The announcement on January 6 of the results of this year's Hall of Fame voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America has, predictably, brought with it the usual barrage of whining, grousing and assorted complaints regarding the particular qualifications of both voters and votees. Still, the election of former outfielder Andre Dawson in his ninth try on the ballot, the near-miss of pitcher Bert Blyleven in his 13th, and the "snub" of second baseman Roberto Alomar in his first year of eligibility have all combined to make this one of the more hotly discussed tallies in recent years.
I generally keep my nose out of the Hall of Fame business, and not only because I don't carry a BBWAA membership card in my slim wallet. I do vote for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which is, to be sure, an entirely different kettle of Phish -- and not just because there aren't any stats for "influence." But what both institutions have in common is that their voting practices usually boil to down to what I guess you'd call the two "P"s: perception and politics.
(Since the topic of discussion here is baseball, I'll stick to Frank Chance's diamond and not Neil Diamond, although, speaking of perception and politics, I will note that the author of the Fenway Park anthem "Sweet Caroline" - not to mention "Cherry, Cherry," "I'm A Believer," "Red Red Wine," "Kentucky Woman" and just a few other little songs you might have heard of - has NEVER ONCE EVEN BEEN NOMINATED for the Rock Hall. )
Baseball at least starts with a levelheaded approach to its nominations: anyone who's been active during a period of 20 years before and ending five years prior to election and has played in a minimum of 10 seasons goes on the writers' ballot. After that, it takes a 75 per cent vote to get in, and a minimum of a five per cent vote to stay on the ballot from year to year, up to a maximum of 15 years. Fair enough. (We'll leave the matter of the veteran's committee for older players not covered by the 20-year window out of this, since that's its own conundrum.) Still, once people start voting, what exactly constitutes a "Hall of Fame" career becomes more a matter of subjectivity than objectivity, and often of fog rather than fact. So arguing about who "deserves" to be in the Hall and who doesn't ultimately serves little useful purpose.
I will say this: Once Jim Rice got elected last year, you really couldn't keep Andre Dawson out. Were they among the best of their eras? Probably. Were they among the game's all-time greats? That's questionable. Now, do I think Bert Blyleven ought to be in? I sure do. Why? Because he won 287 games -- 27th all-time -- mostly with bad ballclubs. Because he had 60 career shutouts -- ninth all-time (and since hardly anyone pitches complete games any more, it's unlikely he'll be passed). Because, for those who think it's important, he was on two championship teams -- the Pirates in 1979 and the Twins in '87. And, probably above all, because he had 3701 strikeouts, which places him 5th all-time, and only a total of 16 pitchers in the entire history of the game have notched more than 3000 strikeouts. All together, that would seem more good enough to make him a Hall of Famer. To me, it's a combination of stats and longevity. Those are my barometers. Make of it what you will.
As for Roberto Alomar, well, that's where politics really enters the picture. Was his among the best of his era? Yes. Is he among the games' all-time greats? For second basemen, yes. Did he disgrace himself and disrespect the game by spitting in the face of an umpire (John Hirschbeck) during a game in 1996? Yes, he did. Should that one (wet) blotch on his record keep him out of the Hall? No. Should it have been enough to prevent him from getting in on the first ballot, as a statement about proper on-the-field conduct for a professional ballplayer? I'd say yes. He'll get in, I'm sure, and probably as soon as next year, but nothing wrong with him waiting a bit. Make of that what you will, too.