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Monday, November 29, 2004

An Open Letter to the Hall of Fame

Daniel outlines how the Hall of Fame can undertake real election reform.

To My Friends in Cooperstown:

I’ve tried to help.  Really.  I brainstormed ideas for two previous articles, took the time to write them up, and the kind

people at this site judged them good enough to post here for all to see.  What has it changed?  Nothing.

My pessimism regarding the 2004 election did not prove out, thank goodness.  Eckersley and Molitor were somehow elected. 

Maybe things are turning for the better.  Bert Blyleven’s support continues to improve, doubling over the past four

elections.  Still, he has less then half the support needed for enshrinement.  That’s simply absurd.  With all of the

knowledge gained in historical research and statistical analysis in the last generation, there is no excuse for Blyleven’s

poor level of support.

It comes down to this: You and I both know that the BBWAA is missing guys.  You’ve known this for over sixty years.  The

old-timers committees of the 1930’s and 40’s were created because it was obvious that the writers would not elect the 19th

century guys, whom they had not seen play, except for the most obvious greats.

After a few more elections, it was clear the writers had missed some deserving 20th century greats.  The Veterans Committee

(VC), in force from 1953-2001, was formed to pick up the players the BBWAA was missing in their elections.  This was an

unfortunate decision because it totally undermined the authority of the primary electorate.  Even worse, it created a

subclass of hall of famers; it soon became obvious that the VC was exceeding its mandate, not only electing the BBWAA

oversights, but just as often, elevating their buddies who were of lesser quality.  This unjustly relegates all the VC

selections to a lower status in the eyes of the baseball public.

But you, the Hall, do not acknowledge any stratification; all hall of famers are honored in the same way whether the BBWAA or

the VC picked them.  This implies that you believe there is but one standard defining a hall of famer, not a BBWAA pick

vis-à-vis a VC pick.  Therefore, when judging whether a candidate meets minimum Hall standards, you would compare him to the

players comprising the lower tier in the Hall, who, as we know, were overwhelmingly voted in by the VC.

Actually, the creation of the VC was another in a series of indictments of the BBWAA voter’s suitability for the task of

electing hall of famers.  Soon after 1953, a rule was passed limiting voters to consider only players who appeared in MLB for

ten seasons; then they said you can’t vote for a guy until he’s been retired for five years; in 1964 they were further

limited, being allowed to vote only for players retired up to twenty years ago, rather than thirty; a couple years later the

voters were limited to voting only for candidates passed by a ballot screening committee.  Finally, in 1979 a player was

banned from the ballot permanently if he failed to get 5% support in one election.

Every one of these changes narrowed the field of players the voters were allowed to consider.  Apparently, it was thought

these restrictions on candidacies were necessary for the voters to perform their task properly.  They cannot be trusted to

have proper historical perspective or be able to “separate the wheat from the chaff,” so they are allowed only a very narrow

slice of players to assess.

Over the decades, the role of the BBWAA voters has been reduced to little more than an honorarium; they get to wave in the

all-time greats, the no-brainers.  Whoopee.  It is only when they elect a player who approaches VC-quality that they get even

the slightest controversy.  In the last 17 elections (1988-2004) their weakest picks (Perez, Sutton, Puckett) look darn good

by VC standards.

Instead of creating a secondary body to review the writers’ job, there were other ways the situation could have been handled.

You could have decided to simply elect at minimum two players per year, more if they attained 75% support.  If this had been

done in 1953, there would now be less than 160 players in the Hall, not 193; the only really poor selections would be from

the mistakes of the old-timers committee in 1945-46.  Along with this, you could have granted perpetual eligibility for

election, rather than arbitrary limitations for candidates.  But this didn’t happen.  Instead, the VC was granted a 49-year

run to populate the Hall with their friends, thereby defining the Hall’s lower tier and establishing the minimum standards

for a hall of famer.

Rather than marginalizing the BBWAA, why not look for ways to improve their process?  Start by discouraging voters who aren’t

doing the job of identifying and voting for worthy players.  This is what I am suggesting be done now; even at this late date

it would do much to correct the process.

1) Make the balloting public.  What do they have to hide?  Already, a great many writers devote a column or two to the hall

of fame ballot they are casting.  For them, it’s an easy column to hammer out, and for those of us who care about the hall of

fame, it’s a good way to judge how qualified they are to handle the responsibility of voting.

It would be pretty simple to use the Hall’s website to publish every ballot, providing the voter’s address or email so fans

can easily interact with them.

Making the balloting public brings accountability to the process.  In 2004, 19 voters had Joe Carter on their ballot.  What

could possibly be the reasoning for thinking he was among the top ten candidates on the ballot?  In 1999, six voters didn’t

vote for Nolan Ryan and nine did not vote for George Brett.  Who were these lunatics and what was their rationale for these

omissions?  If they dribble out something like, “Joe DiMaggio didn’t make it on the first ballot, and he was better,” or

“Babe Ruth and Willie Mays weren’t unanimous so nobody should ever be,” that leads me to the next suggestion.

2) Clarify the rules for voting.  You need to tell the voters, in underlined capitals, something like this: TO MAINTAIN YOUR

PRIVILEGES AS A MEMBER OF THE ELECTORATE FOR THE HALL OF FAME, YOU ARE REQUIRED TO UPHOLD CERTAIN RESPONSIBILITIES.  IT IS

EXPECTED YOU WILL UNDERTAKE A THOROUGH AND CAREFUL STUDY OF ALL THE CANDIDATES, MINDFUL OF THE LEVELS OF CHARACTER AND

STATISTICAL STANDARDS ATTAINED BY THE TYPICAL MEMBER OF THE HALL OF FAME.  YOU ARE EXPECTED TO LIST UP TO TEN PLAYERS WHO, IN

YOUR ANALYSIS, MOST EXCEED THE MINIMUM STANDARDS ESTABLISHED BY PAST SELECTIONS TO THE HALL.  DENYING A VOTE TO A PLAYER ONLY

BECAUSE HE IS IN HIS FIRST YEAR ELIGIBLE IS NOT ALLOWED.  BLANK BALLOTS WILL NOT BE INCLUDED IN THE VOTING TALLY.

