I think when most people start out in their chosen professions they want to be the very best they can possibly be. I’d like to think there aren’t many kids lying in bed at night imagining their future as a completely adequate fireman or as a barely passing astronaut or as someone who played pro sports for a couple seasons and then owned and operated a car wash. No way. When we imagine our future selves it is usually as one of the greatest ever.
The key word here is “chosen” – since most people actually wind up in professions that aren’t at all what they dreamed about in their youth. But the world needs cab drivers, coffee baristas and sanitation workers; so, not all dreams can come true. However, what if these cabbies, baristas and sewer folk set aside their bitterness at life and actually strove to be the very best at what they do? Cab rides that aren’t a rip off and don’t scare you to death, coffee orders made accurately and my name not spelled “JEN,” and sanitation stuff done sanitationally (admittedly I’m regretting choosing sanitation workers as the third profession as I am woefully unaware of just what those people do).
When it comes to sports, kids always imagine themselves as one of the best of all time, succeeding in the most trying of situations: “Two outs, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two strikes … here’s the pitch … he swings the bat … and it’s a home run! They win the World Series!” It’s always the biggest moments and biggest result imaginable. I would be very concerned about your kid if he said: “No outs, the team is up by seven runs in the top of the third inning and this game doesn’t matter much because they’ve been eliminated from the playoffs … here’s the pitch … he swings the bat … and it’s a line-drive single to center!”
The long journey from backyard games, T-ball and Pee Wee leagues to playing professional sports is a brutal, uncaring endeavor that seeks to separate the best at each level and allow them to move forward. This road is strewn with the casualties of boys and young men who found out they aren’t the best and don’t get to go any further.
At the very end of the journey is the Hall of Fame. Every major sport (and most minor sports – there’s a Badminton Hall of Fame) has one of these to celebrate the very best who ever played their respective game. Well, maybe not always the “very best.”
“Why, Jed, what could you mean by this?” Well, reader, I am glad you asked. While you and I can get into a Hall of Fame by purchasing a ticket, the only way that one can stay in there forever without eventually being arrested for trespassing is to be voted in. And it is the voting where things get a little murky.
And now we have reached the actual point of my column – possibly a longer journey than some of these athletes had to face.
There are no set accomplishments that qualify a player for a Hall of Fame – other than that they played the sport for which that particular Hall of Fame exists. And in baseball, history has shown that the qualifications are as random as the sport itself. But, I guess, this is how it goes with most awards. Awards are given based on popular votes and popular votes are based on opinions.
With the Golden Globes just this last weekend, we see another example of opinion-based awards. Five people are nominated for an award and then one is chosen as the “best.” But it’s only the consensus of those who vote and their opinions are influenced by anything and everything, including past performances, personal relationships and sexual attraction. This is the same voting body that gave Drew Barrymore an award. Yes, for acting. No, I am not kidding.
I’ve heard that there isn’t a nicer person in Hollywood than Drew Barrymore. And she seems like a swell gal. But she doesn’t act. She just is. Another example of this is Matt LeBlanc. We all know him as Joey from “Friends,” but did you know that he was nominated for a Golden Globe for his TV show “Joey”? I know! I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in. … And this year, Matt LeBlanc won a Golden Globe Award for acting in a show where he played himself. So, are these really the best in this profession? Obviously there are other things in play.
Yes, acting and writing and directing are all very subjective and one man’s George Clooney is another man’s Taylor Lautner. The problem with baseball is that when it comes time to vote a player into the Hall of Fame, writers tend to be subjective and think back to the particular player’s career, reminiscing about what they did or didn’t do. This puts a lot of pressure on people’s memories.
If only there was a way that existed where we could remove the subjective nature of voting and measure a player’s performance against the performances of others. Oh, right, there is. Statistics. But the problem with statistics is that very often they disagree with opinions.
There are always questions about who deserves to be voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame and who does not. And a lot of this work can be solved by looking at statistics. “But, Jed, statistics don’t always show what happened on the field of play.” Actually, the problem with statistics is that all they do is show what happened on the field of play. Statistics do not have opinions or bias. They don’t feel pity or remorse. And they will not stop until you are dead. Okay, I seemed to have confused statistics with The Terminator.
