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Monday, January 05, 2004

The Role of Nominees: A Modest Proposal For the Hall of Fame

Dan examines how to improve the Hall of Fame voting process.

My previous article presented a practical fix for the Hall of Fame. Recognizing the Hall?s resistance to change, I adopted a band-aid approach then, retaining the existing structure as much as possible. This article proposes a more comprehensive form.

The Hall of Fame is falling behind again. With the reformation of the veterans committee in 2001, the number of persons being elected has slowed to a trickle. Ozzie Smith was the lone enshrinee in 2002; Eddie Murray and Gary Carter were the class of 2003. In 2004 we could see a shutout; there is no automatic first-ballot electee (Eckersley or Molitor?), no holdovers are on the brink (Bruce Sutter led the holdovers with 54% last election) and the VC isn?t voting.

This is bad news for the Hall, which likes very much to have someone to honor at its induction weekend every summer. Fewer fans will bother to make the trip to Cooperstown if nobody they?ve heard of is being enshrined, and the fans at home will switch the channel to exhibition football.

The Hall?s larger problem is one of perceived injustice. Every fan knows there are people in the Hall of Fame who don?t deserve to be there. This has resulted in a situation where there are players outside the Hall who are better qualified than dozens of enshrined players.

This has sparked damaging controversy and widespread dissatisfaction among those who care about the Hall. These are the inevitable results of an election system where the rules were haphazardly designed with little idea of what a Hall of Famer should be.

It doesn?t have to be this way. Even at this late date, these problems can be fixed by adopting a rational election system. There are two central questions, neither of which has ever been adequately addressed, that keep the hall of fame from being what it should be. The questions are:

1) How Many Players should be in the Hall? How many will be there in the future? Who knows? The Hall of Fame has never attempted to define how exclusive it wants to be. There are approximately 198 major league players in the Hall now (depending on who you want to include from among managers, Negro League stars and pioneers). That?s roughly 1.3% of retired players in history. Is it too many? Not enough? No one can say, it?s just how it?s turned out so far. Ultimately, it?s the whims of the rules makers and the voters that define the Hall—some years we get seven or more inductees (1999), other years just one (1993).

2) Who are the Candidates? The answer is, anyone who can get a bandwagon rolling for them. So, everyone?s a candidate. (If the veterans committee wants to enshrine former first-fan Richard Nixon they can do it.) And we get to be candidates forever. (If they want to dangle Gil Hodges as a candidate until the next ice age they can do it.) Actually, a few players have been barred from current consideration, crooks like Joe Jackson, Pete Rose and a few others.

The newly reformed veterans committee (VC) does little to address these issues. To the first question their answer is “Fewer than the old VC was electing.” Indeed, the system they?ve established is unlikely to elect anyone. To the second question they?re saying, “Here?s whom we?ve decided to consider in this go-round.” Players on the VC ballot in 2003 may or may not make the next ballot in 2005. The new VC setup fails to deal with these underlying questions. They have not devised a long-term solution.

The new VC (as well as the BBWAA) is not generally comprised of people qualified to make the necessary historical analyses of the candidates. Professional baseball dates back to Civil War days, so the typical voter has direct knowledge of only about one-third of the history of MLB. Shouldn?t we try to find voters who are truly interested in the question, Who is the greatest of all time (not just my lifetime)? There are historians, authors and fans that have pursued this question for most of their lives. I think the Hall of Fame deserves an expert electorate rather than the current “celebrity” electorate.

I?ve come up with a system that fixes both of these problems and renders a veterans committee unnecessary. I propose creating a Roll of Nominees, a semi-permanent list of Hall candidates, then deciding exactly how many should be enshrined. The voters can consider only individuals who are on this list. Candidates are added to the list and cannot be dropped until they get elected, once they achieve permanent status.

Here?s how to set it up:

 

1.	The hall of fame appoints a committee of knowledgeable historians to determine the Roll of Nominees. This is really the most important part of the process. This group should include at least 50 members, each of whom possesses a deep well of baseball knowledge. We?re looking for voters who hold the burning question, “Who truly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame?” Some large, eclectic group like SABR might be okay, or perhaps a “blue-ribbon” panel of respected personages. A poll of fans could even be used to determine the 15 player nominees from the most recent era (see #2c, below).

 

     

  1. The Roll of Nominees would start with 60 candidates. These candidates would remain as Permanent Nominees, until they gained election to the hall of fame.
    1.  