Most of this is obvious, but it needs to be said.  The part about first-year players is practically unenforceable, but it may

discourage the practice.  As for blank ballots, this is simply being contrarian or lazy.  With the Hall’s standards being

what they are, there has never been a shortage of qualified candidates on the BBWAA ballot.  We’ll tolerate blank ballots,

for now.  However, they will only register as a protest vote, so as not to impede candidates from attaining 75% support.

3) Limit the number of voters.

a) Stop automatically sending out ballots.  These days, about 500 ballots are cast each year in the BBWAA election.  Ballots

are mailed out to all ten-year members of the BBWAA.  Let’s only send ballots to those who apply for them.

b) On the ballot application, have them complete this sentence: “I am qualified to be an elector for the Hall of Fame

because….”  Seriously, have them write a short essay, about 50 words.  Writing isn’t hard for these guys, but can they

think?  This will demonstrate whether voters have a serious interest to be a part of the process, as well as indicate who has

a greater likelihood of being a conscientious voter.

c) Track each voter’s record.  You should know who is consistently casting short ballots and whose ballots are highly

idiosyncratic.  A few years of data will reveal which voters are stumbling blocks towards consensus.  Some voters will balk

at any directions established to guide their voting decisions, and may even attempt to make a mockery of the process, so

there needs to be a mechanism for weeding out voters who refuse to get with the program. The idea is to get voters to focus

on the best candidates so that they are not leaving out any deserving players for a veterans committee to rescue.  This means

they need to average at least 2.5 inductees per year (see addendum for calculations of this number).  In the past 15

elections (1990-2004), they’ve elected only 24.  The VC has already picked up three that they missed in those years (Bunning,

Mazeroski, Cepeda).  Santo, Kaat, Oliva and others are waiting for their time.

People must realize that the hall of fame voting exists to elect the best players.  If the aim were to keep players out, we

wouldn’t need to hold elections at all.  In the type of voting employed by the Hall, where a 75% supermajority is required

for election, there is little room for highly idiosyncratic or deliberately contrarian voting; building consensus is the only

way to elect the less obvious choices.  Furthermore, if the voters are electing fewer players than the established Hall

standard, about 2.5 per year, they are creating a backlog of qualified players.  This is not only unfair, to apply a higher

standard to more recent stars, but also unreasonable when there are more major leaguers than at any time previously.  Voters

whose record shows they do not abide by this rationale, along with electors who don’t vote or who cast a blank ballot, should

be most likely to be culled in the annual 20% turnover.

d) Establish a set number of voters.  Take control of the process.  Pick a number; somewhere in the range of 100 to 500 seems

sensible, and choose from among the applicants for voting privileges.  Then institute a set turnover percentage, say 20% each

year.  Being a voter for the Hall should be an honor, not simply accruing to a person because he’s served his time.  Rather

than delegating the job to some group, whose members may or may not be qualified, let’s move toward an expert panel whose

membership has been screened by the Hall.  This may consist of a subset of the current BBWAA electorate; or better yet, we

would also recruit qualified voters who pursue baseball in areas other than writing for newspapers.

4) Use a runoff election.  If the regular balloting results in no player, or only one, gaining the 75% needed for election,

hold a runoff election to elect one player.  Induct the top vote getter, even if they receive less than 75% support in the

runoff.

Go The Distance - If you really want to do it right, a couple more suggestions.

5) Make everyone eligible.  Well, almost everybody; I’d still have them be retired for two years and be at least age 40.  But

those are quibbles.  No, I’m not crazy.  This is the only way to restore integrity to the voting process, to have one voting

body with one set of standards with no limits on eligibility.  I would even let Joe Jackson and Pete Rose be eligible; let

the voters decide if their misdeeds should keep them out of the Hall.  Can voters handle 14,000+ candidates?  If they balk at

this, that’s OK, we don’t need them.  We want voters who relish the task of considering everyone who ever played in MLB.  In

any case, after a year or two a pecking order would be established.

This could be phased in over three years.  In 2005, players retired in 1999 and 2000 who are age 40 by 12/31/04 would be

newly eligible; in 2006 we could add the players retired in 2001-2002; in 2007 add the retirees from 2003-2004.

6) Require filled ballots.  We’re voting to elect the best players.  This will not be accomplished with empty ballots.  Now

that we have so many candidates to choose from, voters should be expected to find ten worthy candidates to list on their

ballot.

Adoption of my recommendations would reenergize a process that has become hopeless and stale.  The BBWAA itself has no

thought of reforming its electorate, feeling secure that their status is permanent.  However, the illusion that the writers

possess superior knowledge, to better choose the Hall inductees, has been shattered by annual mock elections on the Internet.

The results of these unwashed net surfers compare closely to what we get from the real election.  It’s time to shake things

up and alert the BBWAA that you’ve adopted a new, more serious attitude towards electing players to the Hall, that you’re

acting on the knowledge that there is a better way.

That leaves us with the task of instituting change.  Theorizing is easy; living is tough.  Overcoming inertia and people’s

resistance to change is always the primary stumbling block.  A strategy for change is needed, a plan to get people on board

for improvement and to dispel the objections of the naysayers.

