Whenever there are somewhat odd results in the voting for a sports award, things become much clearer when you hear the thoughts of the slightly more than human voters involved. Case in point, Major League Baseball online has an article with various views from the sports writers themselves on this week's Hall of Fame voting. It's as fascinating in what it doesn't say as in what it does-like how did these slobbering idiots figure out how to fill out the ballot in the first place.
Let's take a look, shall we:
Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times agreed with the majority of voters who did not view Sandberg as a first-ballot inductee:
"No doubt he was a Wrigleyville icon, a perennial All-Star, an island of class and tranquility in a sport of too many jerks. But if the Hall was a skyscraper, Sandberg's place would be a floor below the penthouse. In my mind, his first-ballot candidacy ended June 13, 1994, when he suddenly retired at a still-capable 34 while barely hitting his weight. ... Ever hear of a first-ballot Hall of Famer who hits only .266 in the four seasons after his team makes him the game's highest-paid player?"
He is talking about the 4-year, $28.4 million contract that Sandberg signed in 1993. Sandberg's batting average after signing that contract was indeed .266. However, that was not in the next four seasons. Sandberg missed the 1995 season playing shuffleboard, and when he resumed play in 1996 it was at a somewhat reduced rate ($2.3 M in '96 and $3.25 M in '97). So the four-year contract is kind of academic, unless you're a Cubs fan with a grudge.
I'm sorry that I started off by nitpicking because I miss the sheer ludicrousness of his statement taken in its entirety. Let me try again. "If the Hall was a skyscraper"? Does the skyscraper have a thirteenth floor? Who cleans the windows, groundskeepers? If Ryne Sandberg were a tree, what kind of tree would he be? Who cares? Either he is a Hall of Famer or he's not (see the Barry Rozner quote below).
As far as Sandberg's early retirement is concerned, basically he lost a year and two-thirds because of it. Big deal. Players miss a year or more due to injury or military service over the course of their careers. It doesn't help his case, but would another .250 year with 25 HRs have helped that much? He may have reached 300 homers. He still had the most for a second baseman (Hornsby has more in his career, but not as a second baseman). Again this is a fan with a grudge not an unbiased journalist speaking.
"Ever hear of a first-ballot Hall of Famer who hits only .266 in the four seasons after his team makes him the game's highest-paid player?" That someone could make such a ridiculous statement and invest (clearly) so much emotion shows you the qualifications of the Hall voters. It reminds me of the litany of arguments that Bill James compiles in his Hall of Fame book for certain players to be inducted into the Hall based on a criterion or two that is handpicked to help his case even though when his career in toto is reviewed, it's clear the man is no Hall-of-Famer. Mariotti bases his argument on Sandberg's batting average in the last four years of his career. The salary should be irrelevant. Though his last four years were not up to his established standard, he did bat .309 in 1993, one of the last four, with an OPS 5% better than the adjusted league average. The others weren't as good but he did hit 25 home runs in 1996. Again, this is the tail end of his career. Oh, and sour grapes.
Fellow Sun-Times columnist Ron Rapoport couldn't help noticing that Sandberg didn't even fare as well in "just-for-fun" voting by users at MLB.com: "A poll of 400,000 fans was posted on Major League Baseball's official Web site, and would you like to know who got the required 75 percent of the vote? Nobody, that's who. Eddie Murray led the way with 54.5 percent, Sandberg was second at 42.0 percent and Gary Carter ... was fifth at 28.5 percent. ... Not a single vote for Mitch Williams? Dang."
Fan polls are pointless endeavors to begin with, but when you use one to support a point, a somewhat nebulous one at that, you know you are scraping the bottom of the barrel. It seems that Rapoport is of the opinion that no one was qualified-or least not Sandberg- and instead of being shocked by the ineptness of the poll voters he thinks the results validate his views. The fans would probably vote in Daryl Kile.
Steve Bisheff of the Orange County Register...was stunned that Sandberg was excluded and gave this theory:
"My guess is that some of the thinking of young writers is skewed nowadays. They are too quick to compare Sandberg to some of the second basemen of today. As we all know, diluted pitching and, in some cases, pharmaceutical advantages have changed the landscape.
I am sick of hearing about steroids. Do some players take them, probably? Is there any reason to think that it's a widespread, endemic problem in the sport today besides the opinions of two ex-ballplayers? No. I'm also sick of the "diluted pitching due to expansion" excuse, too. They said the same about the hitting after the first two rounds of expansion. The reason I hate these excuses is that they are just too facile and they extinguish investigation into the matter. Yes, pitching apparently was negatively impacted by expansion, but baseball got greedy for expansion fees and had two rounds before the sport had a chance to re-stabilize. James has shown that it takes about five years, so the two rounds overlapped and the sport is just now recovering (look at the dropoff last year). Besides, has anyone noticed the band-boxes they have been building in the last 12 years? Could that have anything to do with the power surge over the same time span? There are a dozen answers (well, maybe I'm exaggerating) that make as much if not more sense than steroids.
