In the “Politics of Glory,” Bill James wrote about the danger of a Hall of Fame when it’s defined by its mistakes rather than by its successes; when we talk about the snubs more than the players actually honored. The Hall of Fame’s induction process has broken down in recent years, with a logjam ballot complicated by the existing 10-man ballot limit and the Hall’s maddening decision to reduce eligibility to 10 years, further compounding the problem.
While one of the consequences of this is that obvious Hall of Famers like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell have had to wait far longer than they would in a sane world, (and hopefully Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling before they fall off the ballot), the problem is larger than that. I’m not talking about the steroids guys (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens) or the steroids-because-of-an-anonymous-report guy either (Sammy Sosa). What’s even worse is the less-obvious Hall of Fame candidates, who now never even get a chance to make their cases for immortality.
There have always been players like this scattered throughout history, like Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker, two players that remain snubbed by MLB’s various committees, ham-handedly assembled chimeras of failure. The occasional unfortunate leak has become a flood in recent years. Jim Edmonds, a center fielder with 393 home runs and eight Gold Gloves (his sabermetric defense is just as terrific) went by with barely a whisper. Kenny Lofton, ninth all-time in WAR for a center fielder, didn’t even get that. Kevin Brown, with 211 wins in the era of five-man rotations and a 3.33 ERA (and 31st in WAR)? If I had to rely just on the Hall of Fame debates, I wouldn’t even known that Bernie Williams or Jorge Posada were even on a ballot. I don’t even think the final two are over my personal line, but they’re the types of players we should be discussing and debating, reviving their careers one last time in the spotlight, rather than having to fight for seven years about whether one of the top five first basemen in history should be inducted.
There are several players like this on the ballot, mostly first-timers, but even some holdovers, that are strong candidates — even a few I’d call obvious slam-dunks based on the players currently in the Hall. I’m not talking about the players at Larry Walker-level, obvious candidates being kept out by lackluster analysis and ballot limits, but the players not even getting into the healthy debate territory and in some cases, about to be kicked off the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot forever.