Jim Rice has finally been elected to the Hall of Fame. In 1995, Rice’s first year of eligibility, he received 29.8% of the necessary votes for election. In 2007, he received 72.2% of the ballots. Since Jim Rice has not played since 1989, his record has not changed, which raises the question: How did Jim Rice become good enough to be voted into the Hall of Fame in 2009 when he wasn’t good enough fourteen other times? To get an answer, one must examine who votes for admission to the Hall of Fame.
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America Decides
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) considers the candidacy of players who have played at least ten seasons and have been retired at least five years. Players are eligible for fifteen years. The Veterans Committee, which is composed of all living Hall of Famers, considers players whose careers have concluded no later than 21 seasons ago.
A Writer Must Cover 75% of a Team’s Games
Those who decide who is elected to the Hall of Fame are staff reporters whose papers cover at least 75% of a team’s games. The sports editor submits a list of applicants to the BBWAA, and each chapter’s Chair judges the applicant’s qualification, based primarily on meeting the coverage requirements (75% of a team’s games). The voting Hall of Fame Committee is appointed by the BBWAA’s Secretary-Treasurer. Some baseball writers have followed the game all their lives. Some baseball writers know very little about the game.
Subjectivity in Deciding
There is much debate with respect to whether a player belongs in the Hall of Fame, but almost nothing is discussed about those who have the power to decide. Just as writing about politics does not make one an expert evaluating politicians, writing about baseball does not make one an expert on evaluating baseball talent. Deciding which players belong in the Hall of Fame is subjective, sometimes involved politics, and is rife with inconsistencies.
For Some Players, There is no Doubt
In many cases, there are no questions about a player. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, and Mickey Mantle are Hall of Famers, yet in the 1936 election, which was the first, four individuals didn’t vote for Ty Cobb, and eleven didn’t vote for Babe Ruth. Some things are absolutes. Anyone who didn’t vote for the inclusion of Cobb and Ruth must have his credibility questioned. It should be beyond belief that no player has everrecieved 100% of the votes.
Jim Bunning and Jim Kaat
Senator JIm Bunning pitched for the Tigers and Phillies. He was 224-184 with a 3.27 ERA over 17 seasons. Lefty Jim Kaat pitched for more teams than he cares to remember. He was 283-237 with a 3.45 ERA over 25 seasons. Jim Bunning was elected to the Hall of Fame by the veterans committee in 1996, after having been on the regular ballot for 15 years and never receiving enough votes for entrance. It is highly improbable that Kaat will ever get in.
Joe DiMaggio’s Low Vote Total
Joe DiMaggio retired after the 1951 season, when the rule was that a player had to wait one year before becoming eligible for election. In 1953, Joe DiMaggio was named on 117 of 264 ballots, getting only 44.3% of the vote. It is beyond belief that more than 50% of those who voted did NOT vote for Joe DiMaggio. The explanation was that many voters felt there was no need to rush a first candidate into the Hall, which is patently ridiculous.
Get Along With the Press or Suffer the Consequences
Players who had a contentious relationship with the press suffered. Ted Williams, whom many rate just behind Barry Bonds as the greatest of all left fielders, was elected on his first try, but in 1947, Williams felt the sting of some baseball writers. Williams won the American League’s Triple Crown. He led the league in batting with a .343 average, in home runs with 32, and in RBIs with 114. He had a .499 on base average, a .634 slugging percentage, and drew 162 walks. In 1947, Joe DiMaggio hit .315 with 20 home runs and 97 RBIs. He had a .391 on base average, a .522 slugging percentage and 64 walks. DiMaggio received 202 votes. Williams received 201 votes. One writer left Williams off the ballot, which took vindictiveness, incompetence, or both, to a new level.
Baseball is a unique sport that is easily understood for a complex game. Dedicated fans are as expert as the self proclaimed “experts,” but in the 21st century, few are willing to acknowledge their knowledge. That is a shame, because those who claim Jim Rice belongs in the Hall of Fame are as correct as those who claim he does not.
Hall of Fame Election Rules
Hall of Fame Voting: 1936
Hall of Fame Voting: 1953
Jim Bunning at Associated Content
By ARTHUR DALEY (1954, January 6). Sports of The Times :A Not-So-Secret Ballot . New York Times (1857-Current File),34. Retrieved January 15, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2005) database. (Document ID: 83314018).