Mike Schmidt on Hall voting: More players deserve recognition
By MIKE SCHMIDT, For The Associated Press
December 23, 2006
One of the most popular discussions in all of sports relates to the baseball Hall of Fame -- who's in, who will be, who should be and who isn't.
As a member, I am always intrigued by the members' meetings in Cooperstown when we discuss the Veterans Committee ballot.
Everyone has their guy, their crony, a past teammate they feel is being underrated. That's great that so many people, including the members, are concerned about the guys who just didn't make the grade -- not to mention the real vote by the baseball writers, who now have to consider juiced balls, bats and bodies.
Having said that, ponder this question I posed at a recent meeting: Doesn't a voter's opinion on a particular player have a great deal to do with how the voter himself perceives the Hall of Fame?
No one truly believes the Hall is exclusive to the all-time greatest, and no one believes the Hall should honor mediocrity. There is a happy medium somewhere, and where you fall in that range should determine your voting philosophy.
You can't have strict criteria when judging one man and then flexible criteria when judging another. You can't allow politics to enter into it in any way, but in many cases it has made the difference. With all due respect to current members Ryne Sandberg and Bruce Sutter, how can Dale Murphy and Lee Smith be kept out? Their careers are identical and in certain areas, better.
Jim Kaat, again with due respect: How can a guy with 283 wins, 16 Gold Gloves and 24 years as a player and another 30 as a baseball ambassador not be a lock choice? Don't get me started on comparisons related to Kaat! He's even got all the politics covered.
The big issue confronting the writers voting this month concerns Mark McGwire. He was baseball's superman. The public wanted to see his giant biceps and long bombs, and could care less what he was putting in his milk.
Now you want to vilify him because he doesn't want to own up, or admit, or even refute an involvement with steroids? Whoa! I'd ask the voters to look past the basic question -- did he or didn't he? -- and consider the era and what fueled it. More about that on my Web site (http://www.mikeschmidt.com
So what does "Hall of Fame" say about a player? How good does one have to be? How can certain guys slide in and others with similar careers can't?
Originally when opened, there were fewer players, a smaller game, so picking Hall members was easy -- the best of the best.
Everyone knew the Hall of Fame was for Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, Foxx and Young. Then it was for DiMaggio, Williams, Mantle, Musial, Mays, Aaron and all the Robinsons. And as the game grew bigger came Koufax, Seaver, Palmer, Kaline, Killebrew, Jackson, Bench, and then Ryan, Brett, Carlton. Now Gwynn, Ripken and on and on, the best of the best.
That was the plan, but someone decided the baseball writers' vote slighted a few players along the way and the Veterans Committee was created to right what was apparently wrong.
No longer was it cut and dried. If you were passed over you got a mulligan. In the first round, your career was just a little short of HOF caliber; in round two, for some reason, the career got better.
That's OK, because it's a subjective vote and a lot of little things go into it. Maybe you didn't play in New York, maybe you were quiet and didn't look for attention or weren't as cooperative with the media as some.
Maybe you had a Hall of Fame career and voters didn't notice because several others at your position got all the attention. It used to be a small committee of nominated voters whose job it was to identify those the writers forgot. Now it's in the hands of HOF members, who are a might happy with their fraternity's current size.
Try convincing current members that they should relax their standards for entrance. Not likely. Most members I know are of the opinion if you're not a HOFer the first time around, why are you later on?
What's important? Is it keeping the egos of those members who were "no doubters" satisfied? After all, the harder it is to get in, the more the prestige of membership is preserved. Or is it more important how the Hall relates to the fans? It's supposed to be a place for them to appreciate and honor the game's history. Why are Murphy, Smith and Kaat fans made to wait?
The truth is, the members would like to open the doors only to those "no doubters" in the writers' annual voting. Fact is, we have failed to instate any veteran since we got the vote.
It's amazing how your perception changes once you're in! Here's the rub: The borderline guys, and there will always be a few, fought the politics of the voting. So in giving the veterans' vote to the members, the politics were supposed to have gone away. Yet with the politics gone, the members still haven't budged, and I'm one of them.
Again, what does "Hall of Fame" mean to you? Answer that for yourself, and you'll know for whom to vote. Is it the best ever, is it all-time greats, is it the best from an era, is it great defensive players, is it great ambassadors, a few unique careers, strong leaders, great umpires, on and on?
Yes, it HAS BECOME all of that. The Hall of Fame has evolved over time to what it is, all of the above. It is not just the best of the best. It can't be, there are too many great players and many on the fringes that deserve the recognition. Look around the room, there's always someone with stronger credentials than you and me.
So this year, in keeping with that evolution, why not let a deserving few sip our wine? Picture the members' dinner with a few more faces, the smiles will do your heart good.
More guys should get to experience the joy while they're alive. For sure, we can't keep Kaat out any longer and I hope the writers don't do it to Smith, the past all-time saves leader. They are welcome at my table Sunday night.
And consider Santo, Murphy, Herzog, and Harvey, and a vacant chair for Mauch, Hodges and Buck O'Neil (who by the way was just honored by President Bush as an American hero).
I didn't always feel this way. The first few years as a member, I felt very special and deep down, didn't want anyone who was borderline to infiltrate the fraternity.
I came to the philosophy above based on a personal experience. My answer to the big question on Hall membership? It's a reward for being a great player for a long time.
You may not have been the greatest, but you are among the greatest. You may not be the best all-time, but your name comes up in those debates.
More importantly, the experience I had involved a player who was passed over several times and finally got the call.
No player ever appreciated that call to the extent he did. The joy it brought him, his family, and friends, especially me, was so real and pleasantly genuine, I ate it up and still do.
He does not take it for granted. He will wear his emotion, from this election, on his sleeve the rest of his life. It's like he had to work for it. His induction actually made me appreciate mine all the more. The Hall of Fame is better for having him. His story could, and should, happen more often.
This year we members -- and the writers -- can bring a lot of joy to a few lives. Who's to have the final say on baseball greatness?
In the scheme of life, fulfilling a few more dreams should mean more than exercising your power to delay them.
Don't all of us now wish Buck O'Neil had gotten just enough votes? Isn't a Hall of Fame career a lot of luck, anyway? Heck, in 1971 I could have been drafted by Baltimore, where they had No. 5 at third base.