Fixing the Baseball Hall of Fame Voting Process

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Fixing the Baseball Hall of Fame Voting Process
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
As the dust has finally settled on the election of Andre Dawson, it is time to take a step back and look at changes to the election system of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Having attended the last 10 or so induction ceremonies, I have developed a greater kinship to the weekend than one might expect. This is both for better and worse, and it can cloud my judgment.

That said, let us start with a few disclaimers. This space does not believe that Dawson necessarily deserved election to the Hall of Fame in the same way it does not believe that Jim Rice and Tony Perez were worthy candidates, but it is not the impetus for the changes. This space does not subscribe to the "two wrongs make a right" or "this guy is the same as that guy" arguments. I also believe that it is the Hall of Fame and not the "Hall of Very Good". It is a place that should have better standards and a more open dialogue as to the process.

Now we have that out of the way and can begin. On MLB.com's history page, here is what it says a player needs to be considered for the writer's vote for the Hall of Fame:
"Former Major Leaguers who have been active some time during a period of 20 years before and ending five years prior to election and have played in a minimum of 10 seasons. Any player on Major League Baseball's ineligible list is not an eligible candidate. In the event of death of an eligible candidate, the five-year waiting period shall be reduced to six months (this has occurred three times: Lou Gehrig in 1939, Roberto Clemente in 1973 and Thurman Munson in 1979. Gehrig and Clemente earned election)."

Players receiving at least five percent of the vote stay on the ballot the following year for up to 15 years. Players earning at least 75 percent of the vote receive enshrinement into Cooperstown. Sounds simple enough right? OK, good.

How do you get to vote? You are a member of the BBWAA (the dumbest acronym in the history of the world since "baseball" is one word) for at least 10 years. Once that happens, it does not appear that you can lose your vote at any future point. Meaning, even if you stopped attending games in the 1980s, you still vote. Whether or not you step in a press box, you continue to get a ballot and can send it in. Even if you send it in blank (yes, that is a shot at you, Jay Mariotti). The only way non-members get to vote is if their market has no members. Then, one writer (or editor) is given a vote for the Hall of Fame.

That covers how to get in and how to get a vote, but the major question is how it can be improved. The best place to start is with the ballot itself. The argument for allowing 15 years of time to pass is so that history can take its time to sort out the statistics and the era.
Still, only four players have ever been enshrined on their final opportunity. Most recently, Jim Rice received that recognition. The evolution of steroids has given further credibility to leaving players on the ballot longer, specifically as we understand the number of those involved in the performance-enhancing sub-culture.

With that in mind, there still needs to be a change in the number of years allowed. We should be judging those on the ballot against those in their era. It is impossible to judge greats like Babe Ruth against modern players today. The competition and skill level simply is not the same as it was then. Therefore, all we can do is judge them against who they played against and determine whether or not they were worthy of being considered elites of that period. Why, then, does it take 15 years to determine?

Players stop compiling statistics the day they retire. When we watched them on the field and when they stopped taking it, their presence should have evoked something within those who follow the game. The question is simple: Yes or No?
It is reasonable to believe that anyone who votes should be able to make this decision relatively easily. That being the case, the time on the ballot should be cut down to five years. If after five years a player still has not gained enough votes, it should be obvious that they are not worthy by the criteria of the voters.

Dropping it down to a five-year span will keep the Hall of Fame from becoming watered down. It will also halt the vote accumulation process seen by many who have waited much longer to be elected. Do these players still deserve to be in? Maybe, but the Veteran's committee exists for a reason. Let them make that call.

The second piece is the minimum votes needed to remain on the ballot. Since 1996, here are some of the players who have received at least five percent of the vote: Keith Hernandez, Mickey Lolich, Bob Boone, Rusty Staub, Ron Guidry, Fernando Valenzuela, Willie McGee, and Albert Belle.
All of these players earned the right to be considered at least two years. Certainly, we would lose the ability to consider some greats by making an adjustment, but that should mean people take the vote more seriously.

