The New Veteran’s Committee Doesn’t Work
Daniel Greenia looks at the implications of the new VC and offers some modifications.
Last summer, the Hall announced a radical reformation of the
Veterans Committee. The changes “are designed to make the process
more open and understandable,” according to their news release.
Essentially, the VC will be six times larger, consisting primarily of
all the living Hall of Famers, and will now use the same voting
procedures that are used by the BBWAA in the regular Hall voting.
The first reaction is to cheer, “Finally! This is long overdue.”
But what might seem logical at first glance is not at all likely to
work in practice.
Why We Needed a Change
The recently passed-on incarnation of the Veterans Committee was
formed in 1953. In recent years it included 15 members, a mix of Hall
of Fame players, media members and executives. A six-member
sub-committee from this group would prepare a secret ballot of 15-20
candidates. From 1995 through 2001 there were also separate ballots
prepared for Negro League and 19th-century candidates.
The committee would convene on a winter’s day to discuss the
candidates and cast their votes. The VC could elect a maximum of one
player and one non-player from the regular ballot, plus one player
from each of the special ballots. All it took was for 12 voters to
agree on a candidate. Voting results were kept secret.
It’s been apparent for over 30 years that the Baseball Hall of
Fame Committee on Veterans was making too many poor selections. This
was due to the inadequately small size of the group and the
opportunity for cronyism inherent in their procedures.
The New Procedures
Most of this section was gleaned from the
A new regime has recently come to power in the Hall. They’ve
seemingly tried to adopt the best of the myriad suggestions made over
the years to improve the VC. They’re giving more people a say in the
process, while making the ballot and voting public knowledge. But in
trying to appease everybody, the resulting system falls well short of
Right off the bat, the new system aims to elect fewer men, not
such a bad idea. Instead of elections every year, player elections
will be every other year and non-player elections will be every four
years. Here’s the setup for the 2003 elections:
1) The process stared last fall when the Elias Sports Bureau
compiled the list of eligible players (played ten years, retired
before 1982, not on MLB’s ineligible list). The Hall website says
that’s more than 2600 players, and that sounds about right.
2) This past December, a BBWAA-appointed Committee of Historians
came up with a 200-player ballot. They also prepared a ballot of 60
non-players. To date (late April), there’s been no word as to who was
on this committee, how large it was, or what their voting results
were. These lists were made public last week.
3) From these lists, 60 baseball writers (two from each major
league team) will comprise the BBWAA Screening Committee (BWSC) and
vote by mail in late spring 2002. This will narrow the lists down to
25 players and 15 non-players.
4) Also this spring, the Hall of Famers Screening Committee
(HFSC), comprised of six Hall of Fame players, will come up with their
own list of five players who should be on the ballot. Any of these
five who are not among the 25 writers’ picks will be added to the
5) After this, the process kind of goes underground. The Hall
does not say whether the two Screening Committees’ voting results will
be made public. All we’re told is that in the summer of 2002 the
“BBWAA and the Hall of Fame” will compile the final ballots from the
top vote recipients of the screening committees.
6) Finally, after six months or so, these final ballots of 25 to
30 players and 15 non-players will be made public in January 2003,
with appropriate pomp and ceremony.
7) These will be voted-on by the committee at large via mail-in
ballot, listing from zero to ten names on each ballot. A candidate
needs to be listed on 75% of the ballots cast to be elected.
8) The accounting firm Ernst and Young (presumably Clark
Foundation cronies) will tally the ballots and results will be
announced in February 2003.
This scheme misses on both counts; it appears to be neither more
open nor more understandable. Unless they just forgot to mention it,
it seems that neither the vote tabulations by the Committee of
Historians nor those of the Screening Committees will be made public.
How can a system that eliminates 99% of the eligible candidates in
secrecy be declared “more open”?
The old VC system, while flawed, was very simple. By contrast,
this new system has many more steps for no credible reasons. Clearly,
the system offers opportunities for backroom deals and finagling of
the voting results, especially in the months between the two Screening
Committee votes and the public announcement of the final ballot.
How about #2 above? Who will be on this Committee of Historians?
One can’t help assuming it will be comprised of “the usual suspects”,
a small group of cronies among the BBWAA hierarchy. It would not be
surprising if the majority of these “historians” lacked all
credibility among the baseball research community.
And really, what is this committee being asked to do? Cutting the
list to 200 players is meaningless. There will not be any hard
decisions made, because they will not be forced to eliminate anyone
who has a reasonable argument for enshrinement. There will be no
point in agonizing between player #200 and #201 because neither one is
a viable candidate. The Committee of Historians is mere window
dressing, because cutting the list to 200 gives them no significant
selective role in the process.
However, the most questionable aspect of this new system is #4
above, these five choices of the Hall of Famers Screening Committee
(HFSC). Don’t they trust the BBWAA Screening Committee to come up
with a suitable 25-man ballot?
