DISCLAIMER: Although this is my first article regarding the Hall of Fame, I can assure you it will not be my last. Hall of Fame season in baseball tends to bring out many heated debates, especially considering that a lot of folks on the ballot now are former PED users. This is just one aspect of the Hall of Fame with which I take particular issue but don’t fret if you want to hear about something else because I will definitely be writing about it at some point in the future. Without further ado: my thoughts on how to amend the Hall of Fame voting process.
Being elected to the Hall of Fame is, in my opinion, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon any baseball player. Many people are of the opinion that voting for the Hall of Fame is flawed in one way or another, and the results of recent certainly indicate that whomever is voting on the players who have the privilege of being inducted could be doing a much better job. That’s not to say that Ken Griffey and Mike Piazza (last year’s HOF class) didn’t deserve to be in the hall, but guys like Bernie Williams, Alan Trammell and Dwight Evans who weren’t elected certainly have a fantastic case for getting elected to the Hall.
I cite WAR (wins above replacement) a lot on this blog, and while the stat has its flaws, it’s generally a good tool to use to compare players with one another. With that said, I don’t think the Hall of Fame should simply be comprised of the list of the top players by WAR. Bernie Williams is a great example of this.
Williams played 16 seasons, all with the Yankees, won four World Series rings and led the league in batting average once. He was also a five time all-star, four time gold glover and won a silver slugger once. He didn’t have Willie Mays or Barry Bonds numbers but he wasn’t bad by any means. He basically had baseline Hall of Fame numbers during his 16-year career: 2336 hits, 287 HR, 147 SB, 1366 runs, 1257 RBI and, here’s the kicker and a .297 batting average. He didn’t have any of the “guaranteed ins” for players (what you need to guarantee that you get into the Hall) but he had a very good career overall and, most importantly, he was incredibly consistent. Bernie had 8 straight seasons with an average above .300, 6 straight seasons with 20+ HR, and he played over 100 games in each of his final 14 seasons, with eight of those being 140 games or more. What happened to Bernie when he was on the ballot? He got 9.6% of the vote his first year, enough to stay on for a second year, but in his second year he fell off because he didn’t garner at least 5% of the vote.
This brings me to my first suggested change for voters: let the voters vote for as many people as they want. Most people probably think this is a ridiculous suggestion, but think about it: the chances of players like Bernie Williams don’t get hindered just because he has to share a ballot with players almost guaranteed to get into the Hall at some point (some of these guys already have): Mike Piazza, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Curt Schilling. Those seven guys were all on the same ballot in 2013. I’ll discuss about players who did PEDs in a later post, but if you include all these guys on your 2013 ballot (they should be there) that only leaves three spots to vote for the following guys, who also should probably be in the Hall but are (were) not surefire guys: Edgar Martínez, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Bernie Williams, and Fred McGriff. Those are seven additional players who warrant very serious consideration for the Hall, but since they have to share ballots with guys who are surefire Hall of Famers (Piazza and Biggio are in already and the other folks will likely get in within the next few years) they lose their opportunity to make it to the Hall. Does this devalue a player’s spot in the Hall a little bit? Yeah, maybe. But as of this year there are 120 players in the Hall of Fame, an institution which has existed for eighty years. Are the baseball writers seriously insinuating that there are only three players deserving of a spot in the Hall for every two years of baseball played? That’s what seems to be the case based on how the writers have been voting, and with the appearance of more and more steroid users on the ballot each year, I have no doubt in my mind that we will continue to see elections where not many guys get in.
Also, there’s the fact that not all the writers use all their votes. An average Hall of Fame ballot contains between eight and nine votes of the allotted 10. For me, and most of the people with whom I have talked about the subject, voting for the Hall of Fame isn’t about if you should use your 10 votes, it’s on whom you should use those votes. The writers are given 10 votes for a reason. If they’re not going to utilize each vote they have the privilege of exercising, don’t even set an arbitrary limit; just let the writers choose however many guys they want to because that’s often what they do anyway. In 2016, of the 306 voters who publicized their ballots, only 146 of them (if I’m not mistaken) utilized all 10 votes. That’s less than 50% (47.7% to be exact). If there are voters who don’t want to utilize their maximum vote total then there are probably guys who want to vote for more than ten players. Let them do it.
And that brings me to my addendum to this rule. If you’re going to keep it at a 10 vote maximum, make everyone use all ten of their votes and don’t count their ballot if they send you a ballot with fewer. Yup, I said it. You don’t think 10 players on the ballot are worthy of making it to Cooperstown? Too bad. If you don’t think Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton are worthy of being President of the United States and you send your ballot in blank, the machines don’t say “oh that counts as a vote for nobody so let’s make ‘nobody’ a candidate and if they get more votes than Clinton or Trump, neither of them get elected,” they say: “This vote doesn’t count for anyone but it doesn’t hurt the chances of the candidates who are up for election.” It’s not a perfect parallel, but why can’t Hall of Fame voting be conducted the same way?
My second rule change is this: get the fans somehow involved. The NFL Hall of Fame permits fans to nominate a player for consideration simply by doing the following:
- Write the Hall of Fame stating the player you would like to nominate.
That’s it. That’s all you have to do. It’s only nominating so it’s not that much involvement in the process, but it’s more than nothing. Ideally there would be a poll on the MLB Hall of Fame’s official website that counts for around 5% of the vote, with the other 95% coming from the writers. Speaking of the writers…
Rule change number three: find a better electorate than just the writers. Do I have a concrete ten-point plan to find a better electorate? No. In my perfect scenario it would be some combination of baseball writers, fans, players, managers, GMs, owners and current Hall of Famers, but finding the perfect balance would be difficult. With that said, any mixture of the people I mentioned in the last sentence would be a better electorate than we have now. The Hall of Fame voting procedure (writers choose) was developed in a time when the baseball writers were the only people who had exposure to the game every day and watched every player’s at-bats, starts and actions. Not to take any credit away from the ladies and gentlemen who have worked their behinds off to get to the position they are in now, but there are really only a few differences between a fifty-year-old baseball writer and a fifty-year-old baseball fan. The writer and the fan both have the ability to pull up any statistic they could ever imagine in a few clicks, they both have the ability to watch any game they want whenever they want, and they both have a public forum to get their opinions out, although the writer typically has better exposure because they write for a major publication and has a larger social media following. Is this an oversimplified version of the truth? Absolutely. But my point isn’t that baseball writers everywhere aren’t extremely talented and knowledgeable, it’s that we’re not in 1940 anymore; the writers aren’t the only people who know what’s up in baseball and they shouldn’t be the only ones who have a say on who gets into Cooperstown.
Are these rules the be-all-end-all of Hall of Fame voting rules? Not in any capacity. But the Hall of Fame voting process needs to be amended far beyond the changes made in 2014. There are countless other rules I’m sure could be seen as viable, one of which would be the NFL’s Hall of Fame election rule which stipulates that between four and eight candidates must be selected each year. I don’t think the MLB needs nearly that many, but maybe a number in the three to six range every year would be nice. At least it would be nice enough to not have years like 2013 where no candidate got elected.
(Image credit: Dave Krieger)