I went off-topic a bit there, but now I'm back. I can't say what the young writers were thinking, but I know that anyone voting on the Hall is required to have been a baseball writer since at least 1993, i.e., 10 years. They saw Sandberg, maybe not in his prime, but they should be familiar with his skill level. I have to believe that there was a perception by a large enough percentage of voters that Sandberg just didn't deserve to go in on the first ballot, as if it matters once the player's in.
"There were no Jeff Kents or Alfonso Sorianos in Sandberg's day. He should be compared to the second basemen of his era. He and Joe Morgan, who preceded him, were the first players at the position to hit with power."
And this man is putting down the young writers?!? Has he ever heard of Rogers Hornsby, arguably the best second baseman of all time, who hit 42 home runs once, 39 twice, and 301 for his career? I believe that there was a point in his career (before Gehrig) when he was second only to Ruth in career home runs. Joe Gordon, Bobby Doerr, Charlie Gehringer, and Bobby Grich (AL HR leader 1981) all had some pop (Davey Johnson, too, for a short time).
John Lopez of the Houston Chronicle, who will now have Kent in his backyard, writes that this era of the big power numbers could hurt Sandberg. "Although I didn't vote for Sandberg, it's hard to argue too much against his worthiness as a candidate," Lopez wrote. "His accomplishments during his time were remarkable. Today, they are not that remarkable."
So why didn't he vote for Sandberg? This man's vote should be revoked now. And no one should read his gibberish.
What surprised Phil Arvia of the Daily Southtown was not Sandberg's exclusion, but the continued omission of relievers. Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage are all former Cubs who were lobbied roundly at ballot time. Dennis Eckersley will be eligible next year, so you know the subject will be even hotter then.
"The dearth of closers in the Hall of Fame is as embarrassing as that of placekickers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame," Arvia wrote. "Though there have been many great kickers in the game, only Jan Stenerud has been enshrined in Canton, largely because kickers are looked down on as less than real football players. Somehow, closers are viewed as less than real baseball players."
Kickers? What sport is this guy voting for? A) Did you ever hear of Lou Groza? B) The reliever role has been changing almost constantly since unlimited substitution was allowed in 1891. Place kickers have been place kickers for quite some time. Now, if you want to talk about why Ray Guy or a punter isn't in there...
Blair quoted Mitch Melnick, a long-time radio talk show host in Montreal, as saying that Carter's career would be "a fraud" if he goes in as a Met. Writes Blair:
"Propriety demands that Carter goes into the Hall wearing an Expos cap, just as justice was served in 2001 when Dave Winfield went in wearing the cap of the San Diego Padres and not the New York Yankees (even though Winfield appeared to be given a vice-president's position with the Padres as a perk).
"Seldom has the choice of a players' hat been so symbolic. Carter would become the first player to go to Cooperstown as a member of the Expos, in what could be the franchise's final year in Montreal."
Boy, I love hearing these homers. It makes me even miss the Braves announcers. The Hall will determine which cap he wears. He played more years with the Expos (11), but he played a substantial amount of time in New York (5 years) and won a championship there. Who cares besides the fans of the two teams anyway?
There were two writers cited who actually spoke as if they had a brain in their gulliver. I'll just let them speak for themselves (though I disagree with the Carlton comment):
Many in the media have used the word "jerk" to describe Murray, but Rick Telander of the Sun-Times dismisses the perception. "Steve Carlton was a premier jerk, but he could throw a slider," Telander wrote. "Ted Williams was as pleasant as a rug burn, but the gangly fellow could hit the pea. If you eliminated all jerks from the Hall, it would be as crowded as the ethics room at Enron. So the point here should be that the best players should get in, period."
Barry Rozner of the Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, Ill.): "That's a very mature attitude from a true professional, and it's typical of Sandberg to handle it this way," Rozner wrote. "So now allow us a completely childish approach, one shared by most Cubs fans when they heard the news Tuesday: This is idiotic, maybe even psychotic, this idea of first or second ballots. You're a Hall of Famer or you're not, first ballot or 20th ballot. Sandberg's 49-percent vote is not just a defeat for playing the game right, but also for the parents and coaches who tell their children and athletes that there's a proper way to play."