Big Changes Baseball Must Make to the Hall of Fame Voting Process

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Big Changes Baseball Must Make to the Hall of Fame Voting Process
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Will Barry Bonds be elected to the Hall of Fame for 2013?

The class of 2013 for the Baseball Hall of Fame is likely to be one of the most controversial in recent memory. 

It's the first grouping of eligible players who have achieved some of baseball's greatest feats, yet their careers exist underneath a cloud of suspicion associated with use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Did Barry Bonds set MLB's all-time home run mark because he used steroids? How many of Roger Clemens' 354 wins received some pharmaceutical help? Did Mike Piazza really have such amazing opposite-field power or did some juice factor into that?

Hall of Fame voters don't really know (though Bonds admitted to using steroids, claiming he did so unknowingly), yet are asked to decide upon such matters anyway. Perhaps some changes to the voting process would allow them to make a clearer decision. 

But some wider-ranging changes to the Hall of Fame vote could also help. In particular, who gets to vote should be up for consideration. One certain group should not be Cooperstown's ultimate gatekeepers. There are simply too many other professionals who watch the game and should have their voices heard. 

There is no better time than now to re-evaluate baseball's Hall of Fame voting process. Here are some suggestions for changing who gets to vote for the sport's highest honor and what should be considered as those ballots are filled out.

 

Diversify the Voting Body

I'm a writer (though not a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and don't expect that to change). I'm all for writers having power and being the decision-making force when it comes to regular-season awards and career honors. 

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Shouldn't Vin Scully have a Hall of Fame vote?

But baseball writers should not be the only ones who get to vote on who gets into the Baseball Hall of Fame. There are simply too many other groups and occupations associated with the sport for only one organization to have a voice in this process.

Television and radio broadcasters watch just as much baseball as writers (it could be argued that they actually watch more, since they're calling the game as it happens). They talk to players, coaches, executives, former players, writers and fans too. 

As legendary Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan said during a Nov. 29 appearance on The Tony Kornheiser Show radio program, "I have a vote and Vin Scully doesn't. That's not right." Ryan is right. How can someone of Scully's stature and tenure not have a say in who should receive baseball's highest career honor? 

Former players—especially those already in the Hall of Fame—should have a vote as well. Barry Larkin told the New York Daily News that he believed letting steroid users into Cooperstown "kills the integrity" of the institution. Why isn't he allowed to apply that sentiment toward a Hall of Fame ballot? 

Why don't the game's greatest players get to decide who should join them in Cooperstown? Former Heisman Trophy winners get to vote for the current award. It should be the same way for baseball. 

How does Hank Aaron not have a vote? What about Willie Mays? Al Kaline? Frank Robinson? I could just keep going down the list. All of these players and their peers should have input into this process. They should be able to do more than just express an opinion.

Current players could have a say too. Not all of them. But perhaps a set group of those playing right now could be chosen to vote. Maybe certain players could apply for the privilege each year, if they really wanted to have a say. Many of them played with the names that are on the ballot for the first time this year. 

Let managers have a vote. General managers and team presidents should get to chime in too. Why shouldn't some owners, some of whom have been in the game for decades, have a voice in the process? 

 

Rotate the Panel Each Year

Letting broadcasters, former and current players, managers and executives adds many, many more potential balloters to the annual vote. Maybe that would make the process unwieldy, with too many ballots to count and too many voices chiming in.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Should former players like Willie Mays have a Hall of Fame vote?

This might allow too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak.

Deciding on a set number of voters each year, basically forming a large panel or committee of contributors, would be one way to keep this under control. 

This would also keep the group of people voting for the Hall of Fame fresh. Many Hall of Fame voters have seemingly become entitled over the years. Take them out of the process now and then, and allow them to take a step back and get a clear look at what's going on.

Cycle balloters in and out of the committee. The same people don't have to vote every year. Perhaps some of them will, by coincidence. That could be a good thing. 

Some voters might say they need to know in advance so there is enough time to really study the ballot and number of eligible players before determining who should be inducted.

OK, choose who gets to vote a year beforehand. This way, people will know that they can cast a ballot, in addition to how long of a period they're allowed to contemplate who should be on it.

 

Make the Steroid Language Clearer for Voters

I would imagine that part of the fun of being a Hall of Fame balloter is being able to interpret the rules for voting individually. That should be a part of the process, otherwise it could be a robotic, nearly thoughtless ritual each year.

Different people don't view the game the same way, and the voting should reflect that. Some voters might base their balloting more on the numbers. Certain statistics might be valued more than others. Some might go by the eyeball test, comfortable that they know a Hall of Famer when they see one. 

But when it comes to the steroid issue, voters point to one word in the rules: integrity. Here is the exact clause from the BBWAA's election rules:

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.

What that exactly means is open to a wide range of interpretation. Some voters haven't supported an eligible player in the past because of how he treated the media.

Bob Levey/Getty Images
Speculation shouldn't decide Jeff Bagwell's Hall of Fame case.

While that might be understandable—no one likes to be mistreated; everyone wants to be respected—it has nothing to do with what a player did on the field. Yet voters are allowed to factor that in to their thought process as they fill out their ballot. 

Integrity, sportsmanship and character are the three terms voters are considering when deciding whether to include players associated with steroids on the ballot. Of course, it's not as easy as just keeping those who actually tested positive for performance-enhancing substances off the ballot.

In most cases, steroid use is alleged or suspected. That's led to some players, such as Jeff Bagwell, perhaps being unfairly penalized. Should he be kept out of the Hall of Fame because some voters think he may have used steroids because he was a rather muscular fellow who played during an era in which many players actually used PEDs

The election rules could be altered with language that allows voters to include steroid users if they so choose.

Something like, "We understand that there are suspicions with several players on the ballot. Yet as those allegations haven't been proven and Major League Baseball has not decided to exact penalties on such players, neither should we.

The next wave of eligible players played in an era during which steroid use was believed to be prevalent, and should be judged accordingly."

OK, maybe it could be less wordy than that—or more definitive. But some voters seem to be waiting for the Hall of Fame to tell them it's all right to vote for suspected PED users. So give them the go-ahead. 

That still allows for interpretation, which many voters surely want and should be allowed to maintain. But it would make it clearer as to whether steroid users—admitted or alleged—should be included. While there should be plenty of room for judgment and personal belief among voters, giving them some clarification couldn't hurt. 

 

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