This has been sitting in my out box for a week or so. Now that the Hall of Fame vote is in our rear view mirror, let me just offer this overview of the Hall and my “over-the-top” solution to the process. I apologize in advance for continuing the discussion on HOF voting, a topic that I tire of each year by mid-December.
A couple weeks ago, 4 players were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Congratulations to Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, and Craig Biggio. During the weeks leading up to and the days after the announcement, baseball writers and reporters from all media outlets voiced their opinions about this year’s vote, the voting procedures, and the voting electorate. All that has calmed down, so that now we’re back to just Bill Kenny occasionally offering his opinion on the HOF worthiness of players based on analytics.
One of the popular disagreements centers on who gets a vote. Eligible members of the BBWAA are very protective of their franchise. Baseball people outside the electorate offer plans that would expand the electorate to include themselves. I found the arguments on both sides self-serving and decided to look into the voting rules of the NBHOF.
Hall of Fame voting began in 1936 with the induction of five players. The initial voting criteria were –
- The Board of Directors of the Hall of Fame authorized the BBWAA to hold elections;
- Elections were to be held annually;
- Each member was required to submit a ballot of 10 players;
- Players had to have played during the 20th century;
- Players had to have played at least 10 seasons; and
- Players whose names were on 75% of the ballots were elected into the Hall.
The first 5 players elected into the hall were Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson. None were on 100% of the ballots. And thus was born one of the present day complaints against the BBWAA.
During the next decades, the Directors of the Hall amended the crules as they deemed necessary. But two of the initial criteria have remained constant – a player had to have played at least 10 seasons to be eligible, and a players’ name had to be on 75% of the ballots for admission to the Hall.
Some of the many changes have included –
- In 1937, the first change was made when BBWAA members were discouraged from voting for active players.
- In 1939, eligible players had to be retired and the vote was going to be held every 3 years instead of annually.
- After the war, the elections returned to an annual vote in 1946. Voters were required to select players from a pre-screened ballot of approved players who had been retired at least 1 year.
- In 1954, eligible players had to have been retired for at least 5 seasons.
- Several major changes were enacted in 1958 – the electorate was limited to BBWAA members with 10+ years of membership, the requirement of exactly 10 names on a ballot was changed to no more than 10 names on a ballot, elections would be held in even-numbered years, and a player whose name did not appear on 5% of the ballots would be removed from future ballots.
- In 1962, a players’ tenure on the ballot was limited to 15 years.
- In 1967, annual elections were reinstated. Voting rules remained constant until 2014 when a players’ tenure on the ballot was lowered to 10 years.
There have been a few other tweaks and changes during the years – run-off ballots were available off-and-on until they were done away with for good in 1969, a screening was implemented to limit ballots to 40 players in 1968, the character, integrity, and sportsmanship rule (as it applies to the game on the field) was implemented in 1945, the Clemente waiver, the Pete Rose rule, the establishment of the various special committees, et al.
As I went through the history of the BBWAA voting procedures, I came to realize that the BBWAA has done a creditable job maintaining voting criteria and electing players into the Hall. Sure there are some guys who probably don’t deserve to be in there because there numbers are a little short. And there are probably a few guys who do belong in there who haven’t made it yet. But, all in all, the BBWAA has done a good job.
Which brings me back to today’s argument to expand the voting to include baseball people outside of the BBWAA among the voting electorate. I have an affinity for neither group. Since I don’t feel strongly either way, I wouldn’t bother trying to fix something that clearly isn’t broken.
I alluded to a change at the beginning of this article. The one change I would enact is the length of time a player remains on the ballot. I would shorten it still further to one year only. This would address 2 subjects with which I have a problem.
First, members of the BBWAA have 5 years to research a player before he becomes eligible for the Hall ballot. How many more hits does a hitter get or strike outs does a pitcher record after his first year on the ballot that he would get more votes in his second, third, or fourth year on the ballot. I think when Richie Ashburn was finally selected for the Hall, he commented, “I don’t know why all of a sudden, I haven’t had a hit in 33 years”. Or words to that effect. If a player is good enough to receive a vote in his fifth year of eligibility or his fiftieth, then he was good enough in his first year of eligibility.
And second, one year of eligibility would minimize the “specialness” of a first year selection. Voters who penalize players on their first year of eligibility simply because it is their first year would have to reconsider.
If a player is not elected to the Hall after his first year of eligibility, his name goes into a new commitee that determines whether he is admitted to the Hall. Putting this commitee into the hands of the a group comprised of analytics guys and non-print media types seems like a palatable idea. I’m sure the BBWAA would hate this and treat their coveted franchise more seriously.
I know that this is not at all likely. And it wouldn’t stop the yearly bickering over the election of players into the Hall. All it would really do is change the types of arguments that fill TV space. And I would still tire of the discussions in mid-December. Thanks for listening.