There's plenty of hand-wringing about the Hall of Fame. The great players who aren't getting in. The mediocre players who are getting in. The ridiculous old white men who are allowed to make the decisions.
There's already change underway, and that's a great thing to see. The BBWAA is a very conservative group, so I expect change to be slow. The ballot period has already been cut from 15 years to 10 years. Plus, with three Hall of Famers added last year and four more this year, the top of the ballot has thinned out more than I had honestly hoped for. So I'm not banging on walls with disgust over the latest ballot. Neither am I advocating that the Hall of Fame process be torn down and completely rebuild, the way writers like Carson Cistulli have argued for. There's something to be said of tradition.
I see the problem with the Hall of Fame's voting process in three parts: the nomination committee, the BBWAA vote, and the Veteran's Committee.
Today, let's talk about how players get on the ballot.
Actually, first, let's talk about the Hall of Fame's rules.
3-D. In case of the death of an active player or a player who has been retired for less than five (5) full years, a candidate who is otherwise eligible shall be eligible in the next regular election held at least six (6) months after the date of death or after the end of the five (5) year period, whichever occurs first.
See, this is my biggest gripe. This caveat is missing the point. I can understand a waiting period, but five years to be considered is too long, and ten years on the ballot is probably too long too. The worst thing that can happen is the Ron Santos situation, where a player is inducted a year too late. The point of the Hall of Fame, to me, is as much to honor the great players as it is to be a repository of history. It's about giving fans a chance to make the pilgrimage to Upstate New York to cheer for their heroes one more time.
And then, there's the waiting problem. Don Mattingly would have been better served had he fallen off the ballot ten years ago with his support hovering around 12%. In 2004, Mattingly got 12.8%; in 2009, he got 11.9%; and in 2014, he got 8.2%. The decision was made, at least within the voting block of the BBWAA.
So why not start by cutting the waiting period to three years? And then, instead of retaining everyone who gets at least 5% of the vote, raise the cut-off to 15%. This year, that would mean putting Fred McGriff, Larry Walker, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in the hands of the Veteran's Committee (which, if properly constructed is in the best position to evaluate their careers in the context of their era).
And then, and this is the important part, stop putting players on the ballot for a token appearance. Did anyone really expect Aaron Boone to win significant support for his one All-Star appearance, his 12 years (8 years with fewer than 110 games played), his below league average offense? Most voters have the willpower to resist those red herrings, but between them all, the players dropping off the ballot in their first year collected enough votes to push Mike Piazza into the Hall.