Two players — Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey, Jr. — were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday, surprising fans who expected Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines' admittance, and making it now just nine new players elected to Cooperstown by the Baseball Writers' Association of America across the last four classes (including the infamous shutout in 2013).
In fact, in the last two decades of Hall of Fame voting from 1997 until today, the BBWAA has granted Hall admittance to just 35 baseball players. By comparison, 95 players have been elected to the National Football League's Hall of Fame since 1997, and basketball's Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame has seen 64 players and many, many more teams and coaches added to their docket in that same 20-year period. Is baseball doing it wrong?
There are quite a few reasons why it's so much more difficult to get into baseball's Hall relative to that of basketball or football — some smart, some frustrating — and many non-baseball fans are likely to read this post as elitist or anti-football/anti-basketball. It's not anti-anything, though, as much as it's pro-exclusivity for a very special honor in baseball, but, whatever.
Look, Larry Walker was very good. Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Jim Edmonds, Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, and even Jason Kendall: all very good! Hell, Tim Raines was very very good (and will probably be elected to the Hall next winter, one would imagine). But there's something to be said about the truly exclusive group that exists at Cooperstown. The guys who make it there aren't very good, they're no-doubters. Time and again, we're reminded of the now perhaps near-axiom: it's the Hall of Fame, stupid, not the Hall of Very Good.
Yes, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, and I hope one day the BBWAA will come around to understanding why that needs to happen. Yes, it looks as though Raines and Bagwell both will be added next winter, perhaps even along side Trevor Hoffman and maybe Curt Schilling. And no, I'm not advocating for a quota where no more than two players can get in every year, or something. But electing six players to the Hall in a single winter just isn't going to happen, and that's a good thing.
For as much heat as the BBWAA takes (some of it very well deserved), I don't mind that the Hall of Fame is such an exclusive club as to find a player as phenomenally talented as Walker receive votes on only 15.5% of the ballots this week. Perhaps that's a sacrilegious thing to say to Rockies fans, but I'd rather have on-the-bubble players miss the Hall to ensure only the true greats are admitted every year, than have an abundance of "just" very good players fill out the group as is done in the NFL and NBA.
Both basketball and football's Halls of Fame have been devalued with less-than-once-in-a-generation additions to their classes. No offense to Pro Football Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams, but a player of his comparable achievements in baseball wouldn't stand a chance to join the group at Cooperstown. Does it make football's Hall wrong? Absolutely not! If anything though, it speaks to baseball's Hall as an exclusive club on another level.
As a marketing tool or fan engagement event every year, it's fine that the NFL and NBA do things their way. It's those sports' prerogatives to build their Halls and engage fans as they see fit, as it is for Major League Baseball. Thus far in history, baseball has chosen to build their classes differently, and I'm not saying that basketball and football are doing it the wrong way.
I am saying that in one specific way, though, baseball is doing it right. Yes, the BBWAA has been wrong on performance-enhancing drugs and understanding eras in general, and yes, there's a valid argument to be made that the entire system is partially broken. Some of those issues have already been addressed. But when it comes to creating an extremely exclusive club of the truly greatest players in the now more than 150-year history of a very popular game, the BBWAA has been a group of gatekeepers exclusive to a fault, forgoing admittance to some players like Raines who deserve to be there rather than open the flood gates and over-admit for no good reason.
Tomorrow on this website, Drew Creasman will publish a very strong statistical case pointing out exactly why Larry Walker deserves to join the Hall of Fame. Drew makes a great argument. I get it. He's not even necessarily wrong. But mine here isn't about you new-fangled sabermetricians (/sarcasm), or PEDs, or the Coors Field effect, or any other qualifier for why the BBWAA may or may not have voted for a certain player.
I understand I can't make a statistical case for this exclusivity, but in the most esoteric sense — which is probably too broad for an Internet audience — the Hall's difficult admittance is attractive. Everybody can't be in the club. For those that are, we know it's well-earned; if you got votes on 75% of ballots from the (seemingly) stingy old newspaper dudes at the BBWAA, folks, there's no question. You're a no-doubter.
Maybe this is as rare an opinion as there's ever been, but there aren't very many Aeneas Williams' in baseball's Hall of Fame, and if it means some very very good players like Walker miss out to keep the club limited to truly the best of the best, I'd rather that than devalue the Hall to swing too reactively towards lowering the threshold. For Rockies fans, sorry, but that excludes Larry Walker and yes, probably Todd Helton, too.