Hall Of Fame Voting And Pitchers
By John Verburg
I’ve never really understood the criteria that Hall of Fame voters institute when selecting it’s members. I understand the rule that players go on the ballot 5 years after retirement, and that it takes 10 years of service in baseball, and that it takes 75% of the vote to get elected. I’m not talking about that criteria.
I’m talking about what makes up a Hall of Fame player? For a pitcher, is it 300 wins? Or 400 saves? For a hitter, is it 500 home runs? Or a lifetime .320 average with a couple of batting titles? Is it part character of the individual? Is it part media relations? Is it about the player dominating their era?
I suspect if I asked a Hall of Fame voter, they would suggest to me that it is a combination of these things. Generally, I am okay with that explanation, and I agree. Here is the issue that I have with that though. The more interpretation you allow the writers, the murkier the waters get, and I think this leaves too many deserving players on the outside looking in. This is especially true when looking at pitchers and the Hall of Fame.
Now, I am not suggesting that Hall of Fame voters lower their standards to allow slightly average players into the Hall, just modify them to match the times. It should be an exclusive club, but not as exclusive as it appears to be. The Hall of Fame has been inducting members since 1936. In that 75 years, only 68 pitchers have been inducted into the famed institution. Not even one a year on the average. Talk about exclusivity. In contrast, I counted 10 3rd baseman that have made the Hall (not including vets committee). That would seem exclusive as well, and it is. Ron Santo should be in by the way. However, on the average, there are 10 pitchers on a roster, compared to the one starting third baseman. Shouldn’t there be 10 times the amount of pitchers in the Hall of Fame?
There are 300 total position players and pitchers in the Hall of Fame, and again, just 68 of those are pitchers, and one of those listed in the pitching column is Babe Ruth making 67 true pitchers. That is obviously less than 25%. Given that rosters are typically constructed with at least 40% pitchers, you can see how difficult it is to get elected as a pitcher. However, rosters haven’t always been constructed like they are now. Years ago, there were 4 man rotations regularly, and bullpens weren’t as large either. This means that over time, maybe the percentage isn’t as far off as it appears at first glance, but that doesn’t mean it is any less difficult for pitchers to get voted in.
Baseball, especially pitching, has changed greatly over the years. Even from when I was growing up as a young kid in the 1980’s, it has changed drastically. The specialization of the game, that begin somewhat in the 1970’s, has taken away opportunities for pitchers to post the same numbers as those have in the past. You want the most unbreakable record in baseball? Easy. It is the 511 career wins for Cy Young. Cy Young pitched in an era where pitchers finished what they started, and they pitched all the time. That just doesn’t happen anymore.
There wasn’t any closers in the 1930’s. There weren’t set-up men, or even long men for that matter. At least not in the specialist sense. There was no worries about tired arms and injuries. There was no big time 20M dollar contracts that organizations felt obligated to track the number of pitches that Dizzy Dean threw. I think you get the point, baseball back then was very different.
Given that baseball has changed over time, voters cannot hold players to the same kind of criteria that is rooted in the past, mainly just wins and ERA. Wins and ERA are becoming outdated statistics, and don’t always measure the true success of pitchers. I have always grown up hearing that 300 wins is a magic number for starting pitchers to reach for Hall of Fame inclusion. 300? Really? That is a preposterous number to reach in today’s game, and is a ridiculous premise to begin with. There are a ton of pitchers in the Hall that never reached 300 wins. Sandy Koufax only won 165 games. Dizzy Dean won 150. Guys we never even heard of didn’t reach 300.
How about ERA? A sub 3.00 ERA of course is really good, but is that all that feasible to carry over the course of a pitchers career in today’s game? I mean pitchers went from throwing games in a place called the Polo Grounds to Minute Maid Park, where these man beasts on muscle enhancers can break their bats for home runs. Small parks and lowered mounds inflate ERA’s, and so does the smaller strike zones.
So what did these old timers do? They dominated during their era. That’s it folks. Voters have to take into account the era that these guys are pitching in, and ask themselves, is this one of the best pitchers of his era? If the answer is yes, then maybe Bert Blyleven wouldn’t have to wait 19 years before being inducted, and maybe we would see a few more guys included in the exclusive club that is the Hall.
How does that even happen by the way? A pitcher like Blyleven with 287 career wins, who was for the better part of the 1980’s, one of the top pitchers in baseball, has to wait 19 years. What made Bert Blyleven and his record Hall of Fame worthy in 2011 and not in 1998? He is 5th all-time in strikeouts with a career 3.31 ERA. On top of that, he was a workhorse in a time when the game was moving away from that.
I now turn to our own Detroit Tiger Jack Morris. I don’t want to turn this into a Morris debate for the Hall of Fame, but I wanted to mention, he is exactly the type of guy I am talking about. Morris was one of the best pitchers in the 1980’s era. He was a workhorse, won 254 (42nd all-time) career games, is 32nd all time in strikeouts, and finished in the top 10 in ERA 5 times in his career. This isn’t to mention the multiple memorable and classic performances he has pitched in the playoffs on his way to becoming a champion several times over. So what is stopping him? A career 3.80 ERA that’s what.
Quick, name me five pitchers that were better from 1980 to 1992. It’s not as easy as people would think.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, I get that the Hall of Fame should be an exclusive club, but 67 pitchers not including Babe Ruth? Out of the thousands upon thousands to play this game? It’s up to the writers who vote to begin to change with the game, and adjust their criteria. Because old standards like ERA and wins don’t always apply to the best pitchers. A couple of Cy Young winners in Felix Hernandez and Zach Greinke have shown that. Sure, they are important, but being one of the best amongst your peers is the real measure.
Let’s hope for Jack Morris’ sake that those who vote really take a look at that.