Editor’s Note: This is the first post of “Hall of Fame Week!” For more info, click here.
If you’re unfamiliar with the many very good reasons for reforming the electoral process of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, then I urge you to pick up a copy of Bill James’ The Politics of Glory, the gold standard on the subject. Even so, you may take interest in some of the proposals that follow.
Summarizing the need for reform can be best put thusly: The current process does a poor job electing any but the highest tier of candidates because it does not have a system designed to sort the wheat from the chaff. This inefficiency historically has created a massively large gray area between the worst inductees in the Hall of Fame and the (superior) top candidates who remain on the outside. This inconsistency is further exploited by the boom-bust cycle of inductions created by institutional rule changes and an electorate unschooled in the traditional levels of excellence honored by their predecessors.
The first step in any reform should be to lay out what the objectives of said reform are. To wit, I propose the suggestions below seek the following aims:
- To better identify the top candidates for the Hall of Fame.
- To maintain a rate of inductions more closely aligned with the Hall’s longer history.
- To guarantee inductions each year in order to spur public interest in attending the induction ceremony.
- To reduce idiosyncratic voting and imposition of voters’ personal opinions over the rules.
- To substantially increase the knowledge base and expertise of the electorate.
- To make the process transparent and the voters more accountable.
- To permit the fans to participate in the electoral process.
- To create additional opportunities to educate people about the history of baseball.
The Front Door: The Contemporary Players Election
The first step is to define what is being voted on, rather than who is doing the voting. The “BBWAA Election” will henceforth be renamed the “Contemporary Players Election.” This also opens the door to the future inclusion of broadcasters, authors, bloggers, team and league officials, managers, coaches and players in the electorate. Over time, perhaps a rotating term system with a fixed number of voters could be adopted. Reestablishing that this election belongs to the Hall of Fame and not to any one voting body is a painless start in the right direction.
I will return to the Contemporary Players Election, but for now suffice it to say that only players who retired six to 15 years ago are eligible for consideration. As is currently the rule, only players who last played in the 2001-2010 time period are eligible for the 2016 election.
What about the thousands of guys who played before 2001, you ask?
The Back Door: The Historic Players Election
Collectively known as the “Veterans Committee” in all its formats, the Hall of Fame always has had a second electorate for players who retired a really long time ago. There is a lot of sense in doing this as new information – and new ways to look at existing information – are developed all the time. Of course this isn’t the centerpiece of the induction ceremony except, perhaps, for the odd historian, but it nevertheless is an important feature of the election cycle.
The present-day version of this collective is actually a trio of triennial committees, each responsible for a particular epoch in the game’s history. The existing format of a dozen or so people voting in person at baseball’s winter meetings shall be retained, though people with more scholarship and less game experience shall be rotated into the committee over time.
Unlike the existing committees, this revamped single committee – the “Historic Players Election” – to elect former players will not be tasked with electing managers, executives, umpires or other non-players.
The Non-Players: The Contributors Election
All these managers, executives, umpires and pioneers shall be considered by a separate electorate at the winter meetings in similar fashion as the historic players, but with particular expertise on the history of the sport off the field. Negro and Cuban League contributors also shall be eligible in this “Contributors Election.” Additionally , eligibility shall be extended to all contributors both contemporary and historic.
Assembling the Ballot: A New Screening Committee
The BBWAA has acted as the screening committee for both its own elections and the various veterans elections, most recently under the guise of the Historical Overview Committee. BBWAA elections demonstrate easily preventable errors, and veterans elections showcase demonstrable bias. The process is best served by removing the BBWAA from the process of compiling either ballot. Giving the screening process for both historical elections to the most knowledgeable group of baseball scholars on the planet – the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) – makes far greater sense for all involved. (It should be noted that there are people who belong to both the BBWAA and SABR.)
SABR is more than capable of coming up with a fair and objective way to develop a list of the best available candidates for those elections. A fixed number of annual candidates will give voters plenty to examine prior to casting their vote. Thirty players and 15 contributors are a sufficient number for each given the ample resources freely available to voters these days.
