> The Hall of Fame ballots come out Tuesday. Theoretically that’s supposed to be a good thing for a baseball writer whose beat team has finished their offseason before Thanksgiving, but I’d be lying if I said I was into the whole Hall of Fame debate thing. The atmosphere, maybe, but not so much the actual debating of merits and the drawing up of ballots.
I say this because the whole thing has just devolved into an absolute debacle. Players vote their friends in, the writers have a nonsensical opinion on performance-enhancing drugs and performance in general, the statistical yardsticks available to us now are far more sophisticated than the ones that have been used for years and the same will be said going forward when players once thought to be Hall-of-Famers are no longer considered so when placed against the ever-changing backdrop of history.
For me to retain the romance of the idea of the Hall of Fame and not get caught up in how much of a dumpster fire it has become, I have to make it an abstract institution. I do not have interest in further lowering the standard of the Hall in favor of one undeserving player who was better than some other undeserving player who’s already in. So I’m changing the rules for the sake of providing some kind of analysis and will leave you to deal with its unsustainable ramifications.
It was evident from the very first induction class that the Hall of Fame was meant to be highly exclusive. I am arbitrarily defining that as the top one percent of all 18,174 baseball players to ever play the game.
I am then defining that top one percent as the 182 highest WAR totals in history, using Fangraphs for position players and Baseball-Reference for pitchers. It doesn’t really matter who is on that ever-changing list or if you agree with the semantics of the criteria because under this standard, the guys whose plaques you come to Cooperstown to see are going to be there and their presence won’t be questioned by half or more of the people who visit.
When I fill out my ballot I will ask myself, “Would this player’s inclusion in my hypothetical Hall of Fame dilute the standard of said Hall of Fame?” If the answer is yes I won’t vote for him.
There is no hard line criteria to get into the EM Hall of Fame. Obviously WAR is an approximation tool, so if a guy is reasonably close to the top one percent, I might give him the benefit of the doubt. Strong peaks and pound-for pound performance can also help a guy whose career was, for whatever reason, too short to accumulate enough total WAR.
To make this clear: WAR is not the only thing I look at. It’s simply a handy little approximator that takes everything it can into account. If a guy falls well within the one percent, we’re pretty sure he’s okay to let in. But if he doesn’t or is on the very fringes inside or out, we need to investigate further.
This system is pretty simplistic and I intentionally described it vaguely so as to preserve its simplicity. If you go to my Cooperstown, you will see the top one percent of players to ever play the game. The implications of that are legion, but to expand the definition would be to open myself up to creating yet another flawed institution and thus defeating the purpose of having it in the first place.
So with all that said, my ballot this year:
Okay, so there’s a lot to get to here. One through seven I’m totally sure of. I’m fairly confident that the last three are still within the top one percent, though Tim Raines, Larry Walker, Alan Trammell and Edgar Martinez are all definitely right there too.
I also don’t leave PED users off because nobody knows who used and who didn’t and it’s frankly stupid to think we do or to think there aren’t any users in there already. I also haven’t seen evidence that suggests to me that the offensive boom in the Steroid Era wasn’t caused primarily by the balls used. I think we all agree the greatest players of the 90s and 2000s were, even in their natural state, the best players on Earth anyway. Because of these things, I don’t think granting Hall of Fame membership to a known PED user is an endorsement of his behavior so much as it is a general dismissal of it. I also don’t think doing so encourages more PED use since people don’t use PEDs with the intent of getting into the Hall of Fame.
There’s probably not a single person who has read this far and agrees with what I’ve done to the Hall of Fame voting process, but the beauty of the One Percent Test is that I can hide from you in my nice, clean, simple ivory tower until this whole thing blows over.