Monday, January 12, 2009

Rickey Henderson, Hall of Fame 2009

Rickey Henderson, the greatest leadoff hitter of all time, was not a unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame. No player ever is, and no player ever has been. Surely the oddest thing about the Hall of Fame is that some people who vote for it don't think it should have any members at all.

That's not true, of course. Like most of baseball's idiocies, the "no unanimous vote" idea can be put down to the dead hand of tradition. Some superannuated hacks back in 1936 decided not to vote for anyone in the first Hall class, and ever since, their inane and insane decision has been honored by generations of Baseball Writers Association of America members in their own voting. Not by all of them, mind you, but by enough. This is a tradition that only takes one fool to perpetuate, and there's no organization of human beings that has only one fool in it.

I'm a Hall of Fame voter. It's a burden and an honor, and I do my best to justify that honor. The "no unanimous" tradition does more than any other single thing to discredit me and my fellow voters with baseball fans. It is a disservice to the game. It pains me, and it pains well over 90 percent of the Hall electorate.

I also believe the Hall electorate should be expanded beyond BBWA members. I mean, I have a vote and Vin Scully doesn't? That ain't right. The problem is, doing so correctly. Opening the vote willy-nilly to fans will result in an electorate of average age 10 and ballot stuffing by creative PR departments. Giving living Hall members a voice is just, but would end the possibility of unanimous votes for good and all. Those guys, understandably, would rather the Hall didn't have any new members at all.

Until such time as a better process is created (in his book on the Hall, Bill James came up with a pretty workable idea), I will struggle with my annual ballot to the best of my ability. And guys like Rickey Henderson (next up on the "how could you not vote for him?" list is Greg Maddux) will receive the crowning honor of their careers amid a swirl of pointless controversy.

Strike that. The "nonunanimous" Hall of Famers generate no controversy whatsoever. ALL baseball fans take those votes as proof positive sportswriters are idiots.

Reminiscence. In the summer of 2002, I was strolling though the bowels of Rogers Centre (then Skydome) in Toronto, when I happened to inadvertently (at first) overhear a chat between then-Red Sox Rickey Henderson and teammate Manny Ramirez, walking from the indoor batting cage to the visitor's clubhouse.

I only had time to hear Henderson's side of the conversation For once, memory does not fail. This quote is verbatim.

"What'll happen then," Henderson told Ramirez, "is that people will try to get you to start thinking. And that's what will really fuck you up."

I'm sure the two future Hall of Famers were discussing hitting. But I prefer to think their topic was philosophy.


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