Peer Pressure and Hall Of Fame Voting

ESPN’s Jayson Stark struggled with his Hall of Fame ballot this year.  You can see why if you look at the official ballot – there are an awful lot of good players on there, so picking only 10 must have been tough to begin with.  And then there’s this dilemma which Stark faced:

I tried ranking them … But the more I considered voting according to any top-10 list I could come up with, the more I felt that many of those votes were going to be “wasted,” on players who couldn’t possibly get elected.

When a friend asked me to share my picks on Facebook, I never thought to include Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.  Mike Piazza was a tentative addition.  Unlike the Rafeal Palmeiros and Sammy Sosas of the world, there seems to be general consensus that these three would have been Hall of Famers with or without the steroid use they have been accused of.  Stark is right though – voting for Clemens or Bonds is a wasted vote, because there is no prayer that either gets the 75% needed for induction.  

I wonder how that will affect the other candidacies.  Individual voters may not believe the performance-enhancing drug rumors around Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, but do they have confidence other voters are buying them?  With so  many deserving names on the ballot, why cast your lot for someone more likely to hover around 60% when someone like Jack Morris may be just a few votes away from baseball immortality?

For what it’s worth, my ballot would have been Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Craig Biggio, Piazza, Morris, Frank Thomas, Bagwell, Edgar “The Antichrist” Martinez (grudgingly), Don Mattingly, and Alan Trammell.  (I don’t actually have a ballot, so it’s worth nothing.)  Mike Mussina, Moises Alou, and Tim Raines also deserve election, but should have some years of eligibility left.  

The Ruben Sierra of Viral Video

Making the rounds of sharing this week is the video of Marina Shifrin resigning her post at Next Media Animation.  Shifrin, who used to make news videos, dances through her resignation while the subtitles tick off her reasons for quitting – most notably, the fact that her “boss only cares about quantity and how many views each video gets.”  Her video, she contends, “focus[es] on the content”:

It would be easy for some curmudgeon to yell that Shifrin is looking for creativity in the wrong place – that work is about making money, rather than fun and games.  But that wouldn’t be entirely appropriate.  You’ve probably heard of her former company, Next Media Animation – or at least seen their work.  They make those funny, Taiwanese animated videos about the news.  In 2010, they made this one about the Thanksgiving-weekend revelation that Tiger Woods was playing a few rounds outside of his marriage:

Shifrin wasn’t working at a gulag making plastic widgets for export, she was making funny, creative news videos.  NMA’s website brags about their speed, and that’s pretty important when your company’s key product is so heavily dependent on news cycles.  Ditto for quantity – NMA has released two videos already this week, one for the government shutdown and one for Lane Kiffin being fired by USC.  The company is based on producing timely content that attracts viewers and stays ahead of the news.  It probably means working off-hours (since Taiwan and America are on opposite sides of the globe).

That’s a tough job, so you couldn’t blame anyone for saying it isn’t for them.  But Shifrin’s self-indulgent resignation video says a little bit more. Specifically, it says “Be careful about hiring me, because if we have a difference of opinion, I’ll try to embarrass you.”  Working at an online video company while complaining about needing to come up with content frequently that attracts views is like former New York Yankee Ruben Sierra, after being traded in 1996, complaining that the Yankees only cared about winning.

The team at NMA seem to be taking it in stride, though:

How MLB Started ARod’s Punishment Early

America has had more than a week to digest Alex Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension by Major League Baseball.   ARod’s legal team has rattled their sabers a little more, suggesting legal appeals to the suspension on top of the current Player’s Association appeal already underway.

Leading up to the suspension, the chattering class of the sports journalism wondered if Rodriguez would face a lifetime ban, effective immediately, under the “Best Interests of Baseball” power that has allowed previous commissioners to ban the likes of Pete Rose and the Black Sox of 1919.  But for MLB, putting Rodriguez on the field might be the best option.

Unlike the other players suspended for cheating, who are taking their lumps immediately, Rodriguez will run out each night in front of tens of thousands of fans.  Many of them may be buying tickets solely to boo him.  He’ll get no break at The Stadium, where the fans would give him guff even when he didn’t have the stench of cheating wafting off of him.  For the next month and a half before the Yankees’ lost 2013 season mercifully ends, Rodriguez will be front and center.  Discussions about him will not be abstract, conducted through attorneys and spokespersons.

Since the suspension for Rodriguez is so much more severe than any of the other players, that type of debate would certainly benefit him, if only marginally.  Fans might lose their edge if the question becomes how long ARod should be suspended, rather than whether he should sit out.  Public anger against cheaters can only subside if the matter drags into next March with public enemy number one out of the public eye.

Instead, ARod will get an earful.

By creating a situation where Rodriguez is constantly in the public eye, MLB gets to watch its verdict vindicated in the court of public opinion.  When the jeers rain down on ARod, MLB will let the fans be the messengers to other players.  Public opinion will become clear to those who would be outspoken about the outsized suspension, as well as to players who are candidates to get caught in the next giant steroids scandal (like David Ortiz).

MLB will, naturally, be helped by Rodriguez’s apparent combination of narcissism and a complete and utter lack of self awareness.


