After news of Harold Baines and Lee Smith‘s election to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, many stat-heads and number-crunchers took to social media lambasting the decision. Unknown immediately after the decision, the Baseball Writers Association of America had not provided the victory to the pair. Instead, the Veteran’s Committee had opened the door for Baines and Smith to join the hallowed halls.
Important: Smith and Baines were elected not by @officialBBWAA, but the Today’s Game Era committee, a Veterans Committee. Neither received necessary 75 percent of vote from the writers. Their elections seemingly open door for others, but do not necessarily change BBWAA standards.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 10, 2018
Smith seemed to be an acceptable choice by the new baseball literati, but Baines was a downright outrage.
Harold Baines was on the ballot as recently as 2011 and received 4.8% of the vote. It was his fifth straight year with a vote total below 10%. Why, just seven years later, do 16 people get to decide that he's now a Hall of Famer when 95.2% of the voters didn't think he was one?
— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) December 10, 2018
Aaron Gleeman is Editor-in-Chief of Baseball Prospectus and he sure slammed Baines getting backdoored into the Hall. There were others from the new guard of analysis that echoed Gleeman’s consternation.
Let's be frank: The elections of Jack Morris, Lee Smith, and (especially) Harold Baines are fully intended by voters to troll everyone who believes in objective analysis. They've lost power everywhere but here, but by God they're gonna use it. Embarrassing to Hall (or should be).
— robneyer ⚾️🧗♂️🗽 (@robneyer) December 10, 2018
Rob Neyer is the commissioner of the West Coast League, a wood-bat summer league for college players, similar to the historic Cape Cod Baseball League. He has also written a few books, which used to mean something. There are plenty of these leagues scattered around the country from Alaska to South Carolina, and the West Coast League is NOT the Cape Cod league. With that aside, Neyer had some strong words on Baines induction. In fact, after his tweet slipped through a gauntlet of dissenters he continued defending his take by asking where the hard evidence existed for Baines induction?
There’s no denying that Baines is a fringy candidate for the Hall of Fame. His career WAR is 38.7, far below the average hall member. The Veteran’s Committee is designed to reward players that impacted the game in ways incalculable by sabermetrics and modern measures of excellence. Era committees comprise the 16-member panel where they consider several factors in making a decision.
The Eras Committees, formerly known as the Veterans Committee, consider retired Major League Baseball players no longer eligible for election by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), along with managers, umpires and executives, whose greatest contributions to the game were realized in one of three eras. Committees meet at the MLB Winter Meetings.
The Eras Committee has been a part of the Hall of Fame voting process since the first class of electees in 1936, with the first Eras Committee electees coming in 1937. In all its forms, the Eras Committee has elected 165 individuals (96 major leaguers, 28 executives, 22 managers, 10 umpires and nine Negro Leaguers) to the Hall of Fame.
Each era is composed of 16 members and given and assigned two classes for induction every five years. The Modern Baseball era (1970-1987) subcommittee constructed this year’s ballot. To be elected, candidates must secure 75 percent of the vote, and the committee must limit their consideration to the following criteria.
(A) Eligible candidates must be selected from managers, umpires, executives and players, who meet the following criteria related to their classification:
• Players who played in at least 10 major league seasons, who are not on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list, and have been retired for 15 or more seasons;
• Managers and umpires with 10 or more years in baseball and retired for at least five years. Candidates who are 65 years or older are eligible six months following retirement;
• Executives retired for at least five years. Active executives 70 years or older are eligible for consideration regardless of the position they hold in an organization, and regardless of whether their body of work has been completed.
(B) Those whose careers entailed involvement in multiple categories will be considered for their overall contribution to the game of Baseball; however, the specific category in which these individuals shall be considered will be determined by the role in which they were most prominent. In those instances when a candidate is prominent as both a player and as a manager, executive or umpire, the BBWAA-appointed Historical Overview Committee shall determine that individual’s category as a player, as a manager or as an umpire or as an executive/pioneer. Those designated as players must fulfill the requirements of (A).
(C) Any person designated by the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball as ineligible shall not be an eligible candidate.
Objectivity has no place in these considerations. Although Baseball Reference and Fangraphs have tried to reach back into history and quantitatively compare players from different eras against themselves, these committees unapologetically ignore the fancy statistics that are so popular today. Yes, these are old men who spent decades in and around the game that value the “eyeball test” over objective measurements. That’s not to say they don’t toss around statistics and earnestly weigh one player against another, but I’m near certain that most of these guys are more comfortable with a paper ledger as opposed to Excel spreadsheets.
This is an old and tired debate in baseball. BBWAA voters have started revealing their ballots and in some cases, offering lengthy rationales for each choice. The steroid-era has ripped a tear in the fabric of old-school ideas of success and excellence in baseball. Statistically speaking, Barry Bonds is a Hall-of-Famer, but what about his integrity? What about Alex Rodriguez‘s flagrant use of PEDs followed by vicious threats and lawsuits? These are the thorny issues the denizens of baseball must ponder.