Here’s what seems to be going on. I assume that the five choices
of the HFSC will be made known. In all likelihood, most of these five
players will already be among the 25 picked by the writers. So, what
this really does is signal to the electorate at large whom they should
vote for. When this hallowed committee of six HOFers picks five guys
who they prefer, these players will achieve primacy in the minds of
the voters. They are set above the other players on the ballot.
Since most of the voters really have no idea who deserves election,
the five players chosen by this committee will be the only players who
really have any chance. By allowing the HFSC this separate nominating
vote, the role of the BBWAA is essentially nullified.
It results in a jury-rigged system that’s hardly open and fair.
If the objective was for the VC to enshrine fewer players, this
certainly will achieve that. Then why even have a veterans committee?
This new system rots. We have this elaborate timetable and new
procedures for nothing. In essence, there will be six guys presenting
a five-man ballot to be considered. So if you’re of a mind to lobby
for a certain candidate, those six Hall of Famers on the HFSC are the
only people whose attention you need to attract.
Why Did They Do This?
The new system can hardly be considered better than the old.
While the old system saw too many marginal players being enshrined and
many deserving players overlooked, the new system will simply leave
Sure, it may be a step in the right direction, but it’s not
getting the job done. Rather than create a system that identifies and
enshrines the most deserving players, the Hall’s approach smacks of
totally political design, trying to keep both the writers and Hall of
The new system appears to be entirely based on empty appeasements:
They throw a bone to the historians, without allowing them to do
They reinstate victims of the 5% rule, but give the say of
whether they should be on the ballot to the group (the BBWAA) that
rejected them in the first place.
They say it “gives decision of who to reconsider to group that
previously chose not to elect those candidates,” namely the BBWAA.
But the writer’s work is essentially nullified by the HFSC choices.
They’ve given the keys to election to the Hall of Famers
themselves, but left them with a system where they’re unlikely to
They give the fans the final voting results (yippee!) while still
denying them any say in the election process.
What Could Be Done
The Committee of Historians is a great idea. However, for it to
be productive, its membership must contain a broad range of expertise
in all areas of baseball knowledge and research. A group of BBWAA
members is unlikely to fulfill this ideal.
The Historians must also have a meaningful selective role. It
should be their job to cut down the list to 25 players, not 200.
The BBWAA Screening Committee can also play a meaningful role in
the process, but first you must abort the HFSC. Since the Hall of
Fame players comprise the voting body, they should have no role in
determining whom the candidates are. This will reduce the appearance
of cronyism that has caused so much damage to the Hall’s reputation.
(A less ideal alternative would have each screening committee produce
ten candidates, then combine the two lists for the final ballot.)
So, they should have the BWSC alone reduce the ballot to ten
names. Give this to the voters and have them rank the candidates from
one to ten. You can then tally the votes similar to MVP balloting and
enshrine the winner.
MVP-style balloting is desirable because it is very unlikely that
any candidate will be named to 75% of the ballots cast in the
traditional Hall voting style that is planned. There are a number of
reasons for this, but it’s mainly an inevitable result of the format.
As Bill James describes it in The Politics of Glory, chapter 5,
discussing the BBWAA voting from 1945: “The failure to elect anybody,
even after a three-year wait, revealed a structural problem with the
vote. In a vote of this type, where there are a limited number of
spaces on the ballot and a player must get 75 percent, then the more
(equally) qualified players you have, the less likely it is that any
one of them will be selected.” Here it’s even worse because the VC
candidates are a slice below the peak of the talent pyramid. The
difference between candidates is much less than is found on the
regular Hall of Fame ballot, which contains players near the peak of
There’s also the fact that most of the voters will be aware they
are voting for players of a lesser caliber than they were themselves.
Many will cast blank ballots; the average ballot will probably list
only three or four names. So, after they fail to elect any player in
2003 and 2005 and 2007 there will be cries for reform.
Why not install a system now that ensures you elect someone? The
Hall is allowing the continued existence of the Veterans Committee.
This indicates that there is an awareness there are overlooked players
who ought to be enshrined. Thus, the VC has a mandate to identify the
most deserving players and elect them to the Hall. The new system has
them set up to fail in this mission.
One final recommendation is to create a separate committee to
consider players retired before 1925. (After all, the Hall has
maintained a separate committee to study Negro League candidates.) It
is simply unfair for the old-timers to be put up against the modern
candidates. The electorate is wholly unfamiliar with any of these
older candidates. And they are not equipped to interpret their
numbers in fair comparisons with modern players. In addition, many
voters will logically reason that since these guys have been
candidates for so long they must not be deserving. However, most
SABRites know that there are some overlooked great players among the
old-timers. They deserve a fair hearing by a qualified committee of
I have deliberately retained the basic framework that was set up
for the new veterans committee, striving for significant incremental
improvements. These ideas retain the input from each constituent
group while creating a better balance among them. The players still
have the final say in who is elected and they are assured of success
in the task of electing the best candidate.
Posted: May 02, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 7 comment(s)
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