Sunday, March 9, 2014
Someone told me Tuesday, the eve of the official announcement, that Greg Maddux, the exceptional major league pitcher, would not be a unanimous choice to enter the Hall of Fame. I heard sputtering in the message; a mix of incredulity and annoyance. The voting process, the messenger concluded, was broke.
It’s not broke. It’s a human endeavor so it is imperfect. Which makes it perfect for anyone who loves the game.
Football is king in today’s America and the Super Bowl is less than a month away. The Winter Olympics in Sochi are up after that, and you’re keeping an eye on the Boston Bruins and University of Maine hockey team.
Your sports plate is full but that doesn’t mean there’s no time to digest the voting for baseball’s inductees to the Hall of Fame.
Visiting Cooperstown in rural New York and walking the halls of the shrine is still a pilgrimage. You do pay attention to who gets voted in and who doesn’t. More attention, I’d say, than you give the halls of fame of other sports.
Baseball is tradition and American culture. Football, basketball and hockey aren’t there yet.
Maddux, who worked for several teams but mostly the Atlanta Braves, was the finest pitcher of his generation. Precise and seemingly hittable but not.
Four straight years he won the National League Cy Young Award. He won 355 games over 23 seasons.
Members of the Baseball Writers Association of America vote, using the guidelines of the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team or teams on which he played. Maddux fulfills every point easily.
Every writer among the more than 500 voting could have put Maddux on their ballot of up to 10 names. Yet it has been reported that one of MLB.com’s 17 beat writers did not vote for Maddux.
His selection will not be unanimous, which started a mini-furor.
If not Maddux, then who will ever be voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame unanimously? No one has. Not Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth or Cy Young or Bob Feller or Ted Williams. No one since the first class in 1936.
Most likely that means no one will be ever be voted in unanimously. That’s not a problem. We’re not a nation of rubber stamps, thank heavens.
All sports are unpredictable, some more than others. That’s why we watch. Bad hops and wind-blown home runs are part of baseball. So are tight and loose strike zones called by umpires.
I don’t want a computer behind the plate. I don’t want a computer determining who should be in the Hall of Fame.
Nine baseball writers left Hank Aaron off their ballots in 1982, his first year of eligibility. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to be unanimous,” said Aaron in a New York Times column that year. “But I realized that nobody had ever been a unanimous choice. I was happy to come in second.”
Meaning, Cobb got 222 of 226 votes for a 98.2 percentage in 1936. Aaron got 406 votes out of 415 for 97.8 percent.
Baseball being the sport of statistics, know that pitcher Tom Seaver got 425 of 430 votes for a 98.84 percentage, which is now tops. Nolan Ryan (491 of 497, 98.79 percent) is second, followed by Cal Ripken Jr. (537 of 545, 98.53 percent).
Aaron now has the sixth-best percentage.
Which, in the bigger picture, means absolutely nothing. They’re in the Hall of Fame. Former Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice waited years to get votes on 75 percent of the ballots for induction. He’s a Hall of Famer and need not hang his head when he passes Aaron’s plaque.
Somehow we’ve gotten to the point where we need to recognize degrees of success or honor.
Every Hall of Famer is a peer to the others. If a BWAA member didn’t vote for Maddux, that’s his or her right. We fight wars over these freedoms.
If one or two percent of the voters have a difference of opinion, relax. The board of directors of baseball’s Hall of Fame gave the BWAA the responsibility to vote in 1936 and doesn’t have a problem.
I’m not a member of the baseball writers association, by the way. Voting members must have covered major league baseball for 10 consecutive seasons. That’s a fair amount of perspective.
The process isn’t broke. It’s human.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: