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Will Burnett really go out on top? And modest proposals on the Hall vote

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SOUTH HILLS – You probably caught Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage telling 93.7 FM The Fan the other day that it is his opinion AJ Burnett will retire. And that’s likely a consensus opinion as Burnett said he might retire, and no one has heard much of anything from Burnett all offseason.  Again, this is what Searage had to say:

“I’m on that percentage point where he’s not going to come back,” Searage said. “I’ve got to prepare the pitching with no A.J, so that’s the route I’m going right now. If he does come back, alright. But right now, I’m leaning that way, where he’s going to retire.

 

But Searage added:

 

“There isn’t any information on A.J. We’re still waiting.”

 

I had always doubted Burnett’s intent to retire. After all there’s so much cash in the game and he led the NL in groundball and strikeout rate last season. It’s not like this is a 37-year-old showing much decline.

 

But as Rob Neyer noted, Burnett wouldn‘t be the first elite-level pitcher to go out on top. And Burnett has made $120,771,500 in his career. He doesn’t have to pitch again and his great, great, great grandchildren will still live quite comfortably. Still, I thought his 2013 performance and the 2013-14 market prices would compel him to return and perhaps with a club other than the Pirates. The Orioles and Phillies also have interest.  But if he does retire he’ll join Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling as rare pitchers in recent memory to retire at near elite levels.

 

The clock is ticking on a decision though as we’re about a month from pitchers and catchers reporting — unless Burnett comes up with a creative plan to join a team in midseason.

 

MODEST PROPOSAL ON THE HALL VOTE:

 

I’ m not a Hall of Fame Voter. To become a voter you require 10 years of consecutive BBWAA membership, and I’m not close. To become a BBWAA member you typically have to cover a large volume of games every year. Broadcasters and most bloggers are not eligible, meaning the vast majority of the pool is current and former newspapermen. (And remember, this is not the BBWAA’s Hall of Fame. The BBWAA has been asked to be the gatekeeper by the Hall of Fame board.)

 

Despite all the noise and sound and fury, it’s important to remember baseball’s Hall of Fame – as imperfect as it might be – is regarded as the best in the sport and for the most part the BBWAA has been an excellent gatekeeper. But the goal of the Hall and the BBWAA should be to not only keep it that way but to improve the process.

 

*One simple solution is to remove the arbitrary limit of 10 player votes per ballot. Due to the PED era and PED suspicions, we’ve seen a backlog of candidates, who by numbers alone would be Hall locks. It’s interesting that a 3,000-hit, 500-home run player in  fell off the ballot with 4.4 percent of the vote in Rafael Palmeiro. A very deserving player, Craig Biggio, fell two votes short. To me, anyways, there should be a simple litmus test: you’re either a Hall of Famer or you’re not. In many years 10 slots might not be necessary, but in this environment they are necessary.

 

*Broaden AND shrink the electorate. The mediums for writing about baseball have changed dramatically over the decade. I write for a newspaper and its Web site as is the case with the majority of BBWAA writers but there’s a large number of very smart baseball analysts that do not. They blog or write online only about baseball for a living. Now some blog/Web writers have been granted BBWAA membership  but writers like Ken Rosenthal suggest the 10-year limit should be lessened to get more of these voices – many sabermetrically inclined – into the voting pool. While there should be strict standards, I think that’s a sound position from one of the heavyweight BBWAA voices. Also, if a voter is no longer covering the game/or paying strict attention to the game a Hall vote shouldn’t be a lifetime right.

 

*All ballots should be made public just as the MVP and Cy Young voting is. The more transparency the better. You can find all the public ballots here.

 

I don’t think a change of the guidelines or criteria – that performance, character and sportsmanship – needs to be addressed. There’s still something to be said for the gridlock this creates (think about how good you have to be to get the new school and old school to vote for you) and the debate it stirs. And for the most part, the BBWAA has gotten it right over the eight decades the Hall has been in existence.

 

With that I think we’ve all reached our threshold of Hall talk. Back to on-the-field chatter on Monday.

– TS

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