    2. There would be 20 Non-players:

 

?	five managers

?	five executives

?	five Negro (or foreign) leaguers

?	five miscellaneous contributors (umpires, pioneers, scouts, coaches, writers, mascots, etc.)

b)	We would include twelve Old-time players:

?	three players whose major league debut was before 1890

?	three players who debuted from 1890 to 1909

?	three players who debuted from 1910 to 1929

?	three players who debuted from 1930 to 1949

c)	We would also start with 28 Modern players:

?	13 players who debuted from 1950 to 1969

?	15 players (retired at least six years) who debuted from 1970 to 1989.

 

3.	For new player candidates, each year a committee will pick ten players from among the new five-year retirees and placed them on the Roll as Temporary Nominees. In their first year, if they receive zero votes we drop them from the Roll. We?ll keep them on the Roll on a temporary basis as long as they maintain their vote percentage from the previous year. If a Temporary Nominee?s vote percentage decreases in any year he is dropped off the Roll. To gain a “permanent” place on the Roll of Nominees, a new player needs two years where he finishes ahead of eight of the existing Permanent Nominees in balloting. New non-player candidates are discussed in #7 below.

 

     

  1. There will be two voting bodies, since evaluating the players demands different expertise than evaluating the non-players. Both groups should be well educated on professional baseball?s 140-year history. However, player evaluation also demands understanding of statistical analysis, whereas judging the non-players requires greater knowledge of evolutionary changes in the game along with psychological and sociological impact. Both groups will use private balloting and be of sufficient size (50+ voters) to ensure a broad consensus. The electorate must not be limited to baseball writers; a more diverse group is desirable.
  2. The voting will be conducted using MVP-style balloting. Each voter will list his top ten choices in order on the ballot, with bonus points to the top one, two or three, depending on how many are being elected. There is no longer any room to allow any voter to cast a blank ballot, since the task now is to identify the best of the best candidates and no “magic” 75% mark is required.
  3. This is similar to how the Hall of Fame currently chooses whom to honor for the broadcaster and writer awards. They don?t make anyone earn a majority of the vote, they simply decide that they want to honor someone and they pick the top guy.

  4. Three individuals will be enshrined every year. This is actually fewer than the Hall?s established standards. Since its inception, the Hall has averaged 3.8 inductees per year. If we assume that the initial backlog of greats is well accounted for, I think three inductees per year is a reasonable number. (In the 1990?s the Hall added 40 new members; in the 1980?s it was 35 guys). This ensures the Hall that they will have some inductees to celebrate when they hold their annual August bash.

 

The Hall of Fame?s 256-person membership has close to a three-to-one ratio of players to non-major league players (191 to 65). To maintain this, we?ll induct the top two players in voting and the top non-player each year for three years. Then every fourth year we?ll induct the top three players only. That is, in a four-year period there will be nine players and three non-players enshrined off of the Roll of Nominees.

7.	Every four years, the compilers of the Roll of Nominees will reconvene and replenish the ranks of the twenty Non-major league players and the twelve Old-time players to account for those who have been inducted to the Hall. The new candidate does not have to be in the same subgroup as the elected player. For example, if a Negro leaguer is elected he doesn?t have to be replaced by another Negro league candidate; the new nominee can be from any of the Non-player classes. The players of the 1950?s-60?s and 1970?s-80?s will only be replenished if they fall below three nominees.

8.	The Hall of Fame should construct a suitable display to honor those on the Roll of Nominees. Nothing too big, perhaps some wall space with photos and short bios. Many players, especially the old-timers, would be expected to receive little voting support. But they would at least be honored as the best of the rest and have their place in the Hall. If the Hall ever desired to enshrine a few more old-timers, there could be a special election to accomplish this.

 

The benefits of this system include:

       

    1. The elimination of the current veterans committee. Cronyism will no longer be a part of the process. No more will the VC elevate their buddies into the Hall.
    2. Consistent election standards. There will no longer be two different standards used for electing players, because we’re taking the VC and BBWAA candidates and combining them on one ballot.
    3. Assurance of qualified electors. Each of the two voting bodies will be tailored to expertly address the task at hand.
    4. Assurance of quality candidates. The field will be narrowed to only the best candidates. There can be no questionable selections, because we expect that everyone on the Roll will have a good case for election.
    5. A more orderly progression into the Hall. We know who all the candidates are, we can focus on them. We?re also enshrining the exact number we want, it?s not left to chance.
    6. Candidates will know where they stand. Most of the “permanent” Nominees will settle in at a consistent level of voting support. They will have to be content with knowing they are next in line for the Hall, but others are deemed more deserving by a fairly constituted voting bloc. On that last point, it would again help if we gave the vote to people more knowledgeable than the baseball writers.

 

There will no doubt be those who say this system allows too many players into the Hall. But actually this system enshrines slightly fewer players than in recent years. Over eight years (1994-2001) the Hall elected 21 players (11 by the writers, 10 by the VC); in the eight before that (1986-93) they elected 19 players (14 writers, 5 VC). With this system we?re electing 18 players (plus six others) every eight years.

