Advice for Hall of Fame voters

by Jason Wojciechowski

Jumping off from The Common Man’spostabout how to repair the Hall of Fame voting process, I would like to offer someadvice to those voters who are paying attention and will be publishing theirballots.

Image by Brian and Kathy Mickle

First, explain your methodology. A Hall of Fame vote doesn’t have to be based on career WAR totals, much less ideas that build on WAR like Adam Darowski’s wWAR, which gives extra credit for remarkable seasons or Jay Jaffe’s JAWS ($$$), which balances a player’s peak and career WARP totals. You needn’t even rely on advanced statistics at all. What you should have, though, is a basic process that starts the analysis for any given player. Do you look at career totals of hits and homers and RBI and try to find comparable players at the same position? Do you look at Hall-of-Fame averages in key rate stats and see how the player stacks up? Do you start with award voting?

Your description of your methodology does not have to describe the end of the process, but we should be able to understand what matters to you in terms of statistics, personal factors, career vs. peak value, post-season experience, “big moments” vs. general excellence, and so forth.

Like with the MVP award, I’m not sure there’s a right way or wrong way to do this, but I do know that we should be able to test your votes against your own professed beliefs about what the Hall should look like.

Second, and relatedly, identify your ideal Hall size. Keith Law identifies himself as preferring a small Hall. I think I’m probably a bigger-Hall person, although I’m not sure if that bigness extends to Fred McGriff. Ideally you’d be able to express this question in terms of an approximate percentage of players from any given year that you think should be in the Hall. Is it the top 1%? Top 5%?

That’s a hard question to answer precisely, of course, but it’s a question that I think any voter should at least have a sense of. At the very least, you should be able to say whether you think the Hall is currently appropriately sized or should be bigger or smaller.

Third, please consistently apply the above. The Hall Of Fame Zealots Of The Internet (HOFZOTI, pronounced “hoff-zotty”) will be forced to excoriate you otherwise.

No, really, the whole point of laying out a methodology and identifying your ideal Hall is so you can vote in an even-handed, fair manner. If you covered Mark McGwire for years and found him stand-offish and rude, but “stand-offish and rude” isn’t part of your usual methodology, then it shouldn’t be part of the analysis when you decide whether to vote for McGwire. This