The Limits of Knowledge

With the recent election of Harold Baines to the Hall of Fame there is a lot of comment going on about the entire election process. I have to admit to having added my share. But whether the election is problematic or not, and I feel it is, it brings up some things we need to note.

Over at the Hall of Miller and Eric website, a site each of you should go visit often, there’s an article that’s titled “Harold Baines is the Single Worst Hall of Fame Choice Ever,” written by the Miller of Miller and Eric. On the face of just the headline, that sounds, considering some of the earlier Hall picks, like one of the most idiotic articles ever written. But if you delve below the headline and actually read the article, he makes a great deal of sense. His basic point is that with the glut of information available today versus what was known 20 or 30 or 50 years ago, Baines is a more terrible choice than anyone else, because we have more knowledge than we had back that 20 or 30 or 50 years ago.

The Hall of Fame was founded in the mid-1930s. The first crop of inductees was a fairly obvious pick (Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, and Honus Wagner alphabetically). All but Mathewson were still alive and most of the voters had seen much of the career of all five. But frankly, there wasn’t a lot of “modern” information available. By modern, I mean the huge log of statistics. Macmillan hadn’t yet published its Encyclopedia, Bill James wasn’t born, BaseballReference.Com wasn’t even a cock-eyed idea yet. What you had were newspaper accounts if you could find them, a handful of Spaudling Guides, Reach Guides, the Elias people and whatever else you could find. And you had the “I” and “eye” tests (“I saw him with my own eyes”). All of those were well and good, but weren’t at all complete.

Back a few years ago I ran a series of articles postulating a Hall of Fame as if it was erected in Cincinnati in 1901 and inducted at least one person each year until the real Hall of Fame was built. I was allowed to use only the information that I could find for the period. There was no WAR or OPS+ or triple slash line. There weren’t even saves yet. There were frequently no walk or strikeout totals. Sometimes there was no fielding information available at all. Frankly, I thought I did a pretty good job with what I had. But I also realized that I was putting in some guys that probably didn’t deserve a spot in Cincinnati’s hallowed halls because I have access today to information unavailable to me in 1910 that told me “You probably got this one wrong, Slick.” One thing I didn’t have available for use was the “Eye” or “I” test, even I’m not that old.

And those sorts of things caused the original Hall voters, and the people who followed them to make some interesting choices. Apparently there were articles at the time (I’ve run across a couple old newspapers that say it) indicating that Candy Cummings invented the curve ball. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but the people voting had that info and used it to put in what to me is a terrible choice. There are other choices like that, not to mention the cronyism that has plagued the Hall voting since its beginning.

It’s tough to call Baines the “worst choice ever” based on who’s in the Hall of Fame, but you have to give something of a pass to the guys who didn’t have the information we have available today. They made mistakes, but many of them were in good faith. But when you take a look at how much information we have today the Baines pick becomes, as the Hall of Miller and Eric guys point out, pretty much indefensible. You can, if you want, make the argument that stats are subject to interpretation and subject to which you determine are important and which are not. And that’s true. But it would take a strange and long set of interpretations and determinations to put Baines in the Hall.

And before I finish I have a complaint. I’ve read a few people attacking Baines himself for his election. Quit that, people. You want to yell at someone for it, yell at the group that put together the ballot or at the 12 men who voted for Baines, not at Baines himself. All he did was put up numbers and play a game he loved. He didn’t create this problem.


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5 Responses to “The Limits of Knowledge”

  1. rjkitch13 Says:

    Good job, V. I like your last paragraph. It’s weird people get mad at Baines, but this is an angry nation right now.

  2. Miller Says:

    Miller here from the Hall of Miller and Eric,

    In order of importance, at least in my less-often-than-is-ideal humble opinion.

    1. Your last paragraph is right on target. The Baines election isn’t about Baines, strange as that sounds. By all accounts that I know, he’s a great guy. It is unfair to him and those who love him to attack him in the manner he’s been attacked. I tried to point the same out as clearly as I was able. I hope I did so.

    2. I think you underrate the strength of your Hall. It was creative, thoughtful, and I think very well done. Yes, it’s hard to separate what you know today from what you might have known or not known then. I think you did an outstanding job.

    3. Thanks for the shout out (I think). You are fair and moderate as a blogger. Part of me wants to be the same. But that’s just not me. I get angry and use my blog as an outlet for such. I admire the work you do here very much, kind of in the way I admire people who can play musical instruments or speak languages I can’t. I can almost access that part of my brain, that part of myself. But I can’t. Part of the reason I like your work so much is that you can.

    4. I stand by my statement that Baines is the single worst choice the Hall has ever made, though he was a better player than a few already inducted. V, if people were like you – thoughtful, humble, and interested in improvement (that’s how I read you, anyway) – we wouldn’t have this problem. But they’re not. And we do. And people who love the game sometimes get angry.

    5. If you’re reading this, I’d love for you to find your way to the Hall of Miller and Eric. I won’t link here since I think it’s at least a little disrespectful to do so, but it’s easy enough to find if you want.

    Thank you, v.

    • verdun2 Says:

      Do not hesitate to provide a link. I’ve tried doing it a time or 2 and always hash it.
      Thanks for the kind words and I accept your premise that with the advent of modern statistical info, the pick of Baines is indefensible.

  3. wkkortas Says:

    /slow clap across the ether in appreciation

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