How To Fix the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Voting Problem

It’s that time of year; the time where we pay homage to baseball’s best all-time players with a Hall of Fame ceremony.  Sunday will mark the 80th Hall of Fame class in the establishment’s history, and the second year in a row in which there were at least three player inductees. This season, the honorees will include all-time greats Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Craig Biggio, and John Smoltz.  Each year, the BBWAA’s (Baseball Writers Association of America) 549 voting members vote on the ballot, and while they get it right more often than they don’t, that doesn’t mean that the voting process is necessarily effective.

For those who are unaware, here are some of the rules for Baseball Hall of Fame voting.  The 549 members of the BBWAA are allowed to vote for 10 former players per year for the Hall of Fame, and those players need to have played in Major League Baseball for at least 10 years and been retired for at least five years.  If a former player has been deceased for at least six months, he can also be eligible for induction.  Players need 75% of the BBWAA vote for induction, and those who receive less than 5% of the vote are eliminated from induction.

If a player is not disqualified but does not receive the 75% necessary for enshrinement after ten years on the ballot, he can be considered by something that was called the Veterans Committee every third year.  Notable former players inducted by the Veterans Committee include Ron Santo (2012), Orlando Cepeda (1999) and Jim Bunning (1996).  The Veterans Committee can also elect managers, umpires and executives, as it did with Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, and Bobby Cox last year.  However, this committee was broken into three committees in 2010: the pre-Integration Era Committee (1876-1946), the Golden Era Committee (1947-1972) and the Expansion Era Committee (1973-present).

But this process doesn’t work.  You may have heard the stories about how a sizable portion of the voters simply do not follow the game, and have not followed the game for a long period of time.  Here’s an example I found: ESPN’s Dan Graziano.  Graziano reached his 10-year requirement by covering the then-Florida Marlins from 1996-1999 for The Palm Beach Post and the Yankees from 2000-2008 for The Star-Ledger.  After that, he spent two years as an NFL writer for AOL Fan House and, since 2011, has been ESPN.com’s NFC East Blogger.

He hasn’t covered the game in seven years.

In light of this story, here are some proposals to fix the issues with the Hall of Fame voting in baseball.

1. Let the Writers Do What They Want with Their Ballots

I thought of this in light of something that happened last year.  ESPN’s Dan Le Batard, who had a Hall of Fame vote in 2014, did not decide to use it himself.  Instead, he gave it to Deadspin, a site that has had many a tussle with ESPN over the years.  Deadspin then let its readers vote yes or no for a player to be in the Hall of Fame, with the top 10 vote-getters being submitted on Le Batard’s, and Deadspin’s, ballot.

The BBWAA responded by suspending him for one year and forever revoking his Hall of Fame voting privileges.  But Le Batard should be able to do what he wants to do with his ballot.  The sanctity of the voting process is incredibly overblown, and there is no better example than last year’s voting. As SI.com’s Cliff Corcoran wrote, one voter decided not to vote for Greg Maddux for an incredibly dumb reason:

No player has ever been elected unanimously to the Hall of Fame and four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux, the most obvious of the many deserving candidates on this year’s ballot, won’t be the first. We now know that for sure thanks to MLB.com’s commendable tradition of posting its writers’ ballots the day before the results are announced. There are 17 MLB.com writers who have been members of the Baseball Writers Association of America for 10 or more years and thus are eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame. Sixteen of them voted for Maddux. Dodgers beat reporter Ken Gurnick did not.

Why not? Gurnick wrote that he won’t vote for any player who “played during the period of PED use.” Not one. So who was on his ballot? Just Jack Morris. That’s the exact same ballot, and the same explanation, almost verbatim, that Gurnick submitted last year. Before you credit Gurnick for consistency, he had Lee Smith on his ballot in 2012 and dropped him last year without explanation, and in 2011 he did not vote for Morris.

Those irregularities merely reveal the internal hypocrisy of Gurnick’s votes. His reasoning is far more problematic, and not simply because he has decided to eliminate an entire generation of ballplayers from his ballot. One need not even wade into those waters to point out that Gurnick’s definition of “the period of PED use” is woefully lacking. Assuming one even could establish a starting point for such a period, it would have come comfortably within the playing days of Morris, Smith and Bert Blyleven, whom Gurnick also voted for in 2011.