Let’s Make a Deal: MLB Edition

If Ryan Braun dominated the sports headlines on Tuesday morning, Alex Rodriguez dominated the sub-headlines.  News of Braun’s plea bargained 65-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs was followed near-universally with the question, “Now, what about ARod?”

It’s a relevant question: Not only is Rodriguez one of the most famous and hated players in any sport, but like Braun he’s a repeat visitor to the PED circus.  But just because it’s a relevant question doesn’t mean it’s the best one.

Soon after Braun’s suspension news broke, Buster Olney was on the phone with the broadcast team calling Monday night’s ESPN telecast of the Yankees and Rangers.  Olney offered this insight: while Rodriguez is the biggest name on the docket, the player most likely to pursue a deal with MLB is Texas’s Nelson Cruz.  As a free agent after this year, Cruz is best served serving his suspension now and entering the open market as an available yet questionable talent.  If he waits, and the suspension gets handed down over the winter or next spring, Cruz might find it hard to sign if teams are unsure of his availability.

The astute Olney cut through the flash and the clutter to identify the real story – and good for him.  Now, back to the coverage of the royal baby.



Storming the Hall

Major League Baseball linked to this article from its Twitter feed today.  It’s an impassioned case for Fernando Valenzuela to make the Hall of Fame.

What a joke, right?  No rational fan who looks at the stats could possibly think that, right?

Luckily, the author talks more about Fernandomania, and what he meant to the LA Dodgers of the 1980s.  “I won’t write about all of his statistics,” says Sarah Morris, “because they don’t tell the story.”

A few weeks ago, Major League Baseball announced a null class for 2013 induction.  Jack Morris and his splitter sat on the outside.  Advanced stats show that Morris didn’t have the best statistical career of any pitcher, and others in his era outperformed him over the long haul.  Morris’s candidacy comes down to pitching his team to a couple of titles and a 10-inning, 1-0 shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

What is the Hall of Fame, though?

If it’s just about stats, there’s no need for voting.  A computer could crunch the numbers and, five years after a player’s career is over, either place him in or out based on statistics measured against his peers and those already in the Hall.  Heck, if it was all about stats, you wouldn’t even have to play the games, would you?  You could have a computer pick the champion.  Hey, it works for college football.

Halls of Fame are supposed to be museums to their respective sports, and baseball’s hall is the most revered.  All-time players are shut out if they carry the stench of cheating or gambling.  Players enshrined in a Hall of Fame should be excellent, but even more importantly they should be significant.

Bernie Williams was, by most statistical measures, a more prolific player than Don Mattingly, but was named on fewer ballots.  Most likely, the voters recognized Mattingly for being the face of the New York Yankees through a lean decade.  Williams, always a class act, was tempermentally similar to Mattingly in many ways, played a tougher position, and exceeded his production – but was never the rock the franchise was built around.   That counts for something, and it should.

As former Yankees broadcaster Jim Kaat said, “It’s a Hall of Fame, not a Hall of Achievement.”  Reggie Jackson hit 563 home runs, but there are only three that fans think of instantly when they see his spot on the wall.  Three thousand hits is nice and everything, but the hushed reverence you hear around Roberto Clemente’s plaque recalls his selfless end.

There are simply no sabermetrics for fame; the Hall is subjective, as it should be.  Remember, this isn’t anything serious.  It’s literally just a game.

Should Mattingly be a Hall of Famer?  That answer probably depends on how old you were when he was in his prime, and what team you rooted for – and its the same way with Morris’s take on Fernando Valenzuela.

Except Morris is completely wrong because the Dodgers suck.

A rare good PR move for ARod

Joel Sherman of the New York Post (America’s Newspaper of Record) published an exclusive (and extensive) interview with Alex Rodriguez’s doctors yesterday.  On a day where an empty Hall of Fame induction press conference underscored the sport’s reliance on media perceptions, Sherman’s article is a great PR move from a player that could use it.  If you can spell ESPN, you know that Rodriguez was MIA in the playoffs coming off two injury-riddled seasons, and what effect that had on his relationship with the forgiving and always-adoring New York sports fans.

This Sherman exclusive – which shares intricate details of the nature of his current injury – is a great public relations move.  If you were using baseball metaphors, you’d call it a solid 2-run double.

Given the level of detail the medical staff shares about the status, it’s clear that Rodriguez had to give his blessing for the revelations, and that was smart.  Without a single clichéd, Bull Durham-esque quote from the third baseman on being “more disappointed than anyone” or “not getting it done” during his horrendous postseason, two doctors went back and forth practically amazed that he could even walk during September and October.  They also debunk the whispers that past steroid use caused Rodriguez’s injury.  Best of all, Rodriguez and the Yankees stay out of the story.  The medical information alone speaks for itself and doesn’t need framing.  Heck, it makes you wonder if Rodriguez will play another game again at all.

And there’s why this is a great story.  Demanding fans and the 24-hour sports news machine feed each other, and the meal is often re-digested.  In this case, we all know the story: ARod, the richest player in baseball history, doesn’t live up to expectations and the fans hate him for it.   More coverage begets more boos raining down from the upper deck, and boos in turn beget more negative coverage.  Sherman’s story probably won’t stop that, but it does frame the last three years of Rodriguez’s career in a badly needed new – and much more flattering – light.