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
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
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
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
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
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
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
For the 2003 ballot, start with everyone who received
significant support (at least 2%) in the 2002 election. That’s 19
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
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.
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
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
We still have the 5-year wait before eligibility.
change from the current system.
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
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.
Posted: June 05, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 5 comment(s)
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