If the minimum were moved to, say, 50 percent, we would be given a more representative sample and debate platform. If half the people think the player's candidacy is valid, then there is a method to the madness. A five percent total just gives rise to some unnecessary names clogging up the ballot. Using 75 percent as induction level still makes sense in the long run. After all, you could not get four guys in a bar to agree on every player currently in the Hall right now.

These two changes would create greater dialogue, force writers to vote for players earlier, and eliminate the vote accumulation problem. The reality is, they are not that radical.

The voting presents a myriad of other issues. Writers seemingly view themselves, in some cases, as guardians of the gate. Not one player in the history of voting has received 100 percent of the vote. The highest voting percentage belongs to Tom Seaver, who was left off of only five ballots and received nearly 99 percent of the vote. Regardless of the player, some writer seems to feel the need to hold a stance that implies, "If Babe Ruth did not get 100 percent, this guy does not deserve it either."

These same writers will then go down the list and give a vote to Robin Ventura, Pat Hentgen, Tim Wallach, and Jay Bell. The Hall of Fame should not have to come up with strict statistical criteria to keep these players off of the ballot, because eras and times change too quickly. It should remain open to all who meet the minimum standards. However, it is not the obligation of a writer to vote for these same players. Those who do need to be scrutinized more closely, regardless of their reason.

That is why while other sports each have their problems, including the incessant debating that goes on in the Pro Football Hall of Fame rooms, there could be an easy fix to this one. Those who vote should be attending games and watching baseball regularly. What if we required all voters to submit receipts or logs of games they attended each year, verified by Major League Baseball? One person could be assigned to each ballpark for this purpose alone.

In this way, we would ensure that those watching the game are up to date on at least who is playing and who visually appears to be a Hall of Fame player.

Second, we need to embrace the changes in both statistics and the manner in which baseball news is received. Writing bodies, whether website or newspaper or blog, would submit an application to be considered for voting rights. Based on the viability of what is produced, as determined by MLB, that body would receive a certain number of voting rights not to exceed a quarter of the total writing staff.

These people would then be held to a "writing standard" that would be defined as contribution to the game. For each vote received, the writing body would be required to submit a set number of articles for review in order to keep those votes. It would be renewable and reviewable every two years, based on how quickly some sites come and go from the web.

The final piece involves the Veteran's Committee voting. The players placed on this ballot are required to wait an additional period before getting a chance to be selected by this committee. Unfortunately, the period can be so long that there is not enough of a voting block established and, again, the time period has changed too much.

The players need to be judged in the light of their contemporaries and in relation to their playing period. Fixing this is possible as well. Based on the new player guidelines established above, players who fall below the 50 percent threshold in their first year become immediately eligible for review by the Veteran's for a period of five years. Should they fall short of 20 percent in their first year of eligibility here, they are no longer considered. That percentage escalates with each subsequent election.

Those who make it past the first ballot of the writers must wait until they fall off. Once they do, they must wait to be reviewed by the Veteran's Committee for as many years as they appeared on the writers' ballots. They then would be subject to the same voting procedures described above.

One benefit to this is that it allows for more Veteran's Committee inductees to be alive at the time of their induction. Also, players of that era are available for the voting process. The biggest benefit is that it continues to allow the era comparison to be made at the appropriate time.

Admittedly, some of these ideas are far-fetched. Others, though, need to be looked at in some form. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the past elections, the people currently missing and the votes being cast deserve the scrutiny. The only way to attempt to fix the problems is through implementing change.
Collin Hager writes The Elmhurst Pub Fantasy  blog and contributes weekly to FantasyPros911.com. He is a fantasy baseball featured columnist for Bleacher Report. You can get your fantasy baseball questions answered by sending an email to collinwhager@yahoo.com . You can follow him on Twitter @TheRoundtable.
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