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Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Towards A Practical Fix For Hall of Fame VotingProcedures

How can we improve Hall of Fame ballotting?  Daniel Greenia has some suggestions.

There’s a phrase that’s popular among the voters for the Hall of
Fame: "I know one when I see one." This goes along with
another idea that’s often expressed, that if you have to think about
whether a player is deserving of enshrinement, than he is not. Given
this casual approach, it’s no wonder that many of their selections
have been widely criticized.

 

What is a hall of famer?

 

Are there any requirements, any written standards for voters to
follow? Here is Rule #5 used by the Hall itself: "Voting shall be
based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity,
sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which
the player played." This is clarified only slightly by Rule #6:
"No automatic elections based on performances such as a batting
average of .400 or more for one (1) year, pitching a perfect game or
similar outstanding achievement shall be permitted." There is one
statistical standard mentioned in Rule #3(B): "Player must have
played in each of ten (10) Major League championship
seasons."

 

The above doesn’t give us much to go on. Let’s
look at how many players have been elected to give us a better idea of
just what is a hall of famer. At present, 189 men are in the Hall
based upon their play in the Major Leagues. Add to this at least
16 other future hall of famers (active in the past five years and so
not yet eligible): Eddie Murray, Ryne Sandberg, Paul Molitor, Dennis
Eckersley, Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, Mark McGwire, Barry
Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey, Jr., Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux,
Randy Johnson, Frank Thomas, and Mike Piazza. Don’t forget Pete
Rose and Joe Jackson, who are also ineligible. Also add Gary
Carter, whose election appears to be imminent.

 

So we could say a hall of famer is one of the top 208
players in major league history. That’s a lot of guys, too many
to "get your head around." But the point to see here is
that a hall of famer is not strictly one of the all-time greats.
Along with Cobb and Koufax, it’s guys like Elmer Flick, Phil Rizzuto
and Kiki Cuyler. The average hall of fame pitcher looks a lot
more like Red Faber than he does Nolan Ryan.

 

How did the Hall come to have so many members?

 

Throughout most of its history the Hall has used a two-tiered
voting system: the regular balloting by the baseball writers (BBWAA),
voting on players retired up to thirty years ago (this was shortened
to twenty years in 1964); and the Old-timers or Veterans Committee
(VC) electing players retired before this time span.

 

Unfortunately, the VC was always too small to contain
a broad consensus of baseball knowledge, never more than 15
members. On top of this, they voted face-to-face by open ballot,
where personal influences contaminated their decisions. This led
to the VC allowing in many players who were below the standards
established by the writers.

 

This leads to my suggestions.

Dissolve the Veterans Committee

 

By the mid 1960’s, the VC had fulfilled its mandate of honoring
the greats from the early days. Indeed, for the past forty years their
selections have usually been players who expired from the writers’
ballot after repeated rejections. The VC’s "corrections" of
the writers’ "oversights" has severely damaged the hall of
fame’s reputation as the bestower of baseball’s ultimate honor.

 

It wouldn’t be so bad if the VC were electing players
who nearly made it in the BBWAA voting before their eligibility
ended. But many of the VC selections are players who received
very little support from the writers. For example, here is the
maximum support received by ten players enshrined by the VC who the
writers rejected since 1960: Chick Hafey-29 votes, 11%; Joe Sewell-23
votes, 9%; Heinie Manush-22 votes, 9%; Jesse Haines-22 votes, 8%;
Travis Jackson-14 votes, 7%; Earl Averill-14 votes, 5%; Larry Doby-10
votes, 3%; Fred Lindstrom-7 votes, 4%; George Kelly-5 votes, 2%; and
Rick Ferrell-1 vote, 0.5%. (Actually, two of these, Averill and Doby,
are usually rated by baseball scholars as being qualified for the
Hall.)