The first thing to do is announce a long-term plan to improve the election process.  Some of the objectives are: 1) to make

the process more open, 2) to ensure that all voters are well qualified for the task, 3) to excite more interest among the

fans by encouraging discussion among and between the voters and fans, 4) to eventually phase out the veterans committee

player election.

After the initial announcement, implementation is pretty easy, except perhaps for #3d.  You will have to decide what is a

manageable size for the electorate, as well as specifying whom you will allow to apply to vote and the qualifications

desirable in voters.

In summary, you and I both want the Hall of Fame to be seen as the worthy bestower of baseball’s highest honor.  At present,

this status is widely questioned, when your membership lacks dozens of players who were demonstrably better than many chosen

for enshrinement.  To have credibility, there must be one overriding standard of excellence employed in electing members.  In

addition, there should not be arbitrary limitations imposed on candidacies.  And the electorate must be acknowledged as

qualified and worthy to be entrusted with the task of identifying the best players.

For a better hall of fame, I am,

Dan Greenia

Calculation of Hall of Fame Average Inductees Per Year

The number 2.5 was decided upon after using three different ways of calculating the number.

1. Recent History - In the past three years, 2002-2004, there have been five players elected, all by the BBWAA.  The highly

restrictive rules currently in use by the VC are not representative of the Hall’s history and are not likely to remain

unchanged for very long.  Therefore, we look to the years just prior to this reformation to gauge recent levels of

inductions.  From 1986-2001, there were 40 former MLB players elected (25 BW, 15 VC).  That averages to 2.5 (40 ( 16).

2. Entire Hall History - In its history, 1936-2004, the Hall lists 193 elected as MLB players.  That averages to 2.797 per

year (193 ( 69).  Included in this is the backlog of players from the 19th century who never received full consideration from

the BBWAA and were eventually picked up by the VC.  This includes about 22 players. Chronologically: Radbourn, Welch, Galvin,

O’Rourke, Kelly, Keefe, Ward, Clarkson, Brouthers, McCarthy, Anson, Ewing, Connor, Thompson, McPhee, Hamilton, Rusie,

Burkett, Nichols, Beckley, Kelley, G.Davis.  That leaves 171 Hall members who were “fully” considered since the Hall began

electing.  That averages to 2.48 players per year (171 ( 69).

3. Hall of Famers retiring each year - In the beginning, the BBWAA voters could vote for anybody, regardless if they were

active or when they retired.  Practically speaking, this meant you only had a chance of election if you played in the past 30

years.  In the first three elections, 1936-38, they were busy electing the gods of the game.  Thus, if you retired about 1908

or later you were on the voters’ radar.  Players in the era prior to this are underrepresented in the Hall, having faded from

the BBWAA voters’ collective memory by the time they began considering them.

On the other end of the spectrum are players retired too recently to have ever received full consideration from the VC. 

Before the reform three years ago, the VC would consider players who were inactive for 23 years and at least three years

after BBWAA eligibility expired.  This means that players retired in the 1970’s and early 1980’s never had much chance, if

any, before the Hall clamped down on the VC.  Included in this group are Santo, Minoso, Oliva, Kaat, Tiant, Torre, Pinson,

Munson, Lolich, Flood, Bonds, and Allen.  Basically, players retired after about 1974 never had a fair shot at being rescued

by the VC.

We’ll look at 69 years of baseball history 1908-76, where we can say that the players retiring in that span received

reasonably full consideration by the Hall of fame electorates.  How many of the 193 retired in those years?  140 players. 

How many more are likely to be elected from that span?  At least three more.  That averages to 2.07 (143 ( 69).  However,

there are many more major league players now; from about 17 MLB teams in an average year in that 69-year span, players

retiring in the past twenty years have played in an era averaging 25 teams, a 47% increase.  I’m not going to argue we should

raise the target to three retirees per year, but if we just split the difference and increase the target by 23%, we should be

looking to elect 2.55 players per year (2.07 x 1.23).

Daniel Greenia Posted: November 29, 2004 at 05:00 AM | 27 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. kcboomer Posted: November 29, 2004 at 04:57 PM (#986346)
I think most of us would like to see better voting by the BBWAA, but they are really an outdated electorate. For the first 100 years of the game they were about the only ones who saw enough games to constitute an electorate. Now there are a gazillion people who see more games. We would be better off developing an electorate of educated baseball enthusiasts who study the game.

Have people test to be part of this electorate. You can't make this a cattle call, but you could invite people to join subject to passing the test. And make this the only electorate.

I am not sure about everyone remaining on the ballot forever. I would prefer that the electorate be require to review a five year period starting 1876 in every upcoming election until they get to up to current times. The shut it down to the 20 year period.

It would also be nice if this group could review the current inductees, and while they can't remove anyone, at least state whose career shouldn't use as part of the calculations towards "HoF standards".
   2. Ephus Posted: November 29, 2004 at 06:22 PM (#986463)
I do not concur with the premise that the HOF is broken. It is clearly the most respected HOF in U.S. Sports. Players, writers and fans all think about HOF induction when considering a player's current accomplishments. (To compare the NFL HOF, I have rarely heard anyone say that a player's accomplishment (10,000 rushing yards, 100 sacks, etc.) should make them a lock for the HOF). The most controversial exclusion from the HOF is Pete Rose, whose case for re-instatement took a major hit (in popular opinion) with last year's book. Very few casual fans are up in arms about Blyleven's exclusion (and I would vote for him).

