By Gary Thorne
Is there room for star ‘role’ players in baseball Hall of Fame?
Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame is privately run and connected to the game by the baseball writers who vote on those to be inducted.
The Hall in Cooperstown is the cathedral of the game. By its location that requires a pilgrimage to get there, the fact induction is the pinnacle of a career and its long established relationship with MLB assures the Hall’s honored status is not about to change.
As with all institutions, however, adjustments are necessary. Who is and isn’t worthy of the Hall is a wonderful baseball discussion.
Since the first class of Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner, the question of what baseball standard defines a Hall member has been ongoing.
The probable ballot for 2011 raises more interesting fodder for discussion.
Where exactly do closers stand in terms of qualifying for the Hall? How do you compare voting for a closer and a starter since the roles are so divergent and they both are on the same ballot?
Is the term “role” the answer? If a player accepted a role in the game and became the best at it, or close to the best, is he Hall of Fame material?
The 2011 list includes Jack Morris and Lee Smith. Morris was a quality starter and Smith a dominant closer.
If we do not define a player’s performance by his role, we are left with a starter who threw multiple more innings with a far different task from that of the closer.
Can they be equated without separating them into their roles?
The comparison is akin the issue of DHs and regular position players.
When the DH was first utilized, many fans said the idea was an affront to the game and the concept of an all round baseball player.
Baseball still employs the “five-tool player” definition in determining quality for position players: hit, hit for power, run, throw and play defense.
For decades the idea of a Hall of Famer was the weighing of those five tools, usually skewed to one or more talents, but still including some degree of all five.
Edgar Martinez will be on the list for 2011. He was without question a quintessential DH. His numbers dominated those of DHs for a decade.
David Ortiz will be on that ballot sooner than later.
Are their numbers as DHs enough?
Most suspect both closers and DHs will be measured for how well they handled the roles they assumed. However, there are some who view the Hall as a place for only those whose overall skills vastly exceeded the average.
The voting writers will be discussing such matters again this year, and they will receive plenty of input from fans.
That can only be good for the game and the Hall.