Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rickey

Congratulations are due to the greatest leadoff hitter ever to play the game, Rickey Henderson, as it was announced yesterday that he was voted into the Hall of Fame. You can see his stats here; as statistician Bill James once said, "If you could split him in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers."

Of course, Rickey didn't just produce runs on the field; he produced excitement. And anecdotes. And quotes. My favorite from that wonderful collection was a message he left to San Diego General Manager Kevin Towers:
"Kevin, this is Rickey. Calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball."
The only sour note on Rickey's story is that the Baseball Writers Association of America still has 28 voters (out of 539 cast) who saw fit to turn in a ballot without Rickey's name on it. Are these people insane, completely ignorant of baseball, sore losers who resent his ego, or are they just contrarian jerks who have a weird sense of honor about not letting anybody in unanimously?

If you ask me, that's the voting equivalent of a player throwing a game. As a voter, you're charged with voting honestly for people whom you feel have earned their place in the Hall. Leaving someone off your ballot "just because" is idiotic and should get your right to vote revoked.

4 Comments:

At Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 6:19:00 AM PST, Blogger Ted said...

I've taken enough voting theory that I'm convinced you can't interpret vote totals in any meaningful way, other than whether or not a candidate exceeded a given threshold.

While there are some stories out there of the exceptionally clueless voter -- you linked to a particularly egregious one -- there are plenty of rational reasons not to vote for Rickey even if you believe he should be in. Rickey was close to a given; voting for him doesn't improve his chance of election. Whereas, voting for other candidates you like who may be less of a lock may have a much greater impact on their eventual chance of election.

In a partially related story, a colleague was telling me this week that a little while ago there was a clever parliamentary move going on at various state political party conventions. Motions would be made asking for a vote on whether or not something should be unanimous -- with a majority rule. So, so long as the majority voted for the measure, it was decided unanimously! Fortunately, a stop has been put to this. But, maybe that's what the Hall of Fame needs; 75% of voters need to agree to the proposition that a player should be elected unanimously! :)

As a final trivium, Rickey is the first player to be elected less than five years after his retirement (and still be alive) in quite some time, since his time spent in the Atlantic and Golden Leagues doesn't count against his clock. For a while, it was looking like he might still be actively playing in the independent leagues when he was elected. He still hit .270 -- but with an impressive .456 OBP -- in 2005 in the Golden League, and that was before the Golden League started putting up football scores on a daily basis.

 
At Friday, January 23, 2009 at 5:08:00 PM PST, Anonymous Victor said...

Without disputing that Rickey Henderson is a first-ballot Hall of Famer by any rational standard ...

As you know better than I, Adam, baseball runs on tradition. It is a tradition that nobody gets in on a unanimous first ballot because in the Hall's first year, even Babe Ruth couldn't get in unanimously. For someone to get in unanimously would be to say he was better than Ruth (who made baseball the nation's dominant sport in the 20s -- a position it held for about 40 years). This is the kind of quirk of the sport that baseball fans take seriously (and I'm surprised to see you come down on the other side of this question).

To make a political analogy, it's like the three-term presidency taboo (in the era before the 22nd Amendment made the custom an actual legal bar). For a president to run for a third term, it was believed, would be to prove that he thought himself indispensable, more so than even George Washington, the father of the country, etc. Running for a third term constituted irrefutable proof that he shouldn't have a third term.

Both these things are in the category of taboo -- an irrational custom that pays heed to history.

 
At Friday, January 23, 2009 at 9:09:00 PM PST, Blogger Adam Villani said...

But who coordinates that? Either there's collusion, or it's just a tradition held by a handful of cranks.

 
At Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 5:11:00 PM PST, Anonymous Victor said...

Obviously there's not a dedicated "Devil's Advocate" or the equivalent of the Cabinet member designated not to be at the State of the Union speech.

But the whole point of either a tradition or a taboo is that it ISN'T stated. That to write it down would be "rationalize" it and make it justify itself. The very fact that some people care enough to continue the "No Unanimous First Balloters" custom is what makes it custom.

 

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