I highly doubt that the HOF will undertake major structural change. It would be great if the HOF actually adopted explicit standards, but I doubt that any set of standards could gain widespread approval. In short, it ain't broke and I don't think they are going to try to fix it.
   3. Chuck Nobriga Posted: November 29, 2004 at 08:01 PM (#986610)
Daniel,
What an excellant article. I want to add some confusion to your proposal with one of my own. I submitted this proposal to Jack Lang, then President of the BBWAA, many years ago and received a very nasty response of how all I wnated was to put everybody in the Hall-of-Fame. It fell completely on deaf ears. Absolutely no understanding at all. This is the kind of thinking you are up against. They don't want to change anything, and I don't know why.

Hall-of-Fame Ballot Eligibility
by Chuck Nobriga (Manteca, CA)
Abandon the 5% rule in any given year and replace with a better system. This has been debated for years and no one seems able to come up with a better idea. Now we have one.

In the player's first year of eligibility he will need 1% to stay on the ballot a second year. The second year he will need 2% to remain for a third year. 3% the third year and so on all the way to the fifteenth and final year of eligibility. If the player lasts that long he becomes eligible for the Veteran's Committee.

This way borderline players have to keep improving each year to remain. The trade off here is that a player needs fewer votes in his early years of eligibility and considerably more in later years. Two recent examples with different outcomes come to mind. Dwight Evans would still be on the ballot and Don Larsen would not have hung around for fifteen years. It is easy to see the futility of Larsen getting 5% year after year and Evans not remaining on the ballot due to a 3% showing when George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount all hit the ballot at the same time in Evans' third year of eligibility.

Give this idea some thought and it may lead to a different ballot than exsists today. Players could be listed by how many years they have remaining. Or by the percentage they will need to get on next year's ballot.

These changes in no way would affect the 75% total needed for induction. It would however change, by a small number, the players that the Veteran's Committee could consider. Some people feel that the present rule is too restrictive. I submit that it is too restrictive to players in their early years of eligibility, also.
   4. Snowboy Posted: November 30, 2004 at 04:59 AM (#987460)
Very good letter, Daniel.
You've thought it through. I like many of the proposals.
I particularly like the idea that someone should be "checking up" on the voters. I don't know if making them all public is the way to do it. I support proposal (2), detailing a code for voting. And part of (3), where you talk about culling the voters.

According to Leonard Koppett, the HOF voters can be anyone who was at at one time a member of the BBWAA for ten years. "Those with fewer than ten years of experience can't vote, but once you qualify, you remain eligible to vote even when you pass on to "inactive" status upon retirement or movement into another job."

I would support creation of a small, private committee to evaluate voter conduct. They could handle some of the situations Daniel mentions in his letter. Does anyone know if this is already done?

For example, if a voter has not returned a ballot in many years, contact them, and take them off the list if they are no longer interested. (I think it's okay for a guy to not vote once in a while, perhaps he doesn't like any of the candidates. But if it's a five year gap, and he can't even vote for George Brett...he deserves a chat.)
Or if there are a bunch of voters who have sent in ballots for seven straight years with only a write-in for "Oil Can Boyd", remind them of the priviledge they have as voters.
Or if a voter earned his voting card a long time ago and has left baseball writing, and the committee tracks his ballots and finds a lot of irregularities, approach the voter and determine if they still want/deserve a ballot.
Or if a voter has for fifteen years been sending in a ballot with only one name checked on it, explain that he's slowing down the process and the candidacy of some players. And if he refuses for some reason to vote for more than one person a year, eventually pull his ballot.
Or if a voter has for a decade only voted for players who played on the team he is a beat writer for, work on changing his habits.

Some people will not like these suggestions, and will call them attempts to manipulate voting. I don't agree, I think voters who behave like this are abusing their priviledge, and deserve to lose it if they refuse to change.

Anyway, you see what I'm getting at. It must be private, and it must never be a committee to advocate for a player ("we received your ballot...just wanted to know why you didn't vote for Mattingly?"), but it could help tidy up the voting. With a pool of voters this small, even a few irregularities can make a significant impact.
   5. DanG Posted: December 01, 2004 at 04:02 AM (#988844)
I thought of a fourth way to justify the idea that 2.5 players per year should be elected to the HOF.

This is based on the number of players in history. I would welcome someone who has the exact numbers to figure this precisely. Anyway, there have been about 16,000 players in MLB history. About 1,000 are active. About 1,000 more have retired after 1998 and are not yet eligible for the Hall. This leaves about 14,000 eligible for induction. There are 193 players in the Hall, which is 1.38% of all eligible players. Every year, about 200 players play their last game. So, using established HOF standards, there are about 2.76 players who should be elected each year, or 11 players inducted every four years.
   6. DanG Posted: December 01, 2004 at 04:39 AM (#988868)
Some good responses here from kc, Chuck and Snowboy. As for Ephus, well, he clearly hasn't looked at the Hall closely, but I don't want to dismiss him entirely, because I think he presents the thoughts of the "casual fan".

There are many ways to demonstrate how the Hall is broken, most of which are too complicated to hold the attention of the casual fan. Simply remember this: the Hall's entire history has been an unending series of changes to the rules for election. It's been broken from the start; the Hall refuses to admit that the original rules for elections were done without much thought and with no consideration of long-term consequences. It has been a 69-year quest to fix the unfixable.

That is why the Hall goes through periods where everybody is being elected, to times like now, when only no-brainers are enshrined. I'm suggesting they stop and assess the situation, study the 193 players in the Hall and realize that about 20% are not among the top 193 eligible players in history. Then, institute a rationally constructed system to identify and enshrine the three dozen or so overlooked worthies that actually deserve to stand among the 193 greatest in history.
   7. RobertWells Posted: December 02, 2004 at 02:54 PM (#991297)
I fail to see how the Hall of Fame is broken. In the opinion of those who matter (ie those who VOTE) 193 players deserve to be in the Hall Of Fame. These players may not all rank amongst the greatest ever to have played (although most do)but they aren't entering the Hall of Merit. You can't simply change the outcome of an election just because you don't like the results - oh wait...Maybe if you are so angry at those running the Hall you should petition your President to instigate some kind of 'regime change' action. Now that's American democracy.

