Thursday, January 15, 2009

Baseball players should get one shot at Hall of Fame


How many times does a man need to be rejected before he gets the point?

Once, twice, 14 times?

Sure, there are the lucky ones. But for most men, the results remain the same.

No, I'm not talking about women (I'm saving that for a future column). This is about baseball, and the ludicrous timetable the Baseball Writers Association of America has for selecting those enshrined in Cooperstown.

In case you haven't heard, former Red Sox star Jim Rice was elected into the HOF the other day ... finally. I'm happy for Rice and not nearly qualified to make an educated judgment on whether he deserves to be in the HOF.

But here's what I can say: The fact that Rice had to wait 15 grueling years to find out — for sure — if his name would be placed alongside the pastime's all-time greats is just asinine. Hell, people die during a decade and a half. Rice is 55; something could have happened to him.

Rice's story is happy; I'm sure there have been plenty of sad ones.

Here's the point: Baseball players become eligible to appear on the annual HOF ballot five years after retiring from the games. Some of them, like Rice, don't find out their fate for another 15 years. Players get 15 "chances" on the ballot. In other words, they can get less than the needed 75 percent of votes 15 times before they're finally dismissed.

Simple question, folks: Are any home runs hit five years after retirement? Are any bases stolen? I mean, I know Rickey Henderson was that good. But even Henderson, the other recently named Hall-of-Famer, hasn't stolen a single base since ending his glorious career.

So why 15 years? Why not one year, one chance, one vote? Don't tell me members of the BWAA aren't knowledgeable enough to make a decision the first year a guy's name comes up. Don't tell me they might change their mind after seven years because he's done a lot of charity work.

A player's eligibility should be based — solely — on his performance on the field. Nothing else. Yes, there might be a few cases when a player such as Mark McGuire ruins his candidacy by basically looking as guilty of taking steroids and lying about them as possible. But even in his case, we knew all that before the five years were up.

McGuire was heavily denied his first year of eligibility. Ditto his second. Why go through this another 13 years?

Hell, this system must even compromise some voters' choices for the HOF. No disrespect to Rice, but there's no way he should have gotten 4.2 percent more votes this year than he did a year ago. Those, to me, are pity votes. It was his last chance, and some voters gave in.

Players should get one chance. Either you're in or you're out. Then they can move on, forget about it and live their lives. After all, most baseball players retire before hitting their 40s. It's cruel for them to be thinking about this well into their 50s and even early 60s.

Let them progress nicely into the next phase of their lives.

Perhaps the saddest case is that of former pitcher Bert Blyleven. This was the 12th shot at the HOF for the man who ranks fifth all-time in strikeouts. And again he missed out, getting just 62.7 percent of the need 75 percent of votes.

But get this: In Blyleven's first year of eligibility in 1998, he received a whopping 17 percent of the votes. What the heck has changed? I'm not saying Blyleven's undeserving, but there's no way a guy should see that kind of increase in votes. He hasn't even saved a third-world country.

For Blyleven's sake and sanity, I hope he gets in soon and can put the whole thing to rest because it's killing him. In an ESPN Radio interview Tuesday after getting snubbed, he lamented, "I feel like crap" and went on to say, "I have a tough time dealing with it from year to year."

Blyleven is now 57. This should have been off his mind when he was a spry 46.

Voters need to make up their minds once for each player — and then move on.

So that the former major leaguers can do likewise.

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