The baseball Hall of Fame announced its 2014 induction class on Wednesday and as usual those doing the voting got things mostly wrong. On the bright side, three deserving candidates, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas, will be enshrined in Cooperstown this summer, which certainly tops last year when nobody was put in. At the same time, though, plenty of deserving candidates were kept out due to PED use - confirmed, alleged, vaguely suspected or otherwise - and several others were denied admission because members of the BBWAA simply don't realize how good they were.
Some of the most egregious cases are almost painful to write about. Since this is a Yankees blog, we'll start with Mike Mussina, who got just 20.3 percent of the vote on his first ballot despite easily besting Glavine (who got 91.9 percent) and several other Hall of Fame pitchers in key career stats like ERA+, WHIP, FIP, strikeout rate, walk rate, fWAR and even winning percentage. That's not to suggest Glavine isn't a deserving Hall of Famer - he is, easily - but Mussina was better and the fact that he's considered borderline by most writers and pundits is absolutely absurd.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens got 198 and 202 votes respectively, good for just 34.7 and 35.4 percent despite their being arguably the best hitter and the best pitcher of the past fifty years. We won't even get into the fact that at least four voters saw fit to vote for Clemens, but not Bonds when the accusations against them are roughly the same. Yes, there's considerable evidence that both men used steroids, but what about Mike Piazza the all-time home runs leader for a catcher and Jeff Bagwell, whose .948 career OPS ranks in the top twenty all-time for players with more than 5,000 plate appearances? Baseball writers have nothing on either besides rumor and innuendo, yet still, both remain on the outside looking in.
The system for electing members of the baseball Hall of Fame isn't working, so it's time to change the system. Here are a few ideas on how:
Change who votes
Voting for the Hall of Fame is currently done by members of the BBWAA (the trade association for professional print baseball writers) who've been in the industry for ten years or more. Unfortunately, being a baseball writer for ten years doesn't necessarily mean you know what you're talking about, or that you're actually voting honestly with any degree of integrity. We know about Murray Chass, the 75-year-old former New York Times reporter who uses his ballot to symbolically shout "slow down, this is a neighborhood!" from his front porch. Chass has publicly stated that he'll never vote for anyone who thinks used PEDs, evidence be damned. Then there's MLB.com's Ken Gurnick who refuses to support anyone who even played in the steroid era, except for Jack Morris, who played in the steroid era. In Gurnickland, anyone who merely shared a ballpark with a PED user should be punished, but the racists, amphetamine poppers and recreational dope heads of the game's past are A-OK.
The ten-year requirement is one rule that could change. The BBWAA's logic makes some sense - since players must wait five years after retiring before being Hall of Fame eligible, only writers with considerable experience would have been working during the meat of their careers. But pro writers don't necessarily watch more baseball than aspiring writers. Beat reporters in AL cities don't see much NL baseball at all - and vice versa. The real result of the rule has been to produce a mostly older voting body, which tends to over-glorify the players of its youth and look down on their modern counterparts. Adding younger minds to the electorate - minds who better understand and are more willing to make use of modern-day numbers - might give the ballot a broader perspective.
Baseball writers have botched things badly, but would any other group do better? Broadcasters, ex-players and fans all have their biases and agendas. There's no sampling that would hit the nail on the head every time. Still, why not diversify? Include television and radio commentators. Include former players and coaches who aren't on the veterans committee. Bring in scouts. What about SABR? It's become most commonly associated with Bill James-style advanced statistics, but it's actually an organization dedicated to researching the history of baseball. Give them some votes to distribute among their more prominent members. Even a select number of fans who can demonstrate an acute knowledge of the game could be considered.
Stop letting the same people vote every year
One of the most ridiculous aspects of Hall of Fame voting is that the same voters will vote for different players in different years. It's one thing to leave a player off because you used up your ten votes, but often, writers will deny a player in his first few years because he's "not a first ballot guy," then circle his name later on because "he's waited long enough." That's incredibly stupid.
An idea would be to split the electorate into four groups and let each section vote only once every four years. That way, voters would value their ballots more - they wouldn't sell them to Deadspin like Dan Le Batard did this year - and they'd probably be more truthful in deciding who actually belongs in the hall of fame. They'd be less apt to preach or grandstand and less likely to hand out courtesy or tongue-in-cheek nods to guys like Armando Benitez and Jacque Jones. Beyond that, players who miss out one year would go before a completely different subset the next, allowing them a fresh and unique outlook from those who judge them.
Get rid of the ten player maximum
Voters are only allowed to choose up to ten players each year. When I filled out my mock ballot for Pinstripe Alley's election, I would have selected fifteen if I could have. There are probably real voters out there who feel the same, and they should be allowed to do so, if for no other reason than to combat the hard line types who vote for just one or two candidates or for no one at all.
Baseball worries that too many players getting inducted the same year would somehow "cheapen" the honor or "make the ceremony too long" but from what we've seen that probably wouldn't be an issue even if writers were given more votes. It's not as if ten guys a year are getting in now. If eleven or twelve or twenty-five players are all worthy at once, why not put them in? Because current Hall members don't want to sit out in the sun too long?
Get rid of the five percent rule
Players who receive less than five percent of the vote in a given year are eliminated from all future votes until they're eligible for consideration by the veteran's committee. The idea here is to prevent the ballot from becoming overcrowded as more players are added each year. The problem is that sometimes players who deserve more consideration don't get their rightful chance. Last year, Kenny Lofton, a great defensive center fielder who had a .372 career OBP and stole over 600 bases was knocked out on his first go around. So was Bernie Williams who had a career wRC+ of 126 and hit 22 postseason home runs. This year, Rafael Palmeiro, one of four players in MLB history with 500 home runs and 3,000 hits was ousted on his fourth ballot.
None of the players above necessarily belong in the Hall of Fame. Lofton and Williams' numbers come up slightly short and Palmeiro's lackluster production through most of his twenties calls his later-career performance into serious question. Nevertheless, these are guys who belong in the debate. If the ballot gets "too crowded", so what? Can the Hall of Fame not afford the paper and ink needed to print more pages? Do we care if the thing ends up looking like a telephone book? Anyone who can't take the time to sift through it doesn't deserve to vote.
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