Also, could you have been any more patronising to Ephus?
   8. DanG Posted: December 02, 2004 at 04:33 PM (#991439)
I'm looking for contributions to the discussion. If Robert, or anyone, has something of substance and relevance to add it would be heartily welcome by me.

It's my firm belief that anyone who makes a serious study of the Hall, its procedures and honorees, will see what I see. Of course, rationally I know this is not true, that many cannot or will not see this like I do and this is only normal.

If you do not think the Hall is broken, try to look at my suggestions in a more generous spirit. Like the Hall itself (or any of us as individuals) I seek to improve the process.
   9. RobertWells Posted: December 02, 2004 at 06:26 PM (#991701)
The point I'm making - albeit badly - is that entry to the Hall of Fame isn't based on merit. Inductees are voted into the Hall based on their contribution to the story of baseball, not solely who's 'best'. The platonic ideal of a Hall of Famer wouldn't include a player like Ozzie Smith because his defensive contributions, although great, would be weighed down by his lack of offensive production. Yet he belongs in the Hall because of the way he impressed himself on the contemporary culture. Allowing individuals (the writers) free will to pick who they want to induct will inevitably lead to a couple of odd choices and unbelievable omissions, but to me that's the beauty of the Hall of Fame.

This quixotic attempt to fix the Hall could only be rendered a reality when you take away that human element and induct players based on their attaining a certain number of Win Shares (for example). This is more in the realm of a Hall of Merit, and whilst Merit has its place, it's never going to be as appealing as Fame.
   10. Ziggy Posted: December 02, 2004 at 06:57 PM (#991764)
Clearly, the HOF (considered timelessly) is a flawed institution. The changing voting rules mean that standards change, which means that players of different eras are held to different standards. Hence, there is no single base line for election.

I object to the implicit premise that the HOF is too small. I feel rather the opposite. The small-hall versus big-hall debate, however, is a matter of taste. The rest of my comments will (I hope) not turn on this issue.

1. Weeding out voters and/or asking voters to justify their eligability for voting will create a second tier of electors. Those who select those who are eligable to vote will select those who, they think, will cast ballots of which they approve. Now, I don't mean which candidates they think they'll vote for. Rather, if someone is deemed ineligable to vote because that person consistently cast no votes, those who deem him ineligable will, in effect, decide themselves what shape to make the hall. You're asking, in short, just to push the power back a step from the BBWAA to some other body.

2. Requiring a minimum number of inductions would first, not reflect the reality of the game, and second, cast doubt on the worthiness of some of the players elected. First, it may just be the case that there are not 2 players worth inducting in any year. Your argument that there are depends on the assumption that the aggregate result of the many different ways of voting over the years reflects a proper level of qualification for HOF induction, and that talent is distributed evenly through time. I feel both assumptions to be questionable. Second, what of the second player inducted in some year who, say, garners all of 45% of the vote. Or 51% if you're going to set some minimum. Serious doubts would forever exists as to whether this individual was worthy. That such doubts already exist with respect to VC candidates is an argument against abolishing the VC, not expanding the number of players for whom such doubts are warrented.

3. Making everyone eligable is simply impractical. Doing the research necessary to evaluate 14,000 players would take an enormous amount of time, and would probably lead to careless ballots being cast. Or perhaps to voters who carefully consider A-C and then give only a cursory glace to D-Z due to time constraints.

4. Eliminating the 5% cutoff is impractical. Most players who are eliminated because of the cutoff line would never get a single vote, and if they were allowed to stay around the effect would only be a very cluttered ballot. Luis Sojo does not need 15 years on the ballot. Those who are overlooked - say, Ron Santo - currently have a second chance through the VC, and if neither the BBWAA nor the VC will elect them in the 30 odd years they're eligable, the chances of some future body electing them appear small.

5. Establishing a set number of voters would require determination of whom to allow to vote, which would result in the same problems as noted in 1.

In order to limit the flaws introduced by the constantly changing set of voting rules, a single set of rules must be established and maintained. How these should effect the size of the hall is a matter of taste and one that can be discussed elsewhere. But the suggestions above (or at least the one's I've responded to) are either impractical, would force those members of the BBWAA to serve as a set of proxy electors, or be unreflective of the differences of talent level at any given time.
   11. Ziggy Posted: December 02, 2004 at 07:02 PM (#991776)
sorry, the end of #2 should read "...is an argument FOR abolishing the VC..."
   12. base ball chick Posted: December 03, 2004 at 02:39 AM (#992702)
daniel,

sorry, but i can't agree that every voter should be forced to vote for ANY candidates, let alone 10, if he/she doesn't believe that there are any hall-worthy candidates.

if i understand you correctly, you have said that the VC put in many non-worthy candidates. so WHY should we hafta put in even more? if there aren't good enough players, then why put in 2.7 lousy more ones each year? plain silly...

by the way, WHO is gonna review all those "essays" or decide if each voter had a good enough reason for including/excluding every one of those 14,000 candidates you talked about?
   13. DanG Posted: December 03, 2004 at 04:03 PM (#993552)
I'll try to answer baseball chick.

Actually, let me start with Ziggy's #1.

You're asking, in short, just to push the power back a step from the BBWAA to some other body.

