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Taking a few more swings at Hall of Fame voting

This weekend’s newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

Taking a few more swings at Hall of Fame voting

The WISCH LIST

Jan. 21, 2012

Last weekend in downtown Chicago, the Cubs Convention passed for the second straight year without Ron Santo in attendance. Come this summer in upstate New York, Major League Baseball’s annual Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will do the same.

Even though No. 10 is finally in its lineup.

Last month, I got riled up after Santo – the longtime Cubs third baseman, WGN radio announcer and Cooperstown pariah – was voted in to the Hall of Fame almost a year to the day after he had passed away at the age of 70.

If he’s good enough now, I asked, then why wasn’t he before?

Today, I’m riled up again because last week former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin was voted into the HOF Class of 2012, where his living self will join Santo’s ghost in Cooperstown this July.

The reason for my irritation is that Larkin, a player whose career numbers (.295 average, 198 home runs, 960 RBI) are no more impressive than Santo’s (.277, 342, 1,343), had to wait a mere three years to be voted in to the Hall after he became eligible. Santo, on the other hand, had to wait a lifetime to have his ticket punched.

Quite literally.

And that makes no sense.

In fact, there’s no sense to the entire Hall of Fame voting process, which in large part inducted Larkin because he was in the right place at the right time. In other words, he was eligible during a year when there were really no other worthy candidates up for vote.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Hall of Fame is under pressure to induct at least one recently retired player every year, whether it’s truly merited or not. After all, the show must go on.

That fact creates a bizarre inequity in HOF induction as players simply don’t become more eligible after spending multiple years on the ballot. For example, it’s not as if Santo’s statistics improved after his death. They were the same numbers he had when he first became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 1979. Nothing has changed except for his death.

As I wrote last month, I think there should be first-ballot Hall of Famers (the true elites) and then Hall of Famers, who should then be voted in during their second year of eligibility. If a player doesn’t earn the required 75 percent of the vote by his second year on the ballot, he should fall off it. If that had happened with Santo’s HOF bid, so be it. At least it’s logical, standardized and fair.

Instead, though, voters undergo this silly practice of making some borderline players (such as Andre Dawson) “bide their time” while others (such as Larkin) are voted in quickly because, well, somebody had to get in this year.

A friend of mine actually proposed the idea that players should only be eligible for Hall of Fame induction once. If they earn 75 percent of the vote in their year of eligibility, they’re inducted, he said. If they earn better than 90 percent, they’re then placed in the Hall’s “Elite Wing.”

At first, that sounded like a pretty good idea to me. That is, until I realized that undisputable “elites” such as Joe DiMaggio (89.16 percent), Mickey Mantle (88.22) and Sandy Koufax (86.87) are among those who didn’t earn 90 percent of the Hall of Fame vote, while questionable “elites” Jim Palmer (92.57), Ozzie Smith (91.74) and Roberto Alomar (90.1) are among those who did.

Like I said, Hall of Fame voting makes no sense.

In fact, I’d say it’s a bust.