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Fred McGriff and the broken Hall of Fame voting system

Fred McGriff may not be a lock for the Hall of Fame, but the voting system as it stands is doing him and others a disservice.

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Fred "The Crime Dog" McGriff was a very good baseball player for a long time. He made 5 All-Star teams while winning 3 Silver Sluggers, 2 league home run titles (one in each league...the first to pull off that feat), and won a World Series ring. His career WAR of 52.4, while not earth-shattering by any means, is as good or better than 62 players CURRENTLY in the Hall, including Lou Brock, Sandy Koufax, Kirby Puckett, Ralph Kiner, Jim Rice, and Phil Rizzuto. Not that long ago, his 493 home runs as well as his long and consistent career would have essentially guaranteed that he would have at the very least gotten strong consideration for enshrinement even if there are reasons he isn't a lock.

My my, how times have changed.

When the voting results were announced on Wednesday, McGriff, despite being a worthy candidate on paper, only appeared on 20.9% of ballots in his 7th year of eligibility. While a decent jump from the previous year's 12.9%, much of that can be attributed to decreased number of voters this year due a recent purge of the voting members' ranks. The end result is that while its not outside the realm of possibility he gets close to induction, its a long shot. The relative snubbing hasn't gone unnoticed.

I'm not here to argue that McGriff is an auto-lock for the Hall of Fame because its not a sure thing. Yes, he out-ranks a lot of current Hall of Famers based on some metrics, but he did fall short on others. Bill James' Hall of Fame Monitor (a measure used to determine whether a players is a likely Hall of Famer) puts the Crime Dog right at 100, which is exactly the cutoff for when a player is considered likely. He is a borderline case and reasonable people can disagree on his candidacy.

Whats wrong is the how little support he has gotten and that he is far from the only player that has had to suffer from it. Jeff Bagwell is going to have to wait another year for his induction despite the fact his numbers jump off the page. Tim Raines, despite tremendous supporters on Twitter in particular pushing his campaign, will go in to his 10th year on the ballot having not crossed even the 70% threshold despite being one of the premiere leadoff men of the 1980's and 1990's along with Rickey Henderson. Edgar freaking Martinez, the guy who they named the Outstanding Designated Hitter Award after and owner of a 68.3 career WAR, just finished his 7th ballot and did not even get to 50%. Larry Walker, a guy who had a higher career WAR than all of those players as well as in-as-soon-as-he-is-eligible Derek Jeter AND won an MVP award in addition to 7 Gold Gloves, got 15.5% of the vote in his 6th year of eligibility.

Its hard to say what's exactly wrong with the Hall of Fame voting system. Many folks say they should expand the limit of 10 so that all candidates deemed worthy by the writer can get a vote, while others say that that would dilute the prestige of actually getting in (although whether it has already been diluted is an open question at this point). Who gets a vote and who doesn't is a subject of constant debate as well as the use of votes to make statements or as a favor to a friend are common practices. Somehow Jim Edmonds, a career 60 WAR player with almost 400 career home runs, fell off the ballot his first year on it with only 2.5% (thats 11 votes) while David Eckstein, Mike Sweeney, and Jason Kendall all amazingly received multiple votes. What are the voters doing and saying with their votes and, even if we figure that out somehow, what should be done?

To be honest, I don't know. There is no accountability for voters as its a privilege of being a writer of a certain stature. That being said, there are several issues that cloud the debate. The first is that there is no clear standard for what makes a Hall of Famer which means that some writers take a hard line and only want the top 0.00000001% to even be considered while others may simply be content to measure the accomplishments of those eligible against those who are already in. I can respect how hard a decision that can be, but David Eckstein or Garrett Anderson or Mike Sweeney are not hard decisions. Those are statement votes or personal shoutouts to favored players on their local beats, although in many of these cases we will never know for certain as there is no rule that says a voter has to answer for or explain his/her vote.

There are those voters who make it a point to make a player wait a while to get in if they aren't in the class of Ken Griffey Jr. or Tom Seaver or Hank Aaron, but they are not the crux of another major problem with the Hall of Fame voting these days...the Steroid Era. Fair or not, McGriff and those from his era are being punished by many voters who the period of time in which he played. The Crime Dog is, in the minds of many voters, guilty by association...given the same treatment as Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa or Roger Clemens despite never being connected to steroid use and never experiencing any of the spikes in performance that some of those players had. Many voters will never vote for a player who has done PEDs and are unable/unwilling to sort out who used and who didn't. The Hall of Fame nor Major League Baseball has not given any guidance as to how to handle the induction of those connected to or even admitting to their use. This leaves many players who retired in the last 6-7 years in a bind to be sure, as votes become split further and further, each voting with a player that they consider their worthy cause. On a crowded ballot like the one this year with Griffey, Trevor Hoffman, Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, and others having very strong cases further exacerbated the problem.

Maybe part of the solution is to have voter's have to publicly explain their ballots, although that could cause its own set of issues with internet-led bullying being a real thing. At the very least it could help the voters come to some sort of consensus on what it is to be a Hall of Famer instead of every voter having to act out their own version of Don Quixote. And maybe its time to expand the vote to 15...if the voters are to be trusted to come up with up to 10 names, what would the harm of giving them an extra 5 slots do? Is it really any worse than pretending that a vote that is blatant nepotism or without any thought or merit altogether?

So decide for yourselves if McGriff and players like him are Hall of Famers. If you think his career numbers, even based on some more advanced baseball metrics, match-up favorably with a lower tier Hall of Famer...great. If you think he was not among the best at his position and failed to reach certain milestones that would help enshrine him...also great. However, if the debate was over his career and his career alone, he would have more than 20.9% support. Instead, its the broken process of induction that is taking away from the essence of the decision on players like McGriff or Edmonds or Walker or Edgar....and thats a shame.

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