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Thursday, May 02, 2002

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
the ideal.

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
final ballot.

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.

What’s Wrong


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
out everyone.

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
Famers happy.

The new system appears to be entirely based on empty appeasements:

They throw a bone to the historians, without allowing them to do
anything meaningful.

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
elect anyone.

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
the pyramid.

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.



Daniel Greenia Posted: May 02, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 7 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: May 03, 2002 at 12:29 AM (#605171)
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.

It doesn't make any sense for the BWSC to be part of the screening process. They were already part of the screening process, by dint of the fact that they're the ones who decided not to elect these guys in the first place. It makes little sense to say, "You thought these guys weren't worthy -- now, which ones should get in?"

As for why the HOF is saying that this is more open, presumably they'll release the final vote tally. They don't do that for the VC now.
   2. jimd Posted: May 03, 2002 at 12:29 AM (#605173)
First of all, I think the new setup is a vast improvement over the previous one. Maybe it will elect nobody - though I highly doubt that - but that is also an improvement. I'd rather the standards be too high than too low.

Any MLB player elected by this new committee is likely to have played in the 50's or 60's; this will fulfill one of the VC's functions - to select those players overlooked by the writers. 20th Century baseball before WWII has been well picked over already; the injustices are of the kind "B should be elected because A was", not of the "B was a great player" kind. Any great player who has been overlooked to date comes from the less well-documented portions of baseball: Negro Leagues, 19th century, and minor-league superstars. The latter have no chance of election until major-league equivalencies become much better understood and established; recommendations on the former from the Historical Committee will probably be rubber-stamped due to lack of independent knowledge; and who knows how any 19th century recommendations will play (anyway, they're dead, they've already waited nearly 70 years to be honored, so what's another 30 years until the next version of the Veteran's Committee is created).

Of course, the nomination process can be improved, but let's not lose sight of the main point. The Crony Committee is dead.

   3. Charles Saeger Posted: May 04, 2002 at 12:29 AM (#605174)
The first and most obvious fix: have these fellows vote every year. They'll select someone, which is good for the Hall because it brings attention, and good for the candidates because it keeps there from becoming a backlog. When the writers voted every other year, they managed to elect one guy every four years or some pathetic ratio, which helped keep Joe DiMaggio from entering on the first ballot.
   4. Charles Saeger Posted: May 04, 2002 at 12:29 AM (#605175)
Another issue -- it would be easier to dispense with the screening committee entirely, and just list anyone whom the BBWAA did not select, but is eligible, has been retired for 20 years and for whom at least one writer voted, ever. I know, this lists Jim Deshaies on the ballot, but Jim Deshaies has no chance of entering the Hall, not even if he performed sexual favors for every member of the old VC and they had the vote. There should be no arbitrary end to eligibility.

Here's the system, as I envision it (under the current constraints -- I prefer fan balloting, like you probably do):

* The BBWAA votes on anyone who entered the ballot for the first time this year (after having been retired five years, and played in ten years), and on anyone who was on the ballot last year and received a vote. If a player received a vote the previous year, it is on the ballot. The Jim Deshaies of the world will drop off eventually anyways; some year, no one will be dumb/sorry enough to vote for them. If you want to vote for someone who dropped off, there will be a write-in slot.

* The Living Hall of Famers then vote on anyone who just became eligible for their ballot that year (ie, retired for twenty years, and played in ten years), and on anyone who was on the ballot last year and received a vote. Same drill as above.