Exactly. I explicitly state in proposal 3d that the Hall needs to take control of the process. The major part of this is getting voters to maintain their historical average of 2.5 electees per year. Rather than have two bodies using very different standards of value, the aim is to get one body to elect everyone.

I'm intentionally stopping short of dictating a set number to elect like the Hall of Merit does, looking to avoid electing players who fall far short of the customry 75%. However, it's clear to me that the Hall needs a target in mind of how big it ought to be. Right now there is no guide. Nobody can say if Harry Hooper is deserving to be in the Hall because there are no guidelines.

In a previous article here, I said the two major problems of the Hall are failure to define: How many players should be in the Hall?; Who are the candidates? My overall premise is we start from where we are. We study how the Hall has defined, de facto, the standards for election. If they would state something along the lines of, "the Hall's aim is to enshrine the 193 most deserving players who were eligible for election by 2004, and in the future all players of similar quality," that would go a long way towards defining What is a Hall of Famer and ensuring fairness to candidates.

Currently, we lack any clear standard of value. Establishing a line at 193 moves the discussion forward about who belongs in the Hall. It then becomes a matter of how to measure the standard of value. I think it could be established with fair certainty whether Hooper deserved his spot in the Hall or whether he is one of those whom we should expect candidates to be better than.

Let me make it clear that I am not saying there ought to be any strict numerical standards establishing an in/out line; deciding who is deserving to be in the Hall is not a purely scientific task. There is a "human element," as Robert termed it, that should always be used to inform our statistical conclusions.

So, why do I suggest we make voters put ten names down? Because, assuming everyone is now eligible, we want to get them to start electing people. Remember, we're starting here with a huge backlog of overlooked greats - my estimate is 36. (This is split about evenly between players falling under the review of the veterans committee and those retiring more recently.) How long would it take for this backlog to be played out? I estimate about 40 years.

Here's what I'm thinking. OK, our aim is to elect 2.5 players pre year. Over the past 20 elections the BBWAA elected 32 players or 1.6 per year. Call this 1.6 our No-Brainer (NB) rate, the number we can expect to come on to the ballot in a typical year. If they had achieved our 2.5 quota they would have elected 18 more than this. Let's call this difference of 0.9 our Gray Area (GA) rate.

The challenge is institute a system that gets the electors to make the fine distinctions necessary to elect that additional 0.9. This also means increasing the quality of the electorate from what we have now. Rather than an amorphous group, most of whom have little historical knowledge or statistical understanding, we seek a truly qualified group of voters. In an election that seeks honorees, having an elite electorate is the only way to ensure respect for the results.

In the proposed essays, I would expect prospective voters to focus on their experience and achievements indicating expertise in baseball historical and/or statistical endeavors. By keeping them brief (<50 words), the review process would be fairly simple.

It would also be helpful to score each voter's ballot in its similarity to the consensus. This could be one factor to consider whether a voter was being reasonable in their selections.
   14. Nuclear Dish Posted: December 03, 2004 at 06:56 PM (#993958)
A good article, but I can't accept the idea of openingit up to all players. I like the fact that players fall off the ballot after a certain amount of time, and I like that players have to wait for 5 years before being considered.

I also don't like the idea of forcing people to vote for 10 players. That's absurd. The players you named from the 70's, including Kaat, simply aren't worthy of induction.

The baseball HOF is a special place. When you mandate a certain number of players per year get inducted, you risk watering it down even further than it already is. Should Santo and Blyleven get in? Yes. But with your suggestions we'd likely be seeing Jack Morris and Jim Kaat, neither of whom belong in there.

BTW, anyone know what it takes to join the BBWAA? Can anyone buy their way in? What are the criteria for membership?
   15. DanG Posted: December 03, 2004 at 09:38 PM (#994361)
Again, to clarify, I agree that we should not "mandate a certain number of players per year get inducted." What is desirable is to have one voting body, one standard of value, be at work electing players in numbers consistent with the Hall's historic level of induction. We need to honor the stars of the expansion era (post-1960) in similar proportion to the preceding generations. Presently, this is not the case.

The Hall of Fame minimum standard for election can be estimated by ascertaining the quality of the typical veterans committee selection. It is obvious to me that Kaat, for one, meets this standard. As well as more than a dozen players on the current BBWAA ballot.

This may be more players than you or I think ought to be in the Hall. But the Hall's standards are defined by past selections, not by what you or I think they should be. Since the hall of fame is not going to evict anyone, in the interest of consistency and fairness, players like Kaat deserve to be enshrined.
   16. DanG Posted: December 03, 2004 at 10:21 PM (#994473)
Ziggy wrote:

Making everyone eligable is simply impractical. Doing the research necessary to evaluate 14,000 players would take an enormous amount of time, and would probably lead to careless ballots being cast. Or perhaps to voters who carefully consider A-C and then give only a cursory glace to D-Z due to time constraints.

It does take time to do player evaluation properly. The current electorate clearly is not doing devoting much time. But it's not impractical.

This is exactly what we're doing in the Hall of Merit project on this website. Yes, 14,000 is a lot, but you can pretty easily eliminate 95% of these, leaving you with about 500 candidates on whom to focus. Looking at a little more criteria, getting down to 100 isn't too hard. Then you begin your in depth study to whittle it down to your ballot.

There are about 53 voters in the HOM project. I don't think it would be difficult to find 100 expert and conscientious voters among the baseball public to constitute a better electorate for the Hall of Fame.
   17. DanG Posted: December 04, 2004 at 05:35 AM (#995068)
Ziggy wrote:

Eliminating the 5% cutoff is impractical. Most players who are eliminated because of the cutoff line would never get a single vote, and if they were allowed to stay around the effect would only be a very cluttered ballot. Luis Sojo does not need 15 years on the ballot. Those who are overlooked - say, Ron Santo - currently have a second chance through the VC, and if neither the BBWAA nor the VC will elect them in the 30 odd years they're eligable, the chances of some future body electing them appear small.