That’s ridiculous.  How is a writer simply deciding against voting for Maddux because he played in a certain era not worse than Le Batard letting the readers of a website vote on his ballot?  Worst of all, this is the ballot that the Deadspin readers came up with.  Tell me with a straight face this isn’t better than Gurnick’s ballot.:

  1. Greg Maddux
  2. Frank Thomas
  3. Tom Glavine
  4. Mike Piazza
  5. Craig Biggio
  6. Edgar Martinez
  7. Jeff Bagwell
  8. Roger Clemens
  9. Barry Bonds
  10. Curt Schilling

Deadspin’s readers did not do badly at all.  You could make a case for any of the 10 they voted for to make the Hall.  While I disagree with allowing players who were suspected of taking steroids to be enshrined, the reasoning behind voting for those players (Bonds and Clemens) is certainly understandable.

2. Change Up the Type of People Who Vote

The fact that all of the people who vote belong to the BBWAA is ridiculous.  There are very few differing perspectives on the legacies of former players and that is simply because of the nature of the voting process.  Changing the people who vote, however, could change that.  Since there were 549 ballots cast this year, we’ll make the 550 the number of voters, as 550 is a round number.  So here is my proposal to change Hall of Fame voting:

  1. 200 BBWAA writers (must be currently covering a beat or the game)
  2. 200 Broadcasters (Play-by-play, color analysts, studio analysts, with a 10-year requirement of covering the game)
  3. All 30 MLB Managers
  4. All 30 MLB GMs
  5. All 30 Team Presidents
  6. 10 Scouts chosen based on tenure and service to the game
  7. 50 sabermetricians

I feel that this is a fair way to conduct the voting process.  While no proposal to fix the voting process is perfect, this is most likely the best way to change things up in Cooperstown.  I still feel that writers and broadcasters are the most qualified people to vote on the Hall of Fame.  After that, allowing the current GMs, managers, and team presidents voting privileges gives more currency and perspective to the ballot; however, only allowing these people to vote for 10 may allow for bias in voting (we’ll get back to this later).  Allowing the ten longest tenured scouts to vote gives more reasoning to the voting committee because their tenure in the game shows that they are pretty darn good at evaluating talent, which is crucial in voting for the Hall.

And finally, I’m letting 50 sabermetricians into the voting process because of the role advanced stats plays in the modern game’s decision making.  If you don’t think advanced stats is an important part of the game, you probably haven’t been following the game, kind of like some of the BBWAA writers.

3. Don’t Limit the Hall of Fame Ballots to Just 10 Names

Allowing our new voters to vote for more than 10 players will allow voters to vote for as many qualified players as they want.  Related to this, I don’t feel that it is necessary to change the 5% rule or the 10 years on the ballot rule.  However, some of the current front office members and scouts may have an inherent bias toward certain players because of experience and working with certain teams. Allowing the voters to put more than just ten on their ballots can neutralize some of this bias.

4. Keep the 75% Rule, But 3 Players Must Get In Every Year

This is what we need to do; make the Hall of Fame more inclusive. Because the word “museum” in in the official name of the Hall, we must allow more former players to get in, and this is how we do it.  If there are less than three players enshrined in our new system, the three aforementioned committees must automatically make up the difference and add the necessary number of players to get to the magic number of three.  Because these committees vote on different eras, they can combine their votes.  The player that gets the most combined votes gets enshrined.  These committees can still elect umpires, managers, and executives, but this is where they are most critical.  Allowing three players in each year will ensure continuity and avoid a disaster like 2013, where no players got in.

This is not a perfect way to fix the Hall of Fame’s issues.  No proposal will be perfect, but this one is fair in my view.  The important people in the game get a say on who gets in, three players get in every year, and the voters have the freedom to do what they want with their ballot.  It’s not perfect.  No proposal is.

But it’s a huge improvement from what we have now.

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