For the contemporary election, the Hall of Fame should hold an annual election in which fans voice their preference for the top 30 eligible players. Every eligible player from the requisite time range shall be able to be selected here: all those who aren’t banned and participated in at least 10 major league seasons. For the 2001-2010 retirees who remain outside the Hall of Fame, that’s a total of 497 potential nominees for the ballot. Let me be clear: Players who previously received fewer than five percent in an election or were never named to the ballot when they might have debuted are (once again) eligible so long as their last season occurred during that range of eligible seasons.
It is at this stage – the nominating process – of the contemporary election that fans become part of the process. Here, people can tip their cap to their occasional favorite son without compromising the chances for election of more serious candidates. With the top 30 cumulative vote-getters being placed on the ballot, there is little chance a Bernie Williams or David Cone does not find himself on the ballot throughout his full 10 years of eligibility, much less an Alan Trammell or a Tim Raines.
This step effectively replaces the five to 10 weak candidates who annually appear (and are quickly one-and-done) with better candidates who are no longer bounced because of a crowded ballot their first time up. Top to bottom, voters will see a stronger lineup of candidates from which to choose. Better yet, because the fans assemble the ballot, there will be a natural sense of pride that follows the announcement of each nomination to the ballot and, therefore, greater public interest in the election and induction of those on the ballot to see if “their guy” was chosen.
Accuracy in Collective Opinion: The MVP-Style Ballot
While existing elections ask voters to list from zero to 10 (or 4, depending on the election) eligible candidates whom they deem deserving of election, the current process doesn’t ask voters to list the most deserving candidates. This is strange given that the people who created the Hall of Fame’s electoral process – the BBWAA – also created the election process for the Most Valuable Player Award, an election that seeks to ask exactly that question: Who is most worthy?
Henceforth, in all elections the Hall of Fame should adopt this MVP voting style and ask voters in each election to list the 10 most worthy eligible candidates in descending order of merit. Points shall be awarded to each candidate named, in reverse order of ranking. A first-place vote is worth 10 points, a second-place vote worth nine points, etc. Candidates’ cumulative point totals from all ballots are sorted from highest to lowest, with the former the winner of the election.
Induction Ceremony Insurance: Standardizing the Inductee Count
When the Hall of Fame first opened its doors in 1939, the BBWAA had elected 12 players in four years, an average of three per year. Although observers in print commonly approved of this rate, the BBWAA opted instead to hold an election once every three years and elected only one candidate in the next seven years. The consequences were disastrous and led to yet another rule change before the end of the decade.
The Hall of Fame has been holding elections since 1936 (though not continuously), and 244 players have been elected over those 80 years, a historical average of just over three players inducted per year.
The benefits of electing three contemporary – modern stars, almost certainly still living and relatively healthy – should be obvious.
The gradual expansion of the number of major league teams and players over the past 54 years, however, suggests there are a larger number of great players in any given season than when blacks and Hispanics were not allowed in the majors and only eight teams existed. In short, we should be electing more than three players per year these days.
Fortunately, we can remedy that error with the conservative number of one additional player elected each year – one from the Historic Players Election (plus one contributor each year, as well). This will increase the size of the Hall of Fame, but only at a minimally greater rate than has been the case in the past. By controlling this rate of induction in an intentional, disciplined way, we can avoid the kind of “boom” periods where lesser – or even unworthy – candidates gain entrance to Baseball’s Valhalla.
Reviewing the Process: Meeting Our Objectives
We wanted to better identify the best candidates for each election. The substitution of an expert panel of scholars to compose the ballot, and an election that requires voters to list candidates in order of merit and has a set number of inductees not only identifies, but will elect, the best candidates to a far greater extent than the current process.
The three contemporary players per year maintains the historic rate of inductions for the Hall of Fame. It also guarantees two or three living inductees every year, attracting larger crowds to induction weekend in Cooperstown and more attention to the results overall. Additionally, the participation of fans increases public interest in the election and its results.
The move to MVP-style voting reduces (if not entirely eliminates) the negative impact of “first ballot” voters, unanimity contrarians, strategic voters and local homers.
The electorate will be presented with a better slate of candidates with better prepared background on each thanks to the vastly improved selection process, now rid of the institutional bias of the current various voting bodies.
