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What Makes A Hall of Fame Career?

Guest Author - Joe Mancini

Whenever a popular and/or accomplished player retires, a discussion ensues as to whether that player will end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The recent retirements of Curt Shilling, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina were newsworthy and brought up the inevitable Hall of Fame discussion. The decisions regarding these three players’ date with potential baseball immortality are years away, but, some still ponder their destiny.

Since there are millions of baseball fans, there are obviously millions of opinions on who should be elected to the Hall. If you had the ability to cast the deciding Hall of Fame vote for a candidate, what criteria would you use to evaluate his worthiness? Some fans believe entry to the Hall should be based strictly upon stats like the number of World Series rings the candidate possesses, or his career batting average, his homeruns or total RBI’s. Others believe a player's intangibles, such as leadership on the field and in the locker room, along with stats should be considered. Maybe a player had one monumental statistical season and several above average seasons, so, his rock-solid intangibles are important. For other fans, it’s a matter of whether they liked a player and/or the team he played for.

“Iron Man” Cal Ripken, Jr. was an easy selection. Any player with a .276 batting average who plays 2,632 consecutive games, hits 431 homeruns, compiles 3,184 hits, plays at a high level for 16 years, is respected by his peers, and is a fan-favorite is absolutely, positively a shoe-in. No debate necessary. Other players who fall in the “Of Course” category include Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench and Steve Carlton. These players received over 90% selection approval. The Class of 2009 includes Joe Gordon, Rickey Henderson, and Jim Rice. It took Rice many years to be selected, likely because he didn’t have “shoe in” stats along with the intangibles. Class of 2010-eligible players Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin and Shane Reynolds will likely receive the Hall pass.

What about the player who had a phenomenal career, but had other issues…how are they going to be evaluated? A few candidates for the Classes of 2011 to 2013, including Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, will not only have to convince the official selection committee that they deserve to be in, but, they will also have to sway the court of public opinion with a high-level marketing campaign. We know the reason these players will have a difficult time gaining access to the Hall is their potential use of performance-enhancing drugs. The use of steroids has been implied, but not overwhelmingly proven. Nonetheless, it is a factor. So, should the potential use of steroids be the deciding factor for these three candidates?

I don’t have the definitive answer to this million dollar question, though I do have an opinion, and I don’t have a vote. Ultimately, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and Hall of Fame Committee have the final say as to whether a player enters the Hall. For the players from the Classes of 2011 and beyond, the discussion will be long, there will be lots of drama, the voting criteria will be forever altered, and this will certainly be a battle for the ages. Good luck to all the candidates!
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