Players are eligible perpetually. Several players have been elected more than 75 years after retirement including Sam Thompson, Roger Connor, Mickey Welch, Vic Willis, George Davis and Bid McPhee. What the 5% rule accomplishes is delaying players' elections until after they've died. Better to elect them while they're alive.

Here's the main problem with the 5% rule: it denies too many strong candidates a fair shot at election. If the rule had booted even one deserving hall of famer off the ballot in his first year, it should be scrapped. But there have been many; indeed, in most years someone gets cut who deserves a longer hearing.

Some of the first-year victims of the 5% rule:

Ron Santo 1980
Dick Allen 1983
Bobby Grich 1992
Ted Simmons 1994
Darrell Evans 1995
Lou Whitaker 2001
   18. Ziggy Posted: December 05, 2004 at 08:16 PM (#997761)
the Hall's standards are defined by past selections, not by what you or I think they should be. Since the hall of fame is not going to evict anyone, in the interest of consistency and fairness, players like Kaat deserve to be enshrined.

My first point was that the hall of fame doesn't have any fixed standards. As you noted in the article, they change all the time. It's not a question of whether post-expansion players are under represented or pre-expansion are over represented, it's merely that different standards have applied in different eras. We need only recognize that and our work is done.

You are not pushing the "anyone better than Travis Jackson deserves enshrinement" argument, but the "we should continue to enshrine players at the historical rate" is just as fallicious, and for the same reasons. That certain players, or a certain percentage of players, or some determinate number in the average year have been enshrined it does not follow that anyone better than the player in question, or the same percentage per year, or the same number as in an average year should be enshrined. Repeating a mistake does not stop it from being a mistake. More to the point, it would be to neglect the fact that value/ability/worthiness of induction are not distributed evenly through time.
   19. DanG Posted: December 06, 2004 at 04:27 PM (#1000282)
the fact that value/ability/worthiness of induction are not distributed evenly through time.

Generally, I reject this assumption; I see it as true only in an obvious, limited way. For instance, when a time of war takes the best players out of the league.

A season is a season. Every season since the 1860's has one champion. Whatever value a player contributes towards his team's quest for the title is what counts.

Then we should agree on what we're talking about here. It's not about ability. It's about value, about how much a player contributes to his team's quest to win the championship. Ability often does not translate to corresponding value due to a great many factors. So when assessing a player's worthiness for the Hall, the focus should be on his value to his teams.

Maybe I'm not understanding him, but the argument I'm getting from Ziggy justifies the Hall of Fame having many more stars from the 1920's and 1930's. It's like, "Well, they just used a different standard then, so it's OK. Let's just ignore that and hope it doesn't happen again."

I also hope it doesn't happen again, but you can't just ignore it either. And it's not just the 20's and 30's. The 1890's, 1900's, 10's, 40's and 50's also have seen second tier stars enshrined from their eras. To argue that we should ignore 69 years of Hall history and raise the bar now is unfair. The horse is out of the barn; the standards of value established by the Hall are what they are. Our job is to interpret these as best we can, with application to current candidates.

You have a guy like Kaat, who meets every established Hall standard, but you justify leaving him out with, "Hey, sorry, standards change." It's not like we're comparing him to the dregs like Marquard, Haines or Hoyt. Kaat is right there with Welch, Willis, Bender, Pennock, Grimes, Rixey, Hunter, Ruffing, Wynn.
   20. Ziggy Posted: December 07, 2004 at 10:50 PM (#1004103)
Sure, if by value you mean contribution to winning a pennant then yes, it's evenly distributed. There's a champion each year. But surely you don't want Aaron Boone in the hall; although his swing last year was extremely valuable.

Ability is clearly not evenly distributed. When we get to the hall of fame we're talking about the extreme outer edge of the ability curve and it would be unreasonable to ask for even distribution there.
By value I meant something like what is often called "career value" in the sense that Yaz has a lot of it and Belle doesn't, even though Belle may have had more ability. This sort of value is dependent on many factors, including freedom from injury, inborn aging patterns, and so forth. I suppose it's an empirical hypothesis, but to expect all the factors that go into determining it to be evenly distributed in individuals through time seems unreasonable.

Since there is no method for removing players from the hall, and I think that trying to come up with and implement any such method would be extremely problematic, I think it best to recognize the different standards through time and let that be that. Is it unfair to modern players? Maybe. But just because Travis Jackson is a hall of famer doesn't mean that everyone better than him should be. At that point the distrinction between hall of famer and non-HOFer becomes almost meaningless. A distinction needs contraries to be meaningful.

You gloss my point well but unfairly. It is that standards change, and acknowledging that we can't compare today's stars to a mythical, atemporal, standard which does not and never has existed.

Finally, in my comments I don't mean to disparage your article, and I hope you didn't take it that way. I enjoyed reading the article and think that this sort of dialogue is helpful for determining what sort of course the hall should take. (Even if they're not going to listen to us.) It's just that I find most of your suggestions problematic.
   21. DanG Posted: December 08, 2004 at 05:53 AM (#1005176)
I appreciate your thoughts very much, Ziggy. And I did not take them as disparagement. Unfortunately, what much of it amounts to is a, probably unintentional, defense of the status quo.

