Hall of Fame
So, for this point, no names will be mentioned. Instead, I want to discuss where I stand on the big issues of the debate.
Issue #1: Steroids
Buster Olney and Jayson Stark have both delved into this on ESPN in the last few days, and it's been discussed in detail at least since Mark McGwire's fateful testimony on Capitol Hill. I could probably cut this short by just saying that I agree whole-heartedly with Buster Olney (Insider Account required), who points out that there just is no way to know who did what during the so-called "steroid era," and so to convict those, like McGwire, who have been most discussed as steroid abusers while giving a free pass to the guys that got away with it is just plain wrong. I would add to that two further considerations:
(1) It wasn't just hitters who were taking steroids - pitchers were too. While two wrongs don't make a right, the fact that players on both sides of the game were engaging in this activity at least suggests that there was some moderate measure of balancing going on. And with steroid abuse rates as high as 40-50% (or higher, depending on who you ask), you can conclude that there was a whole lot of balancing going on. This doesn't make up for things like increased recovery time, but it does suggest that the cheaters were close to the norm. If the whole game was involved, then everyone essentially was running in place.
(2) Players have been taking things for as long as chemists could come up with them. Are you telling me that none of the previous Hall of Famers cheated in any way that increased their statistics? Certainly, steroids took this to a whole 'nother level, but players have been seeking to increase their competitive edge for the whole history of the game.
Ultimately, the fact that we just can't separate the guilty from the innocent is a big problem for me; maybe it's because I'm being trained as a lawyer. In a situation like this, where there is just not enough evidence either way, I would say that the steroid issue should be ruled out entirely, with one exception: If the evidence against a player ever becomes so overwhelming that it cannot be ignored, then the steroid factor should at least be considered as one of the factors that go into determining whether that player is a hall of famer. However, I would also argue that such evidence is almost impossible to come by. Consider also the problem of choosing how much steroid use is too much - if a player posted Hall of Fame worthy numbers for the first 15 years of his career without using steroids, then used them to stay dominant for 3 years before retiring, what do we do with that?
Ultimately, I think the issue should be avoided. Acknowledge that steroids were a part of the game during this era, and that stats from this era cannot be adequately compared with stats from earlier eras, and call that enough.
Issue #2: Raw Stats or Dominance
This is a very tough question. A player can compile some amazing stats simply through longevity, but is that Hall of Fame worthy? As an example, if a pitcher sticks around for 20 years, has 1 or 2 very good years and 18 ok years, but puts up great raw numbers, does he belong in the Hall? My general answer is no - I don't think the Hall should be composed of players who happened to hit certain milestones. The Hall of Fame should be reserved for players who were truly great. This is subjective, however - and a large number of really good years might make up for no truly dominant seasons. If a player dominates for at least three years, however, and is at least ok or pretty good for the rest of his career, he probably qualifies in my mind. Of course, this needs to be looked at player by player, so consider this just a general set of guidelines that I would apply.
Issue #3: Who to Compare?
Baseball in the 1980's was not the same as baseball in the 1960's. The players considered the best from the 1980's might not (and usually did not) put up the kind of raw numbers that the best players from the 1960's put up. But when trying to decide who belong in the Hall of Fame, I don't think you simply say that nobody from the '80's measured up to the guys already in the Hall, and avoid electing anyone. Players need to be compared against their peers for Hall of Fame purposes, not against Statues.
Issue #4: Reconsideration
I've read articles suggesting that a player either "is" or "is not" a Hall of Famer, and that Hall of Famers should be elected on the first ballot or not at all. I sympathize with this argument, but I disagree. While my personal choices are unlikely to change too much from year to year, there is a possibility that, over time, I could come to realize that a player either is, or is not, worthy of the Hall. Reading remarks from other fans, looking carefully re-examining the evidence, all of these things could potentially result in my changing my mind. I don't think there's anything wrong with a voter deciding that a player finally makes the cut during year number 2 or 7 or 15. This is why I'm supportive of the current system, which allows players to hang on the ballot for up to 15 years so long as they can receive at least 5% of the vote each year.
Issue #5: A Guy's Year
There have been suggestions that Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. are special players who deserve to go in together, and without anyone else. This is silly to me. I would never withhold a vote from a player so that someone else could go in alone, or as part of a perfect tandem. If I concluded that a player was worthy of the Hall, I would vote for him.
So, there's a basic overview of the considerations that would go into my Hall of Fame decisions. Sometime in mid-December I'll actually apply these - and it'll be interesting for me to see who I actually think should make the cut.