Rating the Greatest Baseball Players of All Time

My rankings of the greatest baseball players ever, starting with number 1, in order.

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Saturday, August 03, 2013
 
The February 16 birthday team is not in a promising position.  No Hall of Famers, seven guys with ten years, 16 more with five years.  Looks like depth but no great height to the talent.

Lineup:
1Jerry Hairston Sr. 3B
2 Herbie Moran, CF
3 Eric Byrnes, LF
4 Bobby Darwin, RF
5 Terry Crowley, 1B
6 Bill Pecota, SS
7 Barry Foote, C
8 Tim Cullen, 2B

Bench:  Don Landrum, OF; Ben Sanders, OF; Creepy Crespi, IF; Bob Didier, C.

Rotation:
1 Carl Lundgren
2 Bill Sanders
3 Glenn Abbott
4 Tommy Milone

Bullpen:  Dwayne Henry, Howie Judson, Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Troncoso, Sergio Mitre, Alex Ferguson.

Actually not too bad, at least not as bad as some birtdhay teams we've seen.  It's a respectable lineup and decent rotation.


Sunday, July 28, 2013
 
Baseball fans know that the Hall of Fame inductions this weekend were rather an anticlimax.  Three new members were inducted this afternoon, but all three have been dead since before World War II.  All were selections of the various "Veterans' Committee"s that used to be one entity, but now have become several committees looking at several different groups of people.  Certainly 19th century star Deacon White is a fine addition, umpire Hank O'Day was well-known in his time, and so was longtime Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert, who was a chief architect of the dynasty.

With no living inductees, however, comes limited interest.  Fewer people come; the attendance of the Hall of Famers themselves was also down.  Crowds were smaller.  It's not particularly good for the Hall, a museum which depends on visitors, or the community, which largely does the same.  So, eyes fall on the people who do the voting for the largest block of players, those likely to still be alive, the Baseball Writers Association of America.  That group, the BBWAA, did not manage to elect anyone in their ballot, the biggest reason for the lack of a living inductee for the ceremony.

Now, I have seen BBWAA members trying to throw this on the players, for steroid use, as the stars of the Steroid Era hit the ballot.  "Oh, those evil men, using those nasty drugs, we can't vote for them, that's why no one was elected!  It's their fault!"

Well, yeah.  Steroids are certainly the reason why Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who otherwise would have been first-ballot selections, were not elected.  Neither reached 40%, with 75% the voting percentage needed for election.  It has also kept many people from voting for other viable, yet imperfect candidates such as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro.  I understand why those guys have not been elected.  Certainly, in the absence of a steroid taint, Bonds and Clemens would have been at the podium this summer.

But what of Craig Biggio?  He collected 3000 hits, played key up-the-middle defensive positions (catcher, second base, center field) and played for many successful teams, as well as playing his whole career with the same franchise.  No mercenary is he.  Is he suspected of steroid use?  Hardly seems the type.  Yet he fell short, polling 68%.  The only reason I can fathom is that ":first-ballot" nonsense.  Did some voters identify Biggio as not good enough for first-ballot selection?

No Jack Morris?  He has been slowly climbing up the vote totals for several years, and had reached 67% last year, a level which nearly always heralds election the next year.  Yet he managed only the slightest of increases, to 68%.  Did the sabermetric backlash against his election keep him out?

What of Jeff Bagwell?  Did steroid whispers keep him on the outside, at 60%?  The same for Mike Piazza, at 58%?  Neither of those guys has ever been credibly mentioned as drug users, yet there are enough whispers about muscular builds that it seems neither of these qualified gentlemen could must sufficient support.

What of Tim Raines, at 52%?  Is the second-greatest leadoff hitter of all time not good enough for Cooperstown?  Or, perhaps, did his own illegal drug use keep him off some ballots?  Or Curt Schilling, with 216 wins and post-season heroics, but 39% of the vote?  Or reliever Lee Smith, stalled out with 48%, actually lower than the previous year's 51%.

No, I don't think the BBWAA's failure to elect anyone has to do with the stench of drugs, and a lack of candidates who don't reek of it.  Oh, that's part of it, but it is part of a bigger problem of the paralysis of the voting.  And it's a problem the BBWAA has faced before, a problem of its own making.  The group is hoist by its own petard, again.

No, the BBWAA has become unable to elect anyone because of an oversupply of good candidates, not a lack of them.  There are many reasons for this.  The faction of the voters that refuse to vote for anyone below the level of, say, Mickey Mantle has a lot to do with it.  Those are the voters that wish to establish a very high standard for the Hall that has little to do with the Hall's history.  Then there are those voters who wish to keep the Hall "clean," and refuse to vote for anyone who has even a hint of a steroid allegation against them.  They want to make sure no steroid user even enters the Hall, ignoring the almost certainty that a steroid user is already enshrined, and even if it means keeping out those indicted merely by whisper and innuendo.

And then there is the collective inertia of such a large voting body.  Perhaps you didn't know that over time, the BBWAA has voted for fewer and fewer candidates on its ballots.  It's almost a straight-line graph, with some blips in it, that shows how many candidates have been listed per ballot over time.  At the very beginning of the voting process, the normal was nearly ten per ballot.  Some years, it was more than ten, which is probably due to some election anomalies.  In time, the average has slipped, from 9 in the 1950s to 8 in the 1960s, dropping to 7 in the 1980s, to a low of 5.1 on the 2012 ballot.  Some of the voters, bucked this trend, as the 2013 average bumped up to 6.6 names per ballot, actually the highest total since 2003, and the last time it had been higher was 1999.  Someone was trying.  It wasn't enough.

The biggest reason is that the BBWAA has tied themselves in knots by overflowing their own ballot with qualified choices.  There are SO MANY good candidates on the ballot, it is difficult for even the voters who are trying hard to sift through their choices to pick out the good ones.  The membership has tried to raise the bar for election, but at the same time many of those elected recently are marginally qualified:  Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson.  If those guys, why not Lee Smith?  Why not Fred McGriff?

At the same time, fully qualified candidates like Tim Raines are turned away, and a guy like Kenny Lofton can't even get enough votes to stay on the ballot when he's better than several players already in the Hall.  The BBWAA has successfully tied itself and its ballot up in knots.  On next year's ballot, there will be 14 candidates who are Hall of Fame worthy by any definition, and a total of 24 who could be added to the Hall with no drop in quality of the enshrined.  That doesn't include the four guys who dropped off of last year's ballot who fit one or both definitions.  Even if you exclude some of them for steroid concerns, there are more than enough worthy candidates to fill any ballot.

Fortunately, next year's ballot includes at least one guy who should be a foolproof choice, Greg Maddux.  Biggio, back for his second try, should get in.  Yet, I am not confident the BBWAA can climb out of the hole it has dug for itself.  The power-that-be at the Hall have made adjustments before when this happened, usually by making changes at the Veteran's Committee level.  This year, all that got them was three long-dead inductees.  Maybe next year we can get a couple of guys who have been dead for a little less than 70 years.