All ballots will be made available to the public through the Hall of Fame’s website so that voters will no longer be able to hide behind their anonymity. Voters should be willing to defend their selections in an appropriate manner and forum, else they should reconsider their participation in the process. Voting for the Hall of Fame is a privilege, not a right. Further, discussion about potentially controversial ballots also creates more public interest.
With fan voting responsible for creating the Contemporary Player ballot, fans finally will be a part of the process, though not to an extent where mass ignorance or voter fraud can sway election results as other fan votes – the All-Century Team, for example – have occasionally demonstrated.
The guaranteed election of one historic player and one contributor along with the three contemporary players will leverage the increased attention being paid to the inductions and give fans – particularly younger ones – a great opportunity to learn about baseball’s older greats on and off the field.
Bonus Fun: Hall of Fame Legends
The Hall of Fame also should establish an annual fan vote – conducted via Internet throughout the baseball season – to determine, from among existing Hall of Famers, the true legends of the sport. This is the “inner circle” of Hall of Famers, whom casual fans generally believe compose the Hall of Fame. Yes, the creation of this additional distiction would result in a two-tiered Hall, but that’s okay. The tiers already exist in the minds of fans. This would be the Hall’s attempt to formalize such distinctions.
The winner of the election would be announced during the year’s World Series, with a special tribute to the player being made at the following year’s induction ceremony. It also would be a signal to fans that the Hall of Fame elections would be right around the corner, sparking an early buzz in the process that would help spur many hot stove discussions during the ensuing two months.
I’m not certain what an appropriate honorarium would be for these “Legends.” Perhaps a bronze statute instead of a plaque? Certainly a bust at least (like the Pro Football Hall of Fame). These men would be the greatest of the greats, the names everyone thinks of when they hear “Hall of Famer.” It’s impossible to see someone besides Babe Ruth honored first, but this would become a fun and utterly harmless way for the Hall of Fame to further involve fans and generate interest in the institution. After the first decade or so, these elections would begin highlighting forgotten greats. Because these honored inner circle types would be making news, future generations would be introduced to Tris Speaker or Mel Ott in a way they don’t have cause to today.
Choices would be limited to former players who have been members of the Hall of Fame for at least 10 years (to avoid Ken Griffey Jr. or Derek Jeter making the list any time soon). The only other caveat would be that they had to gain election through the BBWAA or, going forward, from the Contemporary Players Election. The best candidates elected by the Veterans Committee are Johnny Mize, Ron Santo and Arky Vaughan, none of whom is among the 50 greatest players in history, nor do they instantly spring to mind when the words “Hall of Famer” are uttered.
If these proposals were adopted today, the Hall of Fame would have 444 former players 50 years from now, but only 50 of them – around 11 percent – will also be Hall of Fame Legends. This gives the discerning fan who knows something about the Hall what he wants: a distinction between the all-time greats and the greats of each era. And that seems about right, doesn’t it? Make your own list of “inner circle” all-time greats. How many are on it? If it’s big enough to include Mike Schmidt and Johnny Bench then you probably have about 30 names at that point, and that’s roughly the same ratio of Legends to Hall of Famers as we’ll have after half a century of Legends voting.
The 2016 Ballots: An Illustration
Assuming the immediate implementation of this system, we have the following three hypothetical ballots.
2016 Contemporary Players
Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Kevin Brown, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, David Cone, Carlos Delgado, Jim Edmonds, Nomar Garciaparra, Luis Gonzalez, Ken Griffey Jr., Trevor Hoffman, Jeff Kent, Kenny Lofton, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, John Olerud, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Bret Saberhagen, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Robin Ventura, Billy Wagner, Larry Walker, Bernie Williams
While this presents more fair-to-good candidacies on the ballot, a voter who isn’t willing or able to sort through 30 cases isn’t the kind of individual who needs to vote. Furthermore, the new voting structure ensures that extreme candidacies – Ventura, for example – won’t obstruct the upstream progress of better supported candidates.
Another positive is that the ballot will remain fairly steady over time, rather than one third to one half of it being refilled each year largely with no-brainer “no way” candidates, giving voters greater familiarity with each holdover than presently exists.
