Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle was one of the 16 members of the Veteran’s Committee this year, and he voted on the Hall of Fame earlier this week. Today he has a column about that process and it’s pretty eye-opening.
The first part: how sworn to silence the committee members are. Jenkins talks of how unwilling the ex-players, executives and historians would be to participate in the process if their votes or thoughts behind them were made public. Which may be true, but it also speaks of everything wrong with the process. There is no accountability at all. The Hall of Fame is about history and merit, not about whether people might be offended at how you voted. That difference can, if perpetuated over time, be the difference between legitimate institution and a glorified fraternal society.
But the secrecy was not the biggest problem. It was what were clearly hidebound thinkers on the committee. Jenkins speaks of the deliberations:
At one point, someone asked if it was necessary to bring WAR, a trendy new stat, into any discussion. There was a bit of mumbling, mostly silence, and it never came up again . . . Whatever. I certainly didn’t feel dated or out of touch hashing out a man’s Hall of Fame credentials with Robinson, Fisk, Herzog or anyone else involved. I’m sure the brilliant Hirdt could have backed his opinions with WAR, WHIP or any other statistical measure known to man, but he spoke of traditional numbers and criteria of considerable weight: character, temperament, clutch performance and other intangibles, such as how it felt to witness the greats, and how they were viewed by other icons of the game.
I don’t think that mindset made a difference in this year’s election. None of the players on the ballot, I feel anyway, were close enough that a minor disagreement on how they were valued statistically would have made much a of a difference.
But again, it speaks to the makeup of the committee. How much do you want to bet that the mumbling when WAR was brought up was because the members simply didn’t understand those metrics as opposed to those who totally understand them but have decided that they aren’t important? I’m guessing that was the real issue. Just ignorance or discomfort with that stuff so there was a desire to move into what they know.
Which I think matters. It’s totally legitimate to decide, with all of the information at your disposal, that what is truly important are RBIs or character or intangibles or whatever and vote on that basis. But if your committee simply doesn’t understand the state of the art — and not just some nerdy bleeding edge stuff, but the stuff that mainstream analysts and front offices use to evaluate players — they’re pretty unqualified to offer what will be the final assessment on any given player’s merits as a Hall of Famer.
Probably doesn’t matter for the current crop of Veteran’s Committee candidates. But because the BBWAA refuses to vote in so many qualified or borderline guys, they’ll be in front of the Veteran’s Committee one day too. And unless the system becomes transparent and the voters become people who are actually willing and capable to engage in anything beyond the most superficial baseball analysis, they won’t get a fair shake.