There is not a need for these committees. They may make some people feel better about the process, but the people whom no one is promoting for selection won't enter anyways.
   5. Roger Moore Posted: May 06, 2002 at 12:29 AM (#605184)
It seems to me that one very positive step that needs to be added is some sort of abstract for each candidate that summarizes his qualifications. The biggest flaw with the Veteran's Committee is that it's covering such a long time span that nobody has good firsthand knowledge of all of the candidates, and you're certainly not going to see 75% of the members researching the qualifications of 19th Century players to see how they stack up. The result is that you're going to see players who happened to play at the same time as the current HOFers get elected and nobody else. But if you tack on a description of what those players did- standard statistics, times leading the league in different categories, pennants and Series won, etc.- it will give a decent reference for the Vets to judge players who they never had a chance to see.
   6. DanG Posted: May 08, 2002 at 12:29 AM (#605194)
A couple points I?d like to restate here, because they are what I see as truly the issues. First, I think anyone could come up with an improved system for electing worthies to the Hall. In The Politics of Glory, Bill James proposed a beautiful scheme. However, it?s unrealistic to expect anything like his utopian system to ever be adopted.
The problem is The Process. How do we get from here to there, from Cooperstown to Shangrila? Charles Saeger almost got this, using the phrase ?under the current constraints?. Unfortunately, his subsequent proposal ignored the constraint of ballot size.
For at least forty years the Hall?s aim has been to shrink the ballot and limit eligible players. Starting in 1964, when the BBWAA window was reduced from thirty years to twenty, to the late 60?s, when the ballot screening committee first began, to 1979, when the 5% rule began, candidates have been artificially pushed off the ballot. The Hall seems to want to have 25 to 30 candidates on the writers? ballot. This is also the range they have created for the new VC ballot. It seems to be an implicit acknowledgment of the limitations of the electorate. The Hall is saying, ?We better try it keep it simple because the voters aren?t capable of fairly assessing too many guys.?
So Saeger?s proposal is a dead end: it runs directly contrary to what the Hall seems to want. It?s an air castle, a wonderful idea but impractical. You can?t get there from here. OTOH, his first suggestion of voting every year makes great sense, and is not only practical but is consistent with the Hall?s past practices.
The other issue relates to something jimd wrote: ?I'd rather the standards be too high than too low.? This is the sort of thing you hear pretty often. Obviously, high standards are something for which we all strive. We?d all like only the best candidates to make the Hall.
Ah, but that darn reality sneaks in again. We can?t expect these voters to identify ?the best candidates?. Over here we have the BBWAA, guardians of High Standards, denying induction to meritorious players like Vaughn, Fox, and Bunning. And over there we have the VC, rescuing the aforementioned worthies, but also tossing up bricks like Rick Ferrell, George Kell and Travis Jackson. The reality is if we enforce High Standards, the electors will deny deserving players. To me this is unconscionable. It?s far better to accept the fact that the VC will throw in an occasional clunker, in its groping around to elect the best candidates.
What? ?Clunker!?? I know, nobody wants to see any more Tommy McCarthys and Rube Marquards make the Hall. And you know what? We haven?t seen any for a long time. If you look at the VC selections since 1985, there was only one selection that doesn?t have an argument as one of the top 200 players in history. And that one is explained by the fact that the guy (Red Schoendienst, elected 1989) added a successful managing career to his resume.
In TPOG, James discusses how the enforcement of an artificially high standard is doomed to fail. He used the analogy of a submarine diving too deep: the seals won?t hold and eventually a flood results. This system will be changed.
The chief issue here is one of justice and humanity. Guys like Ron Santo and Minnie Minoso are deserving of the Hall by any serious analysis. But it seems more likely than not that they?ll be dead by the time the Hall voters figure it out. That is why we need to talk about the Hall changing this overly-restrictive VC system NOW, rather than running it a few times and watching it fail.

   7. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: June 15, 2002 at 12:31 AM (#605312)
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember Rick Ferrell being elected to the Hall because of his contributions to the front office. He was elected as a player, not as an executive. As a player, he was very good but hardly HOF material.

I think we have to be careful combining different roles in baseball. Player/managers are one thing: giving Frank Chance or Fred Clarke extra credit to their playing records because they also managed at the same time makes some sense. Where I have a problem is with combining a good playing career with a good managerial career. IMO, this does not constitute a great career worthy of the Hall. Jimmy Dykes, Charlie Grimm & Don Zimmer are not Hall of Fame material because they were able to fashion a long career in baseball. Instead of the Hall, there should be a "Meritorious Service Award" for baseball people that maybe weren't great at any one position in baseball, but had a lengthy memorable career.

Ferrell might be worthy of the Hall due to his front office career (I'm not that knowledgeable of his work there). However, it should be based on that, not in combination with his playing career.

PS I should note that when Bob Costas (with a look of puzzlement on his face) mentioned Ferrell entering the Hall, I thought they were talking about Wes (a much worthier candidate). :-)

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