 

But in addition to eight of the above, there are at
least 16 other VC selections that are clearly not among the top 208
players. Alphabetically they are Chief Bender, Jim Bottomley,
Frank Chance, Jack Chesbro, Earle Combs, Harry Hooper, Waite Hoyt,
George Kell, Rube Marquard, Tommy McCarthy, Ray Schalk, Red
Schoendienst, Joe Tinker, Lloyd Waner, Vic Willis and Ross
Youngs.

 

While there was a need for a Veterans Committee in the early years
of the Hall, their mission has long since been accomplished. There
doesn’t seem to be any reason (even in their reconstituted form) for
them to continue to pick through the pile of leftover candidates.

 

Combine the Electorates

 

We need a new system with a single voting body following rules
that ensure they elect the top players to the Hall. Who will comprise
this voting body? The Hall’s board of directors seems unwilling to
open up the process, so let’s work with what we have.

 

Let’s give an equal say to each of the existing electorates. Let
the 89 VC voters vote together with 89 selected baseball writers. This
would be an improved electorate over what we now have. Currently, over
500 writers vote in the annual regular election. Many of these voters
don’t seem to do a very good job, casting questionable ballots due to
ignorance or carelessness. Limiting them to 89 voters should give us
the cream of the crop among the writers.

 

Vote for Who You’ve Seen

 

Even with this combined electorate, it’s hard to see how they can
fairly evaluate candidates who they never personally saw play. I don’t
think we should expect this group to make decisions that require them
to analyze players from long-past eras. Let’s limit their candidates
to more recent decades, where the voters can make evaluations from
having personally seen players.

 

I think a 50-year window would work well. There
are still some voters who remember watching the stars of the 40’s when
they were at their peaks. For the election of 2003, let them
consider candidates who have been inactive for 5 to 54 years, that is,
who last played from 1948 to 1997. For 2004, they’ll consider
candidates retired 1949 to 1998, and so on.

 

The 54-year cutoff makes sense for several
reasons:

  • The stars from
    between the wars are already overstocked in the Hall. There are
    69 players in the Hall who last played from 1925 to 1948 (compared to
    37 who last played from 1901 to 1924 and 38 who retired from 1949 to
    1972). That total doesn’t even include about a dozen players from
    the Negro Leagues. So we really don’t need to look at this era
    anymore.

  •  

  • It’s been 16 years since a player who retired in the 40’s was
    elected to the Hall. So it’s reasonable to say that anyone retired
    before 1948 has been thoroughly rejected by the voters.

  •  

  • We’re only looking at players from the television age, which
    obviously enables voters to see and evaluate a lot more players.

  •  

  • There are two very solid candidates (Joe Gordon & Bucky
    Walters) who retired in 1950 that deserve more consideration.

  •  

  • Essentially, it retains what the Hall has now, in that the new
    Veterans Committee is extremely unlikely to elect anyone retired more
    than 54 years ago. Since only a few of the voters could be thought of
    as baseball historians, I think they will tend to vote for whom they
    know.

  •  

    The Ballot

     

    The other issue to work out is the ballot.  Usually, the BBWAA
    ballot has about 30 candidates. I think we want the ballot to be a bit
    bigger than that, since we are now looking at a 50-year period rather
    than 15 years.

     

    Let’s use a 40-man ballot. Here’s how to do
    it:

  • For the 2003 ballot, start with everyone who received
    significant support (at least 2%) in the 2002 election. That’s 19
    players.

  •  

  • Add in all candidates who received at least 40% support one year
    in BBWAA voting. That’s six guys: Gil Hodges (63%), Tony Oliva (47%),
    Roger Maris (43%), Ron Santo (43%), Maury Wills (41%), and Marty
    Marion (40%).

  •  

  • In future elections skip the first two steps and retain the top 25
    vote getters from the previous year.

  •  

  • Add in five candidates who retired in the most recent year under
    consideration. For 1997 let’s say Eddie Murray, Ryne Sandberg, Lee
    Smith, Fernando Valenzuela, and Brett Butler.

  •  

  • Add in two candidates who retired in the most remote year under
    consideration, giving them a final chance. For 1948 let’s say Rudy
    York and Doc Cramer.

