The revelation yesterday that there were no players voted into the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) this year absolutely infuriates me, so now you get the pleasure(?) of reading about how wrong I believe the writers are as well a call for change. Congrats!
I would like to start with a baseline of where I see an issue. Here is a subset of the players eligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame this year… do ANY of you believe that NO ONE on this list deserves to be in the Hall of Fame:
- Barry Bonds
- Roger Clemens
- Jeff Bagwell
- Curt Schilling
- Larry Walker
- Alan Trammell
- Tim Raines
- Rafael Palmeiro
- Kenny Lofton
- Edgar Martinez
- Craig Biggio
- Mark McGwire
- Mike Piazza
- Sammy Sosa
- Dale Murphy
- Don Mattingly
- Jack Morris
Since this is an article and I can’t really hear what you are saying, I’m going to act like this is an episode of Dora the Explorer and pretend that I heard you all concur that at least one person on this list should be in the Hall of Fame. (I make this assumption because I believe you all to be intelligent… in case you are curious). Ok, so since we all agree that someone should have made it, I’m going to make the leap that this is indicative of a problem with the system. But you know it doesn’t take today’s vote to know there’s a problem…it’s been an issue for years. Let’s look at a few stats from previous votes that should make this perfectly clear (thanks to Joe Posnanski for doing a bunch of the work that I was going to have to do to pull these numbers):
- 23 voters did not vote for Stan Musial the year he was elected
- 52 voters did not vote for Sandy Koufax the year he was elected
- 43 voters did not vote for Mickey Mantle the year he was elected
- 23 voters did not vote for Willie Mays the year he was elected
- 64 voters did not vote for Bob Gibson the year he was elected
- 9 voters did not vote for Hank Aaron the year he was elected
- The first year Yogi Berra was on the ballot, he was NOT elected to the Hall of Fame
Read those a couple of times and let them sink in. What seems apparent to me is that there are some flaws in the system. I’m only going to try to address 3 of the issues that I believe are present (and I’ll try to do it without losing 90% of you with my rantings…). But first, I at least want to give you the background of who is eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame:
Qualifications and Key Information
BBWAA Member Info: The full membership requirements for being a member of the BBWAA are in the BBWAA constitution. Essentially, you must be a beat writer, backup writer, columnist or sports editor from a newspaper or wire service that covers Major League Baseball on a regular basis. Membership has been expanded to include web sites on a case-by-case basis.
In order to be eligible for a Hall of Fame vote, a writer must be an active member of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years. Once a writer receives a Hall of Fame vote, he is eligible to continue voting even when he is no longer an active member of the BBWAA, provided he becomes a lifetime honorary member.
Why does the BBWAA have the votes? The board of directors at the Hall of Fame is responsible for choosing the best way to select honorees. Currently, they have decided that the BBWAA is the body best-suited to vote, but the Hall of Fame board is free to make changes as it sees fit.
Voting Parameters: Writers may vote for up to 10 players. A player must be named on 75 percent of the ballots returned to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Blank ballots count toward the overall total, but unreturned ones do not.
Problem 1 – Voting Rights in Perpetuity
This is one of the easier ones to tackle. Currently the Hall says that if you have ever been a writer that has earned the right to vote for the Hall, you should have it for the rest of your life. There are some problems with this. First…there comes a point in all of our lives where we should stop doing things. You should not have a license to drive forever. You should not wear a Speedo forever. In this case, once you are removed from covering the game on a daily basis, you simply aren’t involved enough to have a full, well-rounded perspective on the game. It’s not an indictment of you as a person, but there are men that now cover golf on a daily basis that still have a Hall vote. It just isn’t logical. Use those who are neck deep in it and and give former voters Hall of Fame Voter Emeritus status.
Problem 2 – Current Vote Limits
There are 2 specific limits that cause issues. I don’t believe that they are a travesty, per se, but they cause issues . The requirement that players receive 75% of the vote (in a world where sending in a blank piece of paper is a no vote for everyone) seems steep. At least with all of the current voting rules. You do realize that you only have to get 51% of a representative population of folks (not the actual population) to be President of the most powerful Debt Train country on Earth, right?! And it only takes 66% of elected knuckleheads to overrule that President. But we need 75% of more people than are in the House of Representatives to get someone elected into the Hall of Fame? This nation was founded on the principle that we can’t get that many people to agree…
The second limit is that you are only allowed to vote for 10 players. Some years this is no problem, but in conjunction with the 75% limit you will run into years where over 500 people are making value judgements on who they will not vote for this year, even though they voted for them in previous years. Ultimately they won’t line up, and worthy people will be harmed. Now, I’m not for unlimited votes, but there need to be more than 10, because as crowded of a field as there is now (and I’ve seen multiple writers say there are between 15-20 legitimate Hall of Famers eligible now) is about to get a whole lot more crowded in coming years.
Problem 3 – Voter Decision-Making and Justification
Holy buckets this is where I tend to get fired up. Now, let me say clearly that there are some very insightful writers that display time and time again why the writers were given this responsibility. But then there are others…. Here are just a handful of excerpts from voters that I’ve seen in the past couple of days (Please note that I am going to try to answer some of their arguments using their parameters. As I stated in Part 1, I think all of these men should be in the Hall to tell the story of baseball):
- Ken Gurnick (MLB.com) “…As for players from the Steroid Era, I won’t vote for any of them.”
