We like to believe the process of awards, accolades and expectations in professional sports functions work as a meritocracy. But in reality, where you played and who preceded you plays a much larger role in the process. So too, does the human element, and we all remember that humans are imperfect by nature.
Which brings me to the annual debate we call the baseball Hall of Fame vote. Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were elected on their first appearance on the ballot, as was Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas. Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio fell two votes short of the required 75 percent of ballots, and Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca was ousted from future ballots because he didn’t garner the minimum 5 percent.
All of these facts sparked vibrant debate — well, maybe not Lo Duca — and revealed our different biases.
• One friend said, of Biggio not making it, “The Braves beat the Astros again. Figures.”
• A coworker was fine with Biggio not making it, but wasn’t so sure Glavine belonged because he was the third-best pitcher on his own team behind Maddux and likely 2015 selection John Smoltz.
• Another coworker doesn’t see what the big deal about steroids is, because you’ve still got to hit a major league fastball, and it’s possibly thrown by somebody else on steroids.
I think those are fine arguments among fans, but the biases should probably end when it gets to the actual voting body, the Baseball Writers Association of America.
• Remember where you played and who preceded you? We love to say that you’re defined by championships and statistics. But Player A (1,749 hits, 1,086 RBIs, .282 batting average, .994 fielding percentage, two World Series rings) was a one-time All-Star who didn’t reach the necessary 5 percent, and Player B (2,153 hits, 1,099 RBIs, .307 batting average, .996 fielding percentage, one playoff appearance) was a six-time All-Star who has been on the ballot for a decade. Don Mattingly (B) was better than Kent Hrbek (A), but don’t tell me the votes have nothing to do with one playing for New York and one playing for Minnesota.
• Ken Rosenthal wrote a column about his various ballot selections, and how he has rules for when he selects somebody on the first ballot or when he waits, and how he now thinks 14 people are Hall of Famers but he can only pick 10.
Shorter: I arbitrarily left off guys I thought deserved induction. Those guys haven’t been inducted yet, and I don’t have enough votes to select them now. Major League Baseball should fix this.
Usually, the “first ballot” question means somebody who’s a clear Hall of Famer doesn’t get a unanimous induction because some random voter wants to make a statement that no other player’s ever received a unanimous selection. Part of the problem is the writers spend their lives defending some middle-school cafeteria standards (“EVERYBODY voted for me”) for people who are no longer living and likely never cared about it when they were alive.
• The baseball steroids era has created a lot of writers who say a suspected steroid user belongs in the Hall of Fame, but just not this year. Well, tell us what year.
Here’s my simple rule for making a better Hall of Fame class: If you publicly state somebody belongs in the Hall of Fame, and you don’t vote for them, goodbye ballot.
It’s only a start, but we’ll be on our way to having a meritocracy than pretending we do.
Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Clovis Media Inc. He can be contacted at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by email: