Change can take time.
It slowly evolves.
And it eventually becomes apparent.
Never has there been a Hall of Fame vote by veteran members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America that underscored the fact that as the game changes, the criteria taken into consideration by the voters changes, too, only at a slower pace.
Mariano Rivera, a reliever with the Yankees for his entire 19-year career, became the first player in the history of the Hall of Fame, which dates to 1936, to be unanimously elected.
Not only is it impressive that he was unanimously elected, but it is impressive that the voters would respond that way to a reliever, an area of the game that was frowned upon for years because “they are guys who couldn’t make it as a starter,” resulting in a reluctant electorate when it came to giving the boys from the bullpen serious consideration.
Hoyt Wilhelm was the first pitcher who made at least 250 relief appearances to be inducted – and that was in 1985. There have been six more since, beginning with Rollie Fingers in 1992, and one of those, Lee Smith, failed in 15 opportunities on the BBWAA ballot and was elected this off-season by the Veterans Committee.
What a Relief They Were
Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina were both elected, showing the voters are adjusting to the changing role of a starting pitcher. Once the standards of a dominating pitcher were 300 career wins, 20-plus complete-games and 250 or more innings pitched over a season.
It’s not that way anymore. That is underscored not only by the recent Hall of Fame inductees, but the fact the Colorado Rockies rotation led NL teams in innings pitched, ranking third in MLB behind only the Indians and Astros.
There were only 42 complete games in Major League Baseball this year. Eight pitchers tied for the MLB lead with two complete games.
Halladay and Mussina? Among the 68 Hall of Fame pitchers who started at least 150 games, Halladay’s 67 complete games rank 64th, and Mussina’s 57 complete games rank 65th. The only pitchers with fewer complete games? Tom Glavine (56), John Smoltz (53) and Pedro Martinez (46).
Finishing What They Start
Edgar Martinez, meanwhile, became the first player elected by the BBWAA to the Hall of Fame who was considered a DH, although he broke into the big leagues as a third baseman. The AL adopted the DH in 1973, but the fact a true DH rarely – if ever – plays in the field has been a hurdle that the DH had to cross to gain BBWAA votes.
Among DHs, Martinez ranks third in games and hits, second in RBI, and No. 1 in batting average. David Ortiz, who won’t be eligible for the Hall of Fame until 2022, is the overall leader in production among DHs.
It is worth nothing that the Veterans Committee, in December, elected Baines, to the Hall of Fame. Baines ranks second among DHs in at-bats and games played, and third in RBI, and fourth in average among players who spent at least 1,000 games as a DH.
The game has changed in how managers manage, and Hall of Fame voting is catching up in the evaluation of the candidates. Judgments need to be made on a generational basis, not an all-encompassing statistical history.