Baseball HOF Debate Time

One of the smells of youth that sticks strongest in my memory is that of the dingy old carpet in our living room. That’s where I spent hours sprawled with baseball cards, magazines, and newspapers surrounding me. I poured over statistics, compared them to history, projected career totals in my head for even the most obscure players.

So the days before the NFL or Major League Baseball are like an extra holiday, when sports writers analyze stats like OPS+, RBIs, and on-base percentage beyond any reasonable degree. So today, as baseball announces it’s new Hall of Fame class, I will indulge myself a few paragraphs to talk about a couple flaws in how we rank our sporting greats.

When writers consider potential Hall of Famers, there are some dubious credentials that get batted around as meaningful. Like baseball All-Star selections. Why is it meaningless? Because you either get voted into the game by fans (who vote on reputation or flash), get selected by the manager (more valid), or you are the one guy from every team that has to be selected (hence, Jeremy Burnitz has appeared in an All-Star game). Another overplayed baseball stat? MVP awards and top-10 finishes in MVP balloting. In baseball, they select two MVPs each year, one for each league. So you may have been the 20th best player in the league in a given year, but because you received the 10th most votes in the American League, it’s counted as a top-10 finish.

If football used the same setup, Brett Favre would have no less than six MVP trophies on his mantle, as he would have been the NFC choice in 2002 (when he finished 2nd to Rich Gannon), 2003 (when Peyton Manning and Steve McNair shared the award) 2007 (2nd to Tom Brady). But would Favre deserve to be called the MVP in 2007, when Brady was impossibly great?

In basketball, the incomparable career of Michael Jordan would have seemed even more dominant, as he would have added trophies in 1989 (2nd to Magic Johnson), 1993 (2nd to Charles Barkley), and 1997 (2nd to Karl Malone). That would give him eight MVP awards.

Only baseball chooses two MVPs (and two Cy Youngs, two Rookie of the Year winners, etc), making an argument for a player’s greatness seem weightier than it is (it’s surprising baseball’s owners don’t go to a single-winner system, since handing out two gives players more ammunition come contract time).

So if you’re a stat geek like myself, keep this in mind as the “experts” preach today.