  •  

  • Fill out the ballot with eight at-large candidates. This can
    include any player who retired in the 50-year period that was not
    voted off in the most recent balloting. (That is to say, if a player
    did not draw enough support to be included in the 25 returning
    candidates, he must wait a year before he can return to the ballot.)
    For the 2003 ballot let’s say Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Joe Gordon, Bobby
    Grich, Minnie Minoso, Graig Nettles, Ted Simmons, and Joe Torre.

  •  

  • I would strongly advocate one exception to the 54-year limit. I
    think if a player is on the verge of election he should be allowed to
    continue his candidacy as long as his support remains strong. If a
    player receives over 50% support in his final year, he should remain
    on the ballot until he fails to draw 50% or he is elected. This
    situation will, no doubt, occur very rarely.

  •  

    Incremental Improvement

     

    This system is better than the current one in many important ways:

  • There will no longer be two different standards used for electing
    players, because we’re taking the veterans committee and combining it
    with the writers.

  •  

  • Only the best candidates will be elected. A Jim Bunning will not
    be put into the Hall while Phil Niekro and Don Sutton are waiting
    outside.

  •  

  • We ‘re giving the BBWAA the opportunity to improve its electorate
    by narrowing it down to only the best-qualified voters.

  •  

  • There is no longer a veterans committee judging players whom they
    have never seen, whom they are unable to reasonably assess.

  •  

    It is important to see that this proposal is not really a radical
    change from the current system.

  • We still have the 5-year wait before eligibility.
  •  

  • A 75% super-majority is required for election.
  •  

  • We haven’t extended the voting privilege to anyone new.

    While I do think the election system could be improved by
    modifying each of these areas, I don’t think the Hall is ready for
    that. These proposals are already challenging the status quo to a
    significant degree; so let’s hold off on proposing reforms for these
    entrenched procedures.

     

    There may be some people who object to only considering candidates
    from the past 54 years. Well, OK, if we agree that it is desirable to
    elect more early stars, let’s have an old-timers committee. But be
    sure it is made up of scholars who are qualified to accurately assess
    the players from antiquity. We don’t want a group of old cronies such
    as constitutes the current VC. We want a blue-ribbon panel of
    reputable historians and analysts, of at least a hundred people, to
    identify the overlooked greats retired before 1948. They could elect
    one player every four years. The Hall could establish a similar group
    to assess the remaining stars from the Negro Leagues.

     

    The aim of this proposal is to reform the system to be fair to all
    the candidates. It also recognizes that the Hall’s board of directors
    has a history of being conservative and slow to change. Thus, we need
    a proposal that will be palatable to the board, one that identifies
    what needs to be changed and retains as much of the old structure as
    possible. We can’t expect immediate change; the newly restructured VC
    will be allowed a couple tries to work. We only hope to plant the
    seeds of reform, so that in three years or so the hall of fame may
    find a better way.

     

    Daniel Greenia Posted: June 05, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 5 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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       1. Dag Nabbit is a cornucopia of errors Posted: June 05, 2002 at 12:31 AM (#605266)
    You write:
    "It's been 16 years since a player who retired in the 40's was elected to the Hall. So it's reasonable to say that anyone retired before 1948 has been thouroughly rejected by the voters."

    Since 1986 Leon Day, Vic Willis, Bill Foster, Willie Wells, George Davis, Joe Rogan, Bid McPhee, Turkey Stearnes, and Hilton Smith have all been elected in. All retired before 1950; most in the 1940s.

    Also, how would non-players get elected in? Unless I missed it, this plan leaves no provision for electing in owners, executives, umpires, managers, mascots, ballgirls, etc. I guess you could call for the creation of a 2nd committee, but since one of the main objectives here is to limit voting to one body, creating a 2nd committee would ruin the point of this reform.
       2. DanG Posted: June 06, 2002 at 12:31 AM (#605267)
    Chris J. wrote:

    "Since 1986 Leon Day, Vic Willis, Bill Foster, Willie Wells, George Davis, Joe Rogan, Bid McPhee, Turkey Stearnes, and Hilton Smith have all been elected in. All retired before 1950; most in the 1940s."

