Baseball Hall voting leaves me stumped

By Jeff Linville -

Every year about this time I roll my eyes and shake my head.

The MLB has a new class for Cooperstown.

On one hand, as a 20-year newspaper man, I’d like to think that covering a sport gives a person more insight than the average fan. However, on the other hand, I know first-hand that we long-time writers tend to be rather opinionated.

I like the fact that the Baseball Writers Association of America uses an open polling process to select candidates for the Hall of Fame.

Compare that to other sports like football where the NFL has a selection committee meet in private and argue out candidates. Someone gets in or he doesn’t, and we don’t really get a feel for where the player falls in the range. I have been campaigning for years for former Steeler and Panther Kevin Greene, but I have no idea if he is gaining traction or losing ground among committee members.

The BBWAA announces the voting and gives percentages, which is a really nice feature.

It’s just the thinking behind the votes that leaves me confused.

I’m not talking about the steroid issue, either. That I can understand being confusing. There are people who will argue long and hard on both sides of the issue. I can see both sides there, so I’m not going to dredge up Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

That still leaves plenty of ground to cover.

Two years ago I petitioned long and hard for Tim Raines, the best leadoff man not named Rickey Henderson. Raines isn’t in there yet, but he got close at 70 percent of the vote this time (75 percent is needed for entry).

This year I was shocked to see that one of the best defensive outfielders ever got so few votes that he has been kicked off the ballot for 2017.

Consider this, in all of baseball history, there have only been four outfielders to win eight Gold Glove awards for defense and yet also product an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .900.

Willie Mays is in the Hall of Fame, Ken Griffey Jr. was elected this time, and Barry Bonds has that asterisk by his name.

The fourth member of that group is Jim Edmonds.

A fellow sportswriter said he wasn’t sure that Edmonds was Hall-worthy.

Let’s say you were watching SportsCenter’s plays of the day in the summer in the decade 1995-2005. If there was a clip of some outfielder diving for a blooper, laying out in the alleys or crashing into the outfield fence to make the catch, it was usually Jim Edmonds, with a nod to Torii Hunter. He played center field like a possession receiver in football — he was going to make the catch, even though he knew he’d pay a price.

And unlike many defensive specialists, Edmonds was good with a bat, too. He averaged .284 and batted .300 in five seasons. He smacked 393 home runs with 1,199 RBIs and 1,251 runs scored.

With this fancy new computerized analysis, we can see that his Wins Above Replacement is higher than Hall of Famers like Willie Stargill, Joe Torre, Hank Greenberg, Bill Dickey, Tony Perez, Kirby Puckett and many, many others.

Somehow, the BBWAA gave Edmonds just 2.5 percent of the vote, so he will not appear on the ballot ever again. No writer like me will have a chance to sway voters to his cause.

Defense doesn’t often get the credit it deserves. Neither does playing for a crappy team.

There was one player on the list with Hall of Fame numbers who played his best seasons on bad teams in small markets. By the time Fred McGriff finally got in the national spotlight with the Braves, the first baseman was in his 30s with his best years behind him.

Before the steroid era, if a player had 450 homers in his career, he made the Hall of Fame. Guaranteed. McGriff hit 493 as a slender lefty with a smooth swing (much like Griffey). However, Griffey played on a squad with Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez and Ichiro Suzuki. McGriff played for the Blue Jays in the days before Joe Carter, when John Olerud was still a part-time platoon player.

Griffey had runners on base in front of him and good hitters behind him for protection.

McGriff finally had a good lineup in San Diego in 1992 with Tony Fernandez, Gary Sheffield and Tony Gwynn. Not surprisingly, he finally made the All-Star Game for the first time.

Once he reached Atlanta, McGriff made the All-Star team four more times in his career, but by then he wasn’t the powerful pull hitter he had been when he was younger. Still, he redesigned his swing and continued to pound doubles and homers.

Consider this, McGriff had nearly 2,500 hits and 958 extra-base hits in his career and only drove in 1,057 teammates. That tells you how seldom runners were getting in scoring position in front of him.

Or how about this consistency: McGriff hit at least 31 homers in seven straight seasons and had 10 years with 30 home runs.

In all of baseball history, only 19 players have hit 30 homers 10 times. Seven of those have been under suspicion of performance-enhancing drugs.

Of the other 12, 10 are in the Hall of Fame, and Jim Thome is a sure thing in a couple of years when he becomes eligible.

That just leaves McGriff, yet the Crime Dog got only 20.9 percent of the vote in his ninth try.

And I’m left scratching my head.

By Jeff Linville

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692 and on Twitter @SportsDudeJeff.

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692 and on Twitter @SportsDudeJeff.

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