“But, Jed, I know what I saw on the field of play and I stand by that.” Okay, good argument. Because I assume that you mean that you watched literally every game that player was involved in no matter what team he was on or when the game was on despite not having satellite TV or the Internet. Oh, right, you didn’t do that. Because you’re not an insane billionaire with a time machine.
But, you want to know who did see every game on every team in every city, day or night? Statistics. That’s who (or “what” – okay, Grammar Police?). I’m not saying that statistics are the only thing you should look at. There are things like longevity, timeliness of performance and career peaks. And I always love a really good mustache.
This year (despite not having a particularly special mustache) only Barry Larkin of the Cincinnati Reds was elected into baseball’s Hall of Fame. And this guy deserved it. He’s got everything you want from a Hall of Famer and he’s one of the best shortstops to ever play the game. He was fun to watch for Reds fans and he was a terror to opponents – and the numbers back it all up.
But where are the other guys? They’re waiting – waiting for the writers to get past their personal biases and their petty grievances and their self-righteousness. Here are some of the guys I’d like to see voted in:
This guy should be voted in for his batting stance alone. If you are able to look like you are dropping a deuce at home plate and then you hit a home run, you are already a Hall of Famer to me. He hit for average, hit for power, stole bases and played great defense. What else does he need to do to get you to change your mind, huh, go over to your house, mow your lawn and do your taxes? Some writers decided not to vote for him because they think there’s a chance that maybe he might have been juicing. First of all, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? [Note: I had to get special permission from my editor to use all caps and italics there – that’s how loud I asked this question.] Second, I say we let all the juicers in. There’s no way to tell who did and who didn’t and, more importantly, we don’t really know how much the juicing helped. If a player put up exceptional numbers based on his peers, he goes in. Yes, this means Mark McGwire goes in. Get over yourself.
“Rock” is his nickname. That means he goes in the Hall. He was one of the best lead-off hitters and outfielders of all time, but had the great misfortune of playing at the same time of the even greater Rickey Henderson. But can’t they both be considered great? I think pizza is great, but I also think bacon cheeseburgers are wonderful. Those two have found a way to co-exist. Many baseball men are just now finding out that not making outs is more important than batting average and RBI and runs. Rock was excellent at not making outs at a time when it wasn’t common knowledge just how valuable this is. You’re going to have to trust the math nerds on this one, folks.
Just kidding. Sorry, Jack, you don’t get in the Hall of Fame for having a good career and then pitching one amazing game. There are a lot of dudes who’ve done that. Supporters of Morris explain that the reason he pitched so ordinarily most of the time was that he was “pitching to the score” – meaning that he would allow the other team to score when he had a lead because he knew that nothing bad would ever come from this insane course of action. Sorry again, Jack. Once again, when we ask the one guy who watched every game you ever pitched (Statistics), we find that the “pitching to the score” is just as nuts as it sounds.
There are other players who should also be in the Hall of Fame: Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammel and Lou Whitaker come to mind. There are other players who should not be voted in: Bernie Williams, Larry Walker and Tony Womack come to mind. And there are players in the Hall who should not be in the Hall: Tony Pena, Jim Rice and Andre Dawson.
And while we’re talking about people who are in the Hall and who should absolutely not be in the Hall – you’re going to want to sit down for this – former player Tim McCarver was just voted in as an announcer. That’s right. Quite possibly the worst announcer in the history of all sports has been voted in to the Hall of Fame for people who are the best at what they do. And he can never be taken out. That’s part of the rules. There is no quality control review that gets done every now and then to clear out the riffraff.
Maybe you disagree with me about who should be in or who should be out, but I think we can both agree that what we think doesn’t matter. The Baha Men won a Grammy Award for “Who Let the Dogs Out?” and Tom Hanks won an Oscar for “Forrest Gump” and Steve Carrell never won an Emmy for “The Office.”
These voting processes are out of our hands. The people who vote for baseball’s Hall of Fame are writers and you will not change their minds. There are no more hard-headedly stubborn opinionated a-holes on the planet than writers. Trust me, I know. I’m a writer.