- Tracy Ringolsby (MLB.com) – “…sad part of this year’s Hall of Fame voting is it doesn’t seem likely that any of the votes are going to really matter, because there is a segment of the voters with an axe to grind. They want to turn this year’s vote into the baseball version of the Salem Witch Hunt [sic]. And they have not only indicted and convicted Bonds and Clemens of wrongdoing in their minds, but are so intent on their anger toward Bonds and Clemens they will take it out on others and turn in blank ballots. Election to the Hall of Fame requires a player to be listed on 75 percent of the ballots cast. A blank ballot is a vote for no one but has to be counted if it is submitted. Each voter who turns in a blank ballot is not only expressing displeasure toward Clemens and Bonds, but also hurting the candidacy of every other eligible player. Nobody ever questioned Murphy’s character, but he will suffer more than anyone else from the blank ballots because this is his 15th and final year of eligibility. There is no next year for him, like there is for the other candidates. The outrage over PEDs is the in-thing, but it is so inconsistent. My biggest challenge this year was trimming my list of candidates to 10 players, with apologies to Smith.”
- More than one Voter – “I need more time to consider this new class of candidates…”
- Mark Newman – “My position has been consistent every year since McGwire first appeared on the ballot for the Class of 2007. Writers can’t know who does what off the field, and I call on stubborn and confused peers to concede they’ve been wrong in playing moral judge. Put the greatest players in Cooperstown. “
You can see here a wide variety of positions held. (Now, I didn’t include Jayson Stark’s take or Joe Posnanski’s because, let’s be real…they weren’t short! But I highly recommend both of them). Anyone who says “I won’t for anyone from the Steroid Era” should lose their vote immediately. It is completely irresponsible to block out an entire era of the game. At what point did it become a greater travesty to induct someone into the Hall of Fame who did things that the sport had not even banned at the time than it is to bar completely innocent players from gaining entry to the Hall because of the year they were born?! It is ridiculous. (And if people keep holding that position and refuse to vote for men like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Frank Thomas, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Ken Griffey Jr….all men that will become eligible in the next 3 years…I will lose it in a way that makes this year look like I was taking an elephant tranquilizer).
Additionally, how can anyone pass judgment on who did or didn’t do something when they simply do not know?! For everyone that tested positive once the sport implemented testing, now the writers have a leg to stand on and I won’t criticize that. But the others are all speculation. And the truth is that we know that some of the greats from past eras used Amphetamines. We KNOW. So are you going to do a retroactive witch hunt?
To the writers (and there were multiple who did…my research department [a.k.a. the first 3 pages of results from Google] just couldn’t grab the names on lunch today) that say they need more time to evaluate this “new” crop of Hall of Famers, please also turn in your voting privilege. These men all had long careers and then FIVE YEARS of waiting before this came up. It’s not a surprise when the ballot comes, who is on it! I saw a piece today where Buster Olney was talking about who he will likely vote for NEXT year. It’s a cop out.
To the writers who say that there’s a difference between a first ballot Hall of Famer and others (the sentiment being, “If Dimaggio didn’t get in on the first ballot, none of these guys should”), please also turn in your vote. Your job is to vote on Hall of Famers, that’s it. Can you differentiate the First Ballot HOFers vs. the Non?
- Paul Molitor
- Eddie Murray
- Joe Dimaggio
- Yogi Berra
- Robin Yount
- George Brett
- Kirby Puckett
- Harmon Killebrew
- Eddie Matthews
Ok, that might have been better if I hadn’t named some already, but for the point of this exercise… Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Robin Yount, George Brett, & Kirby Puckett were all 1st Ballot Hall of Famers. Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Harmon Killebrew, & Eddie Matthews were not. All I can say is, please don’t tell me that Eddie Murray and Paul Molitor were a different class of player than those four.
And then the two that I won’t even expound on:
- Don’t tell me that no one has ever deserved to be voted in unanimously. It’s stupid that this has never happened.
- I refuse to let anyone even attempt to justify why Buck O’Neil wasn’t voted in when they had the special Negro Leagues election a few years ago. That was garbage.
Got Any Change?
There is some usefulness for outrage, but it is much more fruitful to have outrage coupled with suggestions for improvement. So here are just a few ideas of things that could hopefully improve this process. I am sure there could be more, so please feel free to comment with others. (The good news is that is says on the BBWAA website that the Hall of Fame ABSOLUTELY has the power and the right to change things. So here’s hoping that they do):
- Only active BBWAA Members should be eligible to vote.
- Shrink the voting populous – Reduce it to something like a panel of 100. How would we get to that number? I say you take the active BBWAA membership and then let the Hall of Fame review each voter’s past voting record to gauge which members best display a record that lines up with what the Hall believes best reflects the heritage of the game of baseball.
- Publish the votes – That way when a complete doofus uses one of his 2013 votes for former pitcher Aaron Sele (ARE YOU SERIOUS?! AARON SELE GOT A VOTE?!) that person can be ridiculed by the public and have his voting privileges revoked.
- Spell out the Criteria – Stop giving the writers too much latitude. If they are to consider players from the Steroid Era, put it in writing. That way if they don’t like it, their recourse is to renounce their voting position and they can make their public case that way.
- Expand the number of players you can vote for to 15
In Summary – I’m sure I have failed to complete all of my points or thoughts as thoroughly as I would like…but hey, I do this on lunch and have a real job, so cut me some slack! The points are there though. There needs to be change, and there are writers that absolutely need to lose their vote. The Hall of Fame is important and it’s time to take control over it and right some wrongs.