Hall of Fame season is fast descending upon us; the ballot for the 2013 was announced Wednesday, and writers are already mobilizing to build support for voting movements and ideologies.
I think most people can agree that the Hall of Fame is facing several issues, both in this election and the upcoming ones, and people are always determined to come up with solutions to the problems. Ideas like letting the players and managers vote, introducing a limit on ballots a player can appear on, and banning steroid users get thrown out with alarming frequency at this time of year.
So many of these fixes aren’t worth the trouble, though. The players and managers have a horrible track record in recognizing greatness in fellow players, whether through the All-Star Game back-ups or Gold Glove awards. Limiting a player ignores the many deserving players who, for one reason or another, haven’t gone in on the first ballot. Banning steroids users ignores the long history of cheaters already enshrined.
In truth, the real fixes Cooperstown needs are much simpler.
1. Remove the ten-player limit
At most, writers can currently vote for ten of the 37 players on the ballot. Now, this wouldn’t be a problem...except that, thanks to the backlog from past years, voters who apparently don’t believe in full ballots, and writers that are growing increasingly picky, there are anywhere from a dozen to twenty players listed this year with a strong case. I would make arguments for fourteen players up for election this year, myself.
This is only going to get worse in the next few years. Say two of these fourteen players make the Hall this year; not only does this still leave us two over the limit next year, but we also add Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine, and others in 2014.
Long story short, the ballot is getting too crowded. The easiest solution would be to remove the ten player limit. And on a more logical sense, it doesn’t make sense to have a limit; why should Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux be competing for votes? Why should Craig Biggio’s Hall of Fame candidacy be affected by whether or not Tim Raines is on the ballot?
The quickest solution to easing the overloaded ballot would simply be to remove the limit. Let people vote for whoever they think is worthy; the other players on the ballot should not be a factor in whether a player makes the Hall.
2. Clean out the voter ranks
People are always arguing as to whether or not there would be a better body to induct players than ten-year veterans of the Baseball Writers Association of America. I’ve seen groups like players, managers, Hall members, and even the fans all thrown around.
In reality, the Writers are probably still the best choice in voting. I’m of mind on the ten-year wait period. I can see arguments for (it makes sure the writer has been following baseball for some time and has some knowledge of the candidates) and against it (it leaves out plenty of more-than-capable writers who haven’t been in the group for long enough).
The bigger issue, though, is that hall voters keep their ballots for life with no exceptions. This includes people that haven’t covered baseball in twenty years, for example. If you want to exclude current writers without enough experience on the basis of lack of attention on the sport, at least be consistent about it and make sure the current voters are still paying attention, too. Set some sort of limits; maybe a minimum of one baseball article per year to make sure they’re paying some attention (maybe more than that, but just as a basis, one may work).
And if the writer no longer has an outlet to write baseball? That can easily be solved with the third idea.
3. Make voters publish their ballots
The BBWAA has already started moving in the direction of increased accountability. Starting this year, they started publishing how each award official voter filled out their ballot (see, for example, the NL MVP article).
This could tie in to the previous requirement: voters must write so many words explaining their ballot each year. They’re writers by trade; it doesn’t seem too outlandish a request. And on top of that, it requires that the voters think about their votes, and be able to defend them. Gone will be the days where a player can turn in a ballot like this and go silent on the issue. Similarly, voters who turn in ballots with ridiculous reasoning (like these) can engage in a discussion and make more informed decisions in the future rather than continue to make random, nonsensical choices. Either way, it should help.
This won’t fix every problem with Cooperstown. There are too many problems, many of them too small to focus individual attention on. As is, there are just so many deserving players not in. However, these changes, while individually small, may together add up to be big enough to jumpstart a significant, overdue reformation process.