2016 Historical Players
Dick Allen, Bobby Bonds, Ken Boyer, Bill Dahlen, Dwight Evans, Wes Ferrell, Bill Freehan, Jack Glasscock, Bobby Grich, Heinie Groh, Stan Hack, Keith Hernandez, Tommy John, Bob Johnson, Sherry Magee, Minnie Minoso, Thurman Munson, Don Newcombe, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Vada Pinson, Willie Randolph, Rick Reuschel, Jimmy Sheckard, Ted Simmons, Reggie Smith, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Jimmy Wynn
Compare a smorgasbord of great candidates with the paltry six players from the 1871-1946 period on this year’s actual historical ballot. No contest!
Doc Adams, Buzzie Bavasi, Sam Breadon, Harry Dalton, Ralph Houk, Bob Howsam, Frank Jobe, Jim Leyland, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Danny Murtaugh, Lou Piniella, John Schuerholz, Bud Selig, George Steinbrenner
Again, compare these 15 to the mere four who must compete with the historical players for votes in the existing system once every three years.
Making the Case: Demonstrating the System’s Efficacy
Here’s a look at what the last 10 elections might have looked like had this system been in place already:
|Year||Contemporary Players||Historical Players||Contributors|
|2006||Bruce Sutter, Jim Rice, Goose Gossage||Ron Santo||Doug Harvey|
|2007||Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, Andre Dawson||Jim Kaat||Marvin Miller|
|2008||Bert Blyleven, Lee Smith, Jack Morris||Gil Hodges||Billy Southworth|
|2009||Rickey Henderson, Tommy John, Tim Raines||Joe Gordon||Dick Williams|
|2010||Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez||Tony Oliva||Whitey Herzog|
|2011||Jeff Bagwell, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker||Dave Concepcion||Pat Gillick|
|2012||Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Don Mattingly||Minnie Minoso||Buzzie Bavasi|
|2013||Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling||Deacon White||Hank O’Day|
|2014||Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine||Steve Garvey||Bobby Cox|
|2015||Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz||Dick Allen||Tony La Russa|
In the past 10 years, the Hall of Fame has inducted 17 players, three historic players (the third column), 13 contributors (the fourth column), and 14 Negro League players.
These hypothetical totals were compiled on the basis of actual election totals in the year in question or the most recent year in which an appropriate election was held (when none was held in the actual year).
For starters, there would be 20 more players in Cooperstown than there are now, a significant step towards resolving the many problems inherent with the gray area. (“Why is Player A in, but Player B is not?”)
If you look closely at the names in the third column, you’ll notice those are all players from the 1950s through the 1980s, the most underrepresented decades among the existing Hall of Fame membership.
Further, I believe we would have seen the election of Santo, Minoso and Miller (two of whom remain outside the Hall of Fame) before their deaths had an annual system with guaranteed elections been in place, alleviating perhaps the most tragic byproduct of the current system of election for veteran candidates.
Now let’s imagine what the next 10 elections might look like after these reforms:
|Year||Contemporary Players||Historical Players||Contributors|
|2016||Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell||Minnie Minoso||Marvin Miller|
|2017||Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez, Trevor Hoffman||Bill Dahlen||Doc Adams|
|2018||Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero||Dick Allen||Bud Selig|
|2019||Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez||Wes Ferrell||Jim Leyland|
|2020||Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Andruw Jones||Luis Tiant||Buzzie Bavasi|
|2021||Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, Jim Edmonds||Alan Trammell||George Steinbrenner|
|2022||Ichiro Suzuki, Scott Rolen, Johan Santana||Lou Whitaker||Billy Martin|
|2023||Carlos Beltran, Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte||Ross Barnes||Bill Dinneen|
|2024||Mark Buehrle, David Ortiz, Jorge Posada||Bobby Grich||John Schuerholz|
|2025||Adrian Beltre, Andy Pettitte, Jimmy Rollins||Mark McGwire||Danny Murtaugh|
Is there any doubt the above hypothetical results are a vastly better outcome that can reasonably be predicted under the current electoral system?
Ignoring the specific names on the lists above, the idea here works: three modern players, one historical player and one contributor. Three elections, five inductees, and thousands more interested in the results, visiting the museum and learning more about the history of baseball each and every year. After all, isn’t that what a Hall of Fame should be about?