Others may complain that we shouldn?t have people voting for candidates they?ve never seen perform. What must be realized is that whenever you?re deciding if a man is a Hall of Famer of not, you should be comparing his quality with those enshrined. Voters should not simply be basing worthiness on “I know one when I see one”, and other seat-of-the-pants analyses. To do it right you need to have historical knowledge and an aptitude for understanding analytical comparisons. This defines a qualified elector.

The permanent Roll of Nominees will not include any all-time greats, obviously. As in the present system, those guys will be elected in a year or two, never needing Permanent Nominee status. Most of the players elected will be newcomers to the ballot, like Molitor and Eckersley in 2004, Boggs in 2005. In subsequent “down” years, voters will probably go for Andre Dawson, Jim Rice and Lee Smith before the old-timers. As for first-ballot honors, I say if they?re worthy of the Hall, do not stall; vote ?em in. If Paul Molitor and Wade Boggs deserve to make the Hall, it?s wrong to make them wait. We?re looking to elect the most deserving people, no matter how long ago they retired

For the majority of the Permanent Nominees this is their final honor. Players like say, Sherry Magee, may have little chance of ever finishing in the top three in voting. This is not to say they wouldn?t be worthy Hall members; any of the nominees is better than the worst players in the Hall. In a sense, it?s a way of putting to rest the bones of the old candidates. They?re being tried in the same court as the new candidates and will be elected if deemed worthy. All any of them needs is a big enough bandwagon pushing for their election.

Hopefully, the Roll of Nominees will be seen as a fitting tribute to the best of the rest, while ending all notions of enshrining old cronies like Dom DiMaggio, Mel Harder, and others. It?s time to draw a line saying, “No more Rizzutos or Mazeroskis will go in unless they measure up as the best men for the Hall.”

If the Roll of Nominees was instituted for the 2004 election, the current players ballot might look something like this (based mainly on HOF voting results; sabermetric analysis suggests other players than many of these):

 

?	Debut before 1890: Pete Browning, Tony Mullane, Harry Stovey.

?	Debut from 1890 to 1909: Gavvy Cravath, Bill Dahlen, Sherry Magee.

?	Debut from 1910 to 1929: Wes Ferrell, Carl Mays, Ken Williams.

?	Debut from 1930 to 1949: Joe Gordon, Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso.

?	Debut from 1950 to 1969: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Curt Flood, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Jim Kaat, Roger Maris, Tony Oliva, Vada Pinson, Ron Santo, Luis Tiant, Joe Torre, Maury Wills.

?	Debut from 1970 to 1989: Bert Blyleven, Dave Concepcion, Andre Dawson, Dwight Evans, Goose Gossage, Keith Hernandez, Don Mattingly, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Jim Rice, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter, Alan Trammell.

 

  • Newly retired 1998: Joe Carter, Dennis Eckersley, Cecil Fielder, Jimmy Key, Dennis Martinez, Kevin Mitchell, Paul Molitor, Randy Myers, Terry Pendleton, Dave Stieb.

 

Daniel Greenia Posted: January 05, 2004 at 06:00 AM | 3 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. robert Posted: January 06, 2004 at 04:03 AM (#614319)
"There would be 20 Non-players:
? five Negro (or foreign) leaguers"

This would certainly be a sea change in the HOF's thinking. I'm assuming that "foreign" would include the Japanese League. While I certainly think that Sadaharu Oh, to name the most obvious example, deserves to be in the HOF, the HOF has so far resisted any efforts to enshrine players from foreign leagues. I doubt that even such a great player as Martin Dihigo would have been enshrined in the US HOF had he played all of his career in Latin America.

   2. Gold Star for Robothal Posted: January 09, 2004 at 04:04 AM (#614390)
I know this may sound harsh, but why should any writer (be it an old print journalist, .com type, or a sabermetrician) be the one voting on who goes into the HOF? Isn't it presumptuous for us to have people who (with few exceptions) never played the game at this level voting on who should be amongst the immortals? I know writers think they're guardians of the game, but let's be honest here. You're not. You're mere spectators. You will never have a true appreciation for what it takes to hit .400 or 73 homeruns, except as someone who is watching someone else accomplish those feats. The real guardians of baseball are the people who play the game. Isn't there enough surviving members of the Hall of Fame to have them vote on who should get in, instead of the writers? And no, I'm not just talking about the Veteran's Committee. I mean everyone who is eligible.
   3. Neil Posted: May 18, 2004 at 06:16 AM (#632629)
Am I the only one who read this like Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal?"

Nice article! ;D

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