained a seven-time Cy Young award winner who may have been the best pitcher in baseball history since the deadball era. It contained the best hitting catcher of all time. It contained a middle infielder who got to 3,000 hits while flashing superior defense and power. It sported a 609-home run hitter a 583-home run hitter, the second best leadoff hitter in the history of the game and at least five others who, had they been inducted, would not be close to the worst players to make the Hall of Fame.

And none of them got in. Not a one. For the first time since 1996, all candidates on the ballot failed to receive the requisite 75% required for induction.  The leading vote getter was Craig Biggio, who received 68% of the vote. Jack Morris received 67.7%, Jeff Bagwell received 59.6% of the vote, Mike Piazza 57.8% and Tim Raines at 52.2%. No other player received more than 50% of the vote. Roger Clemens received 37.6% of the vote and Barry Bonds received 36.2%. Each of those last two received totals far below even the most pessimistic predictions. The full results can be seen here.

The biggest takeaway from all of this: the Baseball Writers Association of America has, for the first time, unequivocally decided that the use of performance enhancing drugs is a disqualifier for induction to the Hall of Fame. It was suspected that this was the case given Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro falling short in previous years, but there are some reasonable non-PED arguments against those fellows’ candidacies.  Not so with Bonds and Clemens. They were so good and so accomplished that, to paraphrase Bill James, you could cut them in half and have two hall of famers each. Maybe three, actually. Their exclusion is solely because a large portion of the electorate believes that one cannot take steroids and call Cooperstown home.

Which, while understandable, flies in the face of baseball history. There are almost certainly already steroids users in the Hall of Fame. Indeed, Hall of Fame voter and Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell said on camera, in Ken Burns’ “Tenth Inning” that he witnessed a current Hall of Famer taking steroids during his playing career. Maybe his fellow voters ignored him. Maybe, since that player’s induction, whoever he is, their attitudes have changed. Either way, there is certainly now a historical inconsistency baked into the Hall of Fame.  And in no event can anyone who applauds today’s voting results do so on the basis of the Hall of Fame maintaining its purity, for its purity is pure fantasy.

But just as the BBWAA has now clearly stated that drug users are not wanted in the Hall of Fame, it has apparently likewise erected a near-impossible hurdle for those not associated with PEDs to bound, regardless of their merits.

Craig Biggio had 3,000 hits. Tim Raines was one of the best players of the 1980s. Curt Schilling has three World Series rings, was dominant in the playoffs, and was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball for several years when being a pitcher in baseball was about as hard as it has ever been.  While I disagree that we should keep the PED players out, I at least understand the impulse. What’s the point of keeping out guys like Biggio, Raines and Schilling? What’s the point of the Hall of Fame if no one can get in in a year as talent-rich as this one?

But that’s where we are. Not one of the players on the ballot made it in. The induction ceremony in Cooperstown, New York this summer will honor three men — Hank O’Day, Jacob Ruppert, and Deacon White — who were elected by the Veterans Committee last month.  All three of those men have been dead since the 1930s, so I don’t presume it will be a joyful gathering of family and friends reminiscing about their storied pasts. It’ll be more like a memorial service.

Which is somewhat appropriate given that, with their votes, the current electorate is, in this writer’s view, hastening the Hall of Fame to its doom.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: