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Stark Discipline Jayson Stark published
2003-02-28 01:04
by Mike Carminati

Stark Discipline

Jayson Stark published a piece on ESPN today congratulating the Veterans' Committee on their inability to select a Hall of Famer. He also continued to prove why he is sports journalism's answer to Carrot Top.

Apols to Mr. Top aside, Stark's article is basically a means to cozy up with Mike Schmidt. Michael Jack is quoted copiously by Stark like a schoolgirl citing Aaron Carter from rote after her weekly perusal of Tiger Beat.

Mike is one of my favorite players but seems to still be a smug egomaniac:

"I looked at them all," Schmidt said. "And I go back to what I said before. They had great, great careers. But you only ought to vote for them if they were one of the best of all time at their position for an extended period of time. But if they were that, they'd already be in the Hall of Fame, right?

"The Hall of Fame," said this particular Hall of Famer, "is for no-doubt guys."

Well, that's fine for you, Schmidty. You were a Hall of Famer by any standard. But that standard went by the boards the first time that the Veterans' Committee was formed. As Bill James once wrote, "The Hall of Fame selection process was an afterthought to an accident." Schmidt's argument obviates the need for a Veterans' Committee in the first place. If the writers are always 100% right then why re-vote later?

Well, if the writers had been getting it right all along, then the Vets' Committee never would have existed. The writers failed to elect a Hall-of-Famer in 1940, '41, '43, '44. '45, and '46. You may notice 1942 is missing from that list. That year the writers deigned to induct the lowly Rogers Hornsby. Basically, the problem was that there were too many qualified candidates. The voters couldn't concentrate their energies on one or two to get them elected. And we're not talking about Ron Santo and Dick Allen. These were Lefty Grove and Jimmie Foxx for goodness sake.

The Veterans' Committee, then called the Permanent Committee, was appointed by Judge Landis before his death in 1944 (and subsequent apotheosis in the Hall) to oversee the selection process as well as 19th century players. They changed the writers' rule of voting every two years (sound familiar) to a yearly vote but they created a two-tier system, which only created more gridlock for the writers. And they started to induct bushels of the Roger Bresnahans and Tom McCarthys, to which we have since become accustomed.

From James:

"From the standpoint of the Hall of Fame's membership, the things we talk about, the selection of these eleven men [by the VC in 1946] was the critical moment in the history of the Hall of Fame. From that moment on, the argument that the Hall of Fame should be only for the greatest of the great was irretrievably lost. It is strange that even now, 48 years later, so many people still don't realize this, that there are still people around who think that the standards of the Hall of Fame are being diminished whenever anybody below the level of Mickey Mantle is inducted. That standard died a long, long time ago.

Beyond that, though, the selection of these eleven men would ultimately make it impossible for the Hall of Fame discussion to reach any kind of firm consensus about who should and should not be selected. Why?

Because they created a gray area, so large that it could never be made dark."

Well, why not reverse the trend and go back to Mantle-or-better standard? First, it won't work because there are so many Ken Keltner devotees who can compare their favorite player favorably to any of a number of Hall-of-Famers. Second, because it is extremely unfair to the post-Fifties players, who are grossly underrepresented (about 50% of the norm)-I did a study on this a couple of months ago but can't seem to find it right now.

Stark sums up in his inimitable style:

"So after all the hoopla, what did this new system accomplish, anyway -- other than to make sure Eddie Murray and Gary Carter can make longer acceptance speeches next July?

"I don't know that this (system) resolves anything," Newhan said, "except that, in my mind, it validates the way the writers have always gone about it."

Bingo. We may have had our own differences with the writers' take on certain players over the years, but we know this: The writers devote more time, more passion, more thought and more care to the business of electing Hall of Famers than they're ever given credit for.

And thanks to the players and the newfangled Veterans Committee, at least we know now what we've always suspected -- that the writers have done exactly what they're supposed to do in life:

They got it right."

First, the past problems with the BBWAA's vote clearly display that the writers have not always gone about it right. Second, Stark employs some faulty logic. To be exact he disobeys the rule of Modus Tollens.

Modus Tollens is a basic rule of inference, which is best demonstrated by example: Where there is smoke there's fire. There is no fire. Therefore, there is no smoke. If A then B. Given Not B, we can derive Not A.

Stark assumes that if the writers would pick someone then the Vets' Committee would pick them as well. Otherwise, his statement that the Vets' dismissal of the available players validates the writers' wouldn't make sense.

However, you can go through the voting over the years and find the Mazes, Whitey Ashburns, and Nellie Foxes that were writers overlooked and the Vets voted in. Well, he may be saying that they were mistakes, and maybe some of them were. But the argument invalidates the existence of the Veterans' Committee in the first place. Well, maybe we don't have a problem with that either.

But my mind keeps going back to the stagnation in the writers' vote in the Forties. Without the Vets' Committee safety net, how can that be avoided in the future?

Also, we now have better tools to evaluate who fits the Hall's de facto standard. Guys like Santo, Blyleven, Kaat, John, and Dick Allen, who were or are being overlooked by the writers, are demonstrably average Hall of Famers. They would not lower the standard. They are the standard. Maybe that not only proves that the Vets' Committee didn't get it right. Neither did the writers in the first place.

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