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Hall of Fame 2013: Reflections on Jack Morris and Subjectivity

The Hall of Fame is not just for the best players. It's for the players we wish to honor and remember. That's why, though I would not vote for him, I will not be upset if Jack Morris is voted in next year.


Look, I'm a saber-nerd just like you. I don't think Jack Morris was that great of a pitcher. I participated in anti-Morris Twitter rants and the like. I got mad at Jon Heyman's dumb arguments. I'm one of you. But after making the same arguments time and time again, I came to a realization: I wasn't really against Jack Morris being elected to the Hall of Fame. I was against the arguments that were being used to get him there.

Over the past few months, I think that we, in the sabermetric community, have, on occasion, become too analytical and objective about the Hall of Fame. Now I'm not saying that objectivity and numbers don't matter - obviously they do. But the underlying assumption among many of us is that the Hall of Fame is for the best players. It is a way to honor the top performers in baseball, the players that added the most value to their teams.

This is somewhat true. However, I believe - and let me emphasize the word "believe" here - that the Hall is not just for the top performers, but for those players that we, as fans, wish to remember, wish to honor. Baseball, as most would agree, is about more than the value that a player provides, more than winning games and championships and putting up impressive numbers. Not to get too sentimental here, but baseball, to a large extent, is about the memories that it creates.

The Hall of Fame criteria are vague and cryptic for this reason. It's not supposed to be about just the best players - that's a factor, and an important factor at that - but it's an honor that is intrinsically subjective. This is why I am not bothered by people who want Jack Morris to be in the Hall of Fame. No, I don't believe he is deserving based on his on-field performance, and no, I would not vote for him if I could. But there are some who feel that he should be remembered as a player, that his qualities and performance make him worthy of a spot in the Hall. This, by itself, is absolutely fine with me.

There are a few issues, however. One is that voters did not vote for Morris this year because of some aspect of him as a player outside of his on-field value. Many voted for him because they believed that he deserved to be in the Hall based on value alone. And not because they were "Big Hall" people - many of these voters voted for Morris ahead of Curt Schilling, for instance, a player who was not tied to PEDs and was a significantly better pitcher. You've heard the arguments for why this is wrong - I won't go over them again.

The other issue is that the Hall of Fame does not exist for those that determine its inhabitants, so to speak. What I mean is, the members of the BBWAA, the people who vote in Hall of Fame candidates, are not the target audience of the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame, as I see it, exists for two groups of people: the fans and the members (as in, the players, managers, etc. who are voted in).

So while the Hall of Fame is, in my opinion, inherently subjective, it is not subjective from the point of view of those who vote. It is subjective from the point of view of the fans and players. While the writers should not just vote for whoever has the highest WAR, they should also not just vote for who they personally believe is deserving. Hall of Fame voters are in a unique position of having written about and watched baseball for a long time, and in doing so, I suspect that many of them have a very good idea of the players that are respected, that fans want to honor with a Hall of Fame election.

This is not to say that the Hall of Fame should be a popularity contest, because as I said above, it is also for the players (and other deserving members). I believe that a player who was outstanding, whose skill at playing the game surpassed most of his peers, should be honored and remembered, regardless of his popularity or his perceived value among mainstream fans.

I would not vote for Jack Morris to be in the Hall of Fame. I do not believe that his on-field value merits it. But if fans wish to honor his legacy, if his performance as a player was such that fans wish him to be remembered, then why not elect him? The worst outcome is that someone who is undeserving is in the Hall of Fame. He wouldn't be the first, and he won't be the last. As long as we can honor those who we wish to be, and who deserved to be, honored, a couple mistakes along the way won't hurt anybody.