When you say that some suggestions are problematic, well, change usually is for the ones being affected. Admittedly, some of my suggestions, in this third "Hall improvement" article, are in the interest of getting some fresh ideas out there. We know the Hall's election system could be improved and various plans are feasible, so let's think about exactly what could be done.

As to Hall standards, it's my wish that they should not change over time. A thorough study of the 193 players enshrined would lead to identifying certain benchmarks attained by 75-80% of the players in the Hall. These benchmarks would naturally be of a sabermetric nature; comprehensive measures of value have been developed (WARP and winshares, to name two) which are largely in agreement as to who has the most value.

I want the Hall to come out with some concrete statement of how exclusive membership should be. If they said, "A hall of famer is considered to be one of the top 1% of players in MLB history," they would be acknowledging that about 50 current members should not be held as the standard of value, that there are only a handful of currently eligible players that might be elected. OTOH, if they said 1.5% we would know that they expect to elect at least 20 more of the currently eligible players. It would tell the voters how strictly/loosely they should be listing players on their ballots.
   22. Chuck Nobriga Posted: December 09, 2004 at 12:55 AM (#1007403)
Dan, my solution is largely overlooked again. 1% the first year, 2% the second year, 3% the third year, 4% the fourth year, 5% the fifth year, 6% the sixth year, 7% the seventh year. This continues all the way to 15% the fifteenth year and the 5% rule is history. Players need fewer votes in the beginning of their eligibility and more at the end. It will work. Baseball and the Hall-of-Fame should try this system. But they never will, because it will take away different methods of control they have used over the years, including bringing back selected players for a second chance. Only to have them fail to get 5% again and then claim they have no support. Then dream up a new scheme and put them on a Veterens ballot every two years. The 5% rule never allows for a player to build his support, because it wipes him out before he has a chance to build that support.
   23. DanG Posted: December 09, 2004 at 06:15 AM (#1007904)
Chuck, I agree that your scheme has merit. I had virtually the same idea in an unpublished article. It would go a long way towards correcting the insidious nature of the 5% rule.

A similar scheme would be to use escalating increments to remain on the ballot, such as this scale:

Yr_PctNeeded
1__1
2__2.5
3__4.5
4__7
5__10
6__13.5
7__17.5
8__22
9__27
10_32.5
11_38.5
12_45
13_52
14_59.5
15_67.5

This scheme still gives them low thresholds in the early years to build support, but clears off marginal candidates even quicker. There would be less clutter to the ballot so more focus would be on the stronger candidates.
   24. John Northey Posted: December 22, 2004 at 08:55 PM (#1036513)
I've been thinking about it and what about using a method similar to the MVP award.

14 points = Top Choice for Hall
9 points = 2nd choice for Hall
...
1 point = 10th choice for Hall

Then take the top 2 each year. Have a number of ballots sent out to appropriate voters ie: writers who've been honours by the HOF in the past, current broadcasters/journalists with 20 years or more experience, retired ones with 20+ years as well... increase to 20 years to limit the number of voters since we'd be adding in tv/radio/major internet). All players retired for at least 5 years are qualified unless they received 0 votes for two years in a row. Remove the 10 year requirement as that would allow Negro League and now Japanese League players to join the ballot potentially.

As to the 'upper' and 'lower' class of HOF'ers, we'll have that no matter what as people now talk about 'first year' vs later and what percentage a player got as ways of judging who was better. This way players could be on every ballot but the ultimate honour would be awaiting whoever got named as the top pick on all ballots, to be followed by people saying 'well, it was a weak year' ala MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year voting.
   25. fraquar Posted: March 02, 2005 at 04:09 AM (#1174048)
If I understand you correctly, you already described what Hall "worthiness" is: your quote "VC was granted a 49-year run to populate the Hall with their friends, thereby defining the Hall's lower tier and establishing the minimum standards for a hall of famer.".

Is this what it SHOULD BE? I would hope not.

So is what your saying that because the system was broke and allowed "sub-standard" Hall worthy players to get enshrined we should fix the process but continue to allow "sub-standard" players to be enshrined? I don't see where that is "fixing" an already "broke" system.

Your article seems to have some "bias" in it and I can see where it would alienate any Hall member who read it. Case in point you refer to the VC as "voting in their friends". Truth is they may have been friends with some of the guys, but this is no different than the current sportswriters who have similar "friendships" with current players. The bottom line is they were PEERS, which the BBWAA in 1953 WERE NOT. Thats why they were formed in the first place because the BBWAA could NOT give an OBJECTIVE analysis of ANY of those players careers because they NEVER saw them play, at least not in the capacity of doing professional objective evaluations.

I'll say this, for every VC elected member that you suggest is marginal or not worthy what are you basing this on?
   26. fraquar Posted: March 02, 2005 at 04:24 AM (#1174067)
BTW, you couldn't have possibly have expected anyone from the Hall to read the rest of your article, let alone take it seriously when you attack the "integrity" of the VC members with a blanket statement like that. I'd venture to say they were way more knowledgeable od the game and far better judges of talent than you or I could ever hope to be.

You might wan't to "clean this thing up" if you expect anyone to take it seriously or professionally.
   27. fraquar Posted: March 02, 2005 at 04:48 AM (#1174095)
Here's a suggestion. If you ever send an Open Letter to any organization and expect to at least be heard or read, provide the following:

Name: (Which you did)
Qualifications: (Concerned Fan, Former MLB Player, etc)
Format the Document: (If you expect a professional's attention, format it like a professional {Preface, Main Body, Summary, etc.}. show them the time and effort you spent they might just reward that effort by reading it)

Most professional organizations don't have the time to read the majority of mail they receive. (Think of how many Pete Rose fans still bombard them with mail). Treat it like you would your Resume if you expect to get their attention.

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