There is nothing intrinsically valuable about being enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY. The Hall of Fame does not pay the former players and contributors who are elected. An induction does not grant a player an additional number of hits, wins, or World Series rings. The only reason that being in the Hall of Fame matters is because generations of fans have agreed that it does.
Tomorrow, at 5 p.m. Busch Stadium time, the Hall of Fame's 2016 class will be announced. One player who is absolutely worthy of induction, Ken Griffey Jr., will be inducted. Others who are also worthy may also be inducted: leading contenders, according to the Ryan Thibs Hall of Fame ballot tracker as of the time of posting, include Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, and Tim Raines.
While my memories of Raines are after his peak, the others are players I remember as dominant forces of nature in a sport in which a vast majority of players cluster together. Good for them.
Unlikely to make the Hall of Fame, however, are any of the eight former St. Louis Cardinals on the ballot. I don't expect a lot of tears shed for David Eckstein, Troy Glaus, Mark Grudzielanek, nor Randy Winn: four former Cardinals with a combined zero votes on the 169 ballots compiled so far on the Thibs tracker.
All four had nice careers, but none is even close to meeting the standards that the Hall of Fame has established over time (that all four have a higher career WAR than Hall of Famer Tommy McCarthy is less an argument in favor of the four and more an indictment of McCarthy's selection).
The real problem is that other ex-Cardinals have virtually no chance of induction on Wednesday. Larry Walker, he of more career WAR than Gary Carter, Tony Gwynn, and Ernie Banks, is currently polling at 13.6% on the Hall of Fame tracker, and his recent voting results suggest this pace may be optimistic.
Jim Edmonds, who exceeds the career WAR totals of Yogi Berra, Hank Greenberg, and Willie Stargell, is currently polling at 2.4%; he would need to more than double this pace just to stay in the ballot next year.
In previous generations, both Walker and Edmonds are players who would have a very good chance to make the Hall of Fame. Among eligible players, only Bill Dahlen and Lou Whitaker accumulated more career WAR as position players than Larry Walker without currently being in the Hall of Fame or currently being on the Hall of Fame ballot.
As has been addressed repeatedly on this site, Jim Edmonds has a stronger career resume than a number of current Hall of Fame center fielders. Edmonds has a 9.6 career WAR edge over Kirby Puckett, who made the Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 2001.
What's strange is that, while I'm annoyed at the likelihood of Edmonds falling off the ballot, I wouldn't vote for him. Jim Edmonds certainly meets the criteria for Hall of Fame worthiness, as has been established over the years and decades, in a vacuum. Yet there are ten players I would argue meet the criteria even more resoundingly.
Some, notably Hall of Fame voter Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, have acknowledged that a large part of their logic for supporting the Edmonds candidacy is to assure he gets another crack at election next year. For an organization that tries to present itself as an idyllic standard-bearer for baseball immortality, the Hall of Fame voting process has been forced to become transparently political.
The reason why is because the deck is stacked against players: not only must they attain 75% of votes, they must do so amidst a voting culture where voters maintain standards well beyond those of the Hall of Fame historically. And as a result, players roll over to the next year's ballot and thus it becomes exceedingly difficult to stand out in a crowd of excellent eligible players.
"Small Hall" voters may choose to vote for only one player (Ken Griffey Jr., in most if not all of these cases). "Large Hall" voters are limited to ten votes, even though one could easily make a case for well over a dozen players in 2016.
There is a philosophical argument in favor of the Small Hall, but that ship has sailed. The appeal of a Hall of Fame that is limited to the absolute best of the best is understandable, but that's not what the Hall of Fame is. So what we have in 2016 is an inconsistent, scattershot, and ultimately meaningless amalgamation of some good baseball players, though not all of them.
In 1936, 17% of all plate appearances were taken by future HOFers. In 1985, it's 8%. In 1996, it's 4%. https://t.co/3simt99aFu— Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot) January 2, 2016
The greatest position player of my lifetime (and your lifetime, too, provided that you are under the age of 81) will not make the Hall of Fame on Wednesday. Nor will the greatest pitcher of my lifetime. Some of the greatest Cardinals of my lifetime will also not make it (and I haven't even mentioned Mark McGwire).
While one possible route is to be angry at Cooperstown's decision to ignore a generation of baseball thanks to a potent combination of moralizing about PEDs (never mind that unrivaled maniac Ty Cobb received more votes than Babe Ruth in the very first Hall of Fame election) while simultaneously dismissing the gaudy numbers of their clean contemporaries because they cannot touch the otherworldly numbers of Barry Bonds, I would suggest that the Hall of Fame only has the power that we give it.
I've yet to meet a person who takes, say, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seriously. It appeals to a relatively narrow, mostly safe brand of Baby Boomers who can comprehend an organization of great rock acts which inducted the Dave Clark Five before inducting the Stooges. It's for somebody, presumably, but not for me. Sound familiar?
But that's fine. It exists in its own space. It is mocked and lampooned but ultimately not cared about with any level of reverence. And a hall of fame in baseball which refuses to sufficiently acknowledge the existence of my formative years as a fan likewise does not warrant my passion.
It is not worth being upset that some baseball writers don't agree with your definition of a Hall of Famer. You saw these players. You know their numbers. As silly as it sounds, it doesn't matter if these greats are enshrined in Cooperstown because they are, more importantly, etched into the baseball immortality of the memories of fans.