The cheapening of the Baseball Hall of Fame picked up pace with Jim Rice's election in his 15th year of eligibility 12 months ago and will continue today if Andre Dawson finally wears down voters after nine years and gets the necessary 75 per cent in voting among members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
The full impact of the Steroid Era hasn't even been felt and already Cooperstown has become the Hall of Very Good or the Hall of Hell, Why Not? Might As Well Put Somebody In. In short, Cooperstown is on the verge of becoming as, um, inclusive as the Hockey Hall of Fame, which rivals the Pro Football Hall of Fame for lack of pickiness - surprising, considering it's the least democratic of any of them.
Most debates about the hockey hall usually focus on why a player is in as opposed to why he isn't in, which is fine if you're trying to create an old boys' club but not so good if you're trying to establish a standard of historical excellence. So, let's admit Dawson (supported by 67 per cent of the vote last year) and Bert Blyleven, who was named on 62.7 per cent of ballots last time around. Why not? Amazing how a player's career gets better from year to year, even in retirement.
For the record, this time around I voted for Roberto Alomar - the best middle infielder I've seen play not named Alex Rodriguez - and banged my head against the wall yet again by checking off the names of Tim Raines and Mark McGwire.
Also, for the record, my approach is pretty simple: I look at the ballot, see who strikes me first as a Hall of Famer, then try to build a case against voting for the guy. The fewer layers of statistical gunk I need to do it, the easier it is. I will not vote for a player on subsequent ballots if I didn't vote for him on the first. All told it takes a couple minutes and, no, I don't lose any sleep over it.
Alomar should be a first-ballot slam dunk, but if he doesn't get the required 75 per cent this time he will next time or on the third go-round and should be the first player to wear a Toronto Blue Jays hat on his plaque. McGwire? Hell, that's tiresome. If you think nobody took performance enhancing substances before McGwire, there isn't any hope for you.
Raines? His inability to get even 25 per cent on two ballots is a crime. All he did was reach base 22 more times than Tony Gwynn - a first-ballot guy. True, he didn't get 3,000 hits, but he did reach base 3,997 times and scored 188 more runs than Gwynn. Forty players have reached base 4,000 times; 32 are in the Hall.
This much I know about Dawson: For a potential Hall of Fame slugger, his .482 slugging percentage isn't very good. His average season? Just okay - even with the benefit of playing in Wrigley Field. Dawson played the bulk of his career for two star-crossed franchises, the Montreal Expos and Chicago Cubs - that never managed to make it to the World Series when he was supposed to be their leading offensive light.
When both of those hard-done franchises needed him most, Dawson choked. It was Dawson who hit .150 in the Expos' loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1981 National League Championship Series - the Blue Monday series - and Dawson who was 2-for-19 (.105) in the Cubs' 1989 NLCS loss to the San Francisco Giants. That was the year that a gimpy Will Clark out-hit and outplayed Dawson. So, in two opportunities to have a hand in changing the course of baseball history, Dawson was a non-factor.
Look, it's good that Dawson was by all accounts a nice man and, yes, it's a pity about his knees. Same for Raines and his cocaine issues. But this isn't the Hall of Nice any more than it's the Hall of Pretty Good or the Hall of Wondrous Athletic Talents or the Hall of Let's Feel Sorry For The Expos.
Because halls of fame are meant to be difficult to get into, it shouldn't be easy to pick apart a guy's candidacy. It shouldn't be easy to mount a case for a member not being in. And now that conventional wisdom states that anybody who had a multiple-homer game after 1995 was probably "on something," parsing a player's career and offensive numbers is going to become even trickier. This is a last rush of inclusivity before the steroid storm; this is the Hall of Fame's version of Get Out of Jail Free. That being the case, the lack of support for Raines is embarrassing.
ALOMAR v. DAWSON
.300 - career batting average, over 17 seasons and 9,073 at-bats
1,134 - Career runs batted in
2,724 - Career hits
.279 - career batting average, over 21 seasons and 9,927 at-bats
438 - Career home runs.482Career slugging percentage
.294 - Raines' career batting average, over 23 seasons and 8,872 at-bats
808 - Career stolen bases, with a success rate of 84.7 per cent.
3,997 - Number of times he reached base