Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent were not elected into the Hall of Fame. If you had been following Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame tracker, this probably doesn’t come as a shock to you. As of this morning, Kent sat at 16.8 percent of the vote while Bonds remained at 71.2 percent of the required 75 percent.
Kent had already been eliminated from induction this year, but Bonds was close enough that you could hope that the undisclosed votes could push him over the top. Then you remember that the people who don’t disclose their ballots tend to know less about baseball than the average fan. 425 votes were cast this go-around, with Bonds netting a negligible increase of 2.7% from last season, winding up with 59.1% (Kent wound up with 18.1%).
Enough of the electorate are incurious curmudgeons to invalidate the institution. These are voters who make decisions based on memory and gut feeling even though memory is fallible and gut feelings are stupid.
Entering the Hall of Fame this year are Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, and Mike Mussina. Each of these players were deserving, certainly. Rivera and Halladay join the illustrious first-ballot Hall of Famer circle (more on that below). Rivera even became the first unanimous inductee. The voters that didn’t vote for Martinez or Mussina need to have their heads examined. Knowing that voters tend to lean toward a small hall, it’s nice to see such a large class. It wasn’t too long ago that no one was admitted into the Hall of Fame.
It’s not the players that get in that bothers me. Only in very rare exceptions does a player get in who I don’t think is deserving of the distinction, and in that case, I don’t care. Good for them. Harold Baines might have been the worst player on the Today’s Game ballot, but his inclusion doesn’t bother me. It’s the players who are kept out that have made me lose respect for the Hall of Fame.
Enough has been written about steroids keeping out players like Bonds and Clemens. My take on steroids is pretty bland. They’re enough to keep borderline cases, like Sammy Sosa, out of the Hall but not enough to ding players like Bonds and Clemens who were clearly better than everyone else with or without PEDs.
If you want to ding them for steroid usage, go ahead. Cut Bonds’ WAR in half. He’s still better than a big chunk of first-ballot Hall of Famers including Rivera and Halladay, who again, are no-brainer, slam dunk inductees.
Here’s a list of every first-ballot Hall of Famer with less than half of Bonds’ career 162.8 bWAR:
I’m guessing that if you read through that list of 27 names, there wasn’t a single one that surprised you. Each of those players were universally recognized to be among the best baseball players to ever live. They didn’t need Jonah Keri going door-to-door spreading the good word of Rivera or Gwynn or McCovey. They were great. Every knew it and recognized it immediately.
Bonds was still twice as good as all of them.
It isn’t just that Bonds and Roger Clemens haven’t made it yet. Larry Walker is in jeopardy of falling off the ballot next year because voters know atavistically that Coors Field pads a hitter’s numbers, but they do no more investigation than looking beyond their gut feeling. Never mind that Walker hit .282/.371/.501 away from Coors Field and he’d have the third best OPS+ among Hall of Fame right fielders.
Walker, though, has another year of eligibility before he’ll be left to the mercy of the Veteran’s Committee. Other deserving players haven’t been as fortunate.
Andy Pettite came dangerously close to falling beneath the five percent threshold despite having comparable careers to Mike Mussina and Roy Halladay. Mussina and Halladay might have been better than Pettite, but Pettite was certainly better than Jack Morris.
Kenny Lofton fell off his first ballot, and Andruw Jones just barely held on. They are the tenth and eleventh best center fielders of all-time by bWAR ahead of Hall of Famers Richie Ashburn, Andre Dawson, Billy Hamilton, Larry Doby, and Kirby Puckett to name a few.
Johan Santana also fell off his first ballot despite having a nearly identical career to Sandy Koufax with the exception that Santana pitched during a high offensive era and Koufax pitched during the worst offensive era.
Meanwhile, Harold Baines is in the Hall of Fame because some of his friends were on the Veteran’s Committee. In Baines’ best season, he put up 4.3 bWAR. He only had one other above 3.0. Out of 22 seasons, Bonds only had five that were worse than Baines’ best, and that includes his injury shortened 2005.
The more you look at the Hall of Fame, the more you realize it’s this inconsistent mess that’s driven more by nepotism and perception than reality. I used to think that visiting the Hall of Fame was something that I had to do at least once in my lifetime. I viewed it as a kind of pilgrimage I needed to undertake because I profess to be a baseball fan.
Now, I couldn’t care less about the Hall of Fame. The 900 preceding words may suggest otherwise, but it’s my job to have opinions about the Hall of Fame. This is the first time this winter I’ve really thought about the Hall of Fame, and it’s the first winter in years I haven’t spent muttering curses at the Murray Chass’s of the world for their awful opinions. It’s a welcome change, even if it means another year without Barry Bonds being recognized for being among the best players to ever play the game.