Keeping Score

Hall of Fame Selection – An Illogical Day For Baseball

If a legend like Greg Maddux doesn't land on every ballot, can you ever really trust the system?

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STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Greg Maddux, on the mound in 1997.

Baseball’s system for selecting Hall of Famers is clearly broken. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas, who were elected to the Hall on Wednesday, were all deserving candidates. No problem there. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were also Hall of Fame-caliber players before their suspected steroid use started. But if members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, whose votes are the keys to induction, don’t want to elect them on their second year on the ballot, that’s understandable (Clemens’ name appeared on 35.4% of the ballots, and Bonds’ 34.70%. You need 75% to get in).

But trust in the system breaks down when you see that someone like Maddux, who won 355 games in his 23-year career, is left off 16 of the 571 ballots (he received 97.2% of the vote). Maddux won four straight Cy Young awards, from 1992-1995. He registered microscopic ERAs of 2.18, 2.36, 1.56, and 1.63 during those seasons. What 16 people can reasonably think that Maddux lacks Hall of Fame credentials?

No Hall of Famer has ever been voted in unanimously. In 1936, Babe Ruth got 95.13% of the vote. Eleven of the 226 voters thought Ruth — Babe Ruth! – wasn’t worthy of the Hall. That kind of result shows you that the voting system has always been flawed.

(MORE: Maddux, Glavine, Thomas Elected to Hall of Fame) 

This time around, things got totally unhinged. Ken Gurnick, Los Angeles Dodgers beat reporter for MLB.com, only included pitcher Jack Morris on his ballot. “As for those who played during the period of PED use, I won’t vote for any of them,” he wrote.

Here, all logic is lost. Why punish Maddux – and Glavine – for the sins of others? If Maddux could fluster cartoonish hitters in the PED-era, doesn’t that make him more worthy of the Hall?

If Gurnick is operating under the assumption that since testing didn’t exist in Maddux’s heyday, you can’t trust that anyone was clean, there’s two flaws with that. First, Maddux was a finesse pitcher, who thrived on his ability to move the ball around, change speeds, and hit the corners. He wasn’t a power pitcher, like, say, Clemens. Context clues strongly suggest Maddux was clean. If Maddux was roided-up, all trust in athletes is indeed lost.

Let’s, for a moment, make that astounding leap: you have no choice but to assume that everyone was using. If that were the case, if Maddux was on steroids, isn’t the playing field still even, because if you assume Maddux was cheating, you’d have to assume all the hitters were cheating too? So he had no real advantage, right? In the days before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line, for example, the playing field wasn’t truly even.

The Hall of Fame announcement should be cause for celebration. Not for shaking our heads.

(MORE: Brain Injuries Are Now Baseball’s Worry Too)

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