    Allowing for the fact that others may have missed these points as well, allow me to explain.

    The article deals with improving the voting procedure for *Major League* players only. Most of those you mention were elected for their play in the Negro Leagues, a separate consideration for the voters, and based on entirely different standards. To my knowledge, he veterans committee has never included these players in voting with major league players. It's always been a separate ballot.

    The others (Willis, Davis, McPhee) retired long before the 1940's. I think it's reasonable to say that each was "thoroughly rejected by the voters", none of the three being elected during the Hall's first 59 years of operation. If the normal course of veterans committee elections had been followed, it's very unlikely any of them would be enshrined. Only by establishing a temporary 19th century committee (1995-2001) with the mandate to identify overlooked persons did they manage to be recognized. Their elections do demonstrate there may be (as I suggested) a need for a separate committee to elect others who played before any reliable extant memory. I seriously question whether the newly reconstituted veterans committee is qualified for this task.

    As for non-players, naturally this would take a separate vote, as has always been done. Given the almost total lack of objective criteria in measuring their contributions, it's totally inappropriate to include them with the player balloting. A classic case of mixing apples and oranges.

    To correct one last misconception, the aim here is not so much to "limit voting to one body", as it is to have players elected by one set of standards. Indeed, it's better to have different voting bodies for different tasks. The VC, using a lower standard than the BBWAA uses in the regular elections, elected all of the Hall's worst players. It shouldn't be that way.

    DG
       3. DanG Posted: June 07, 2002 at 12:31 AM (#605271)
    I purposely left out any suggestions for choosing the at-large candidates. It' not really the crux of the issue, so we'll let the Hall decide how it wants to determine them.

    It seems likely that the Hall's board would leave it up to a BBWAA committee to finalize the ballot. In that case we would get a rather different 8 than those I've proposed. I think we'd see more good ol' candidates like Don Newcombe, Allie Reynolds, Dom DiMaggio and Harvey Kuenn. The sort of names we've seen mentioned in recent elections by the old veterans committee.

    This leads to recognizing the benefit of my suggestion that the at-large candidates cannot include anyone who was voted off in the last election. Since no one can be an at-large nominee two straight years, more players will have an opportunity to appear on the ballot.

    Thinking about this now, I suggest we limit the returning players to the top 20 vote-getters and have 13 at-large candidates. This "churning" of the candidates increases the likelihood that every viable candidate will appear on the ballot within a few years of using this system.
       4. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: June 09, 2002 at 12:31 AM (#605280)
    (Also add Gary Carter, whose election appears to be imminent.)

    I hope! :-)
       5. DanG Posted: June 13, 2002 at 12:31 AM (#605289)
    One other thing I wanted to do is show the ballot for 2003 that was compiled using the suggestions in the article. I think it shows how the system captures pretty much all the good candidates. The few that there was no room for this time (eg, Whitaker, Darrell and Dwight Evans, Bonds) can be added to the next ballot as at large candidates. There also are no total dregs like Jeff Russell or Scott Sanderson here.

    The 2003 "Practical" Hall of Fame Ballot

    Allen D
    Blyleven B
    Boyer K
    Butler B
    Carter G
    Concepcion D
    Cramer R
    Dawson A
    Garvey S
    Gordon J
    Gossage R
    Grich B
    Guidry R
    Hernandez K
    Hodges G
    John T
    Kaat J
    Marion M
    Maris R
    Mattingly D
    Minoso M
    Morris J
    Murphy Da
    Murray E
    Nettles G
    Oliva T
    Parker D
    Rice J
    Sandberg R
    Santo R
    Simmons T
    Smith Le
    Stewart D
    Sutter B
    Tiant L
    Torre J
    Trammell A
    Valenzuela F
    Wills M
    York R

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