The Hall Of Fame Charts No Course
1:15 PM EST on January 26, 2023
The Hall of Fame satisfies nobody, ever. There are too few inductees. There are too many. There are the wrong ones. It's a festival of dissatisfaction that just offered up Scott Rolen.
There's nothing wrong with Scott Rolen as a Hall of Famer. He's a borderline choice, based on getting in with a five-vote margin, but borderline choices are still choices. The fact that he was the best the ballot had to offer this time is not his fault, or really, anyone's.
But Rolen's election has inevitably birthed silly debates about whether there should have been more, or whether he was the best available candidate. He was, because he got the most votes, and because not every ballot is the same as the one before it. Next year's ballot won't have this conundrum—Adrian Beltre, a near-mortal lock, makes his first appearance, and so does eventual inductee Joe Mauer, as well as holdovers like Todd Helton. Next year's ballot may produce a full boatload of winners, and then we can have the argument about whether the Hall is being too lenient. Ultimately, it's not about the achievement, it's about the argument.
Three years ago, four players were voted in by the Baseball Writers of America, including Mariano Rivera; four years ago, there were four as well, including Vladimir Guerrero The Elder and Chipper Jones. The voters seemed to be embracing a more effusive ballot, but the candidates were easier to approve.
Then 2021 offered nobody, and 2022 gave us the slightly problematic David Ortiz while denying Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. This year, Rolen eased in while Alex Rodriguez and his superior resume couldn't even get 40 percent. Suddenly admission got more difficult again, and the voters who were too generous only a few years ago were now being too harsh. Unless they were too generous with Rolen, and very nearly with Todd Helton and Billy Wagner.
You see the theme here. Despite the overwhelming evidence that Hall of Fame balloting is indeed subject to fluctuations every year that makes the voting patterns not patterns at all, the sense is that the Hall of Fame is creating more irritation than satisfaction. And this has nothing at all to do with Scott Rolen.
In truth, it's the way the Hall has been politicized and how it has helped in that process by making the decision to "celebrate" rather than "record" the history of the game. The difference is that celebrating the game means it's all supposed to be a happy tale, and happy tales are entirely in the eye of the beholder. Recording it is a more dispassionate matter that deals in fact rather than likes. This is a distinct choice that de-legitimizes the winners as well as the losers because a Hall without Bonds or Clemens makes no sense in the history of the game. A Hall without Schilling does, but only because he said he didn't want to be subject to the approval of people he disapproved as people (voters) and therefore opted out in a cavalcade of petulance. You should at least be able to decline entry into a place of you choose, and you can have whatever petty political reason for doing so. Schilling can DIY his own shrine in his den if it matters that much to him.
Some of this problem solves itself next year when Beltre sails in with a near-unanimous vote, and even if you apply the genuinely artificial standard of being able to write the history of the game without ever mentioning his name, his numbers stand on their own. In voting year 2024 (2025 induction), there is Ichiro Suzuki, who doesn't necessarily have the numbers but has the kind of universal approval that made Marino Rivera a unanimous choice and Derek Jeter come close.
But there will still be the matter of Alex Rodriguez on his way to become a third member of the Bonds/Clemens Banned For Being Unpopular Club, so we'll still have that. And, if he never plays again, Trevor Bauer becomes eligible in time for 2027. That'll be fun for everyone.
And maybe that's the truest history of baseball, a land where numbers aren't numbers and personalities are everything until they aren't. The Hall of Fame is what it never wanted to be, and has never been what it should be. And none of it has a thing to do with Scott Rolen.
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