THE POLITICS OF GLORY, How Baseball's Hall of Fame Really Works, by Bill James. Macmillan, 384 pp., $23. BILL JAMES is a man with a mission. His latest baseball epic isn't a truckload of stats, obscure facts or funny anecdotes. It's an argument. James is out to tear down the Baseball Hall of Fame - or its selection process, anyway - and replace it with a radically different one.
The worst mistake the Hall of Fame ever made was in 1946, when the Permanent Committee inducted 11 old timers, many of whom were undeserving (Tom McCarthy, Joe Tinker, Jack Chesbro). This decision created a second tier Hall of Fame. It damaged the credibility of the institution for all time, because if Joe Inferior Player is in the Hall of Fame, then Bobby Marginal Candidate deserves to be in, too.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is supposed to separate the good players from the great ones, and it has failed, he says. "If the Hall of Fame's administrators don't take seriously their problems," James warns ominously, "something else will come along and push them aside." In fact, he says there have been discussions about the players starting their own Hall of Fame. They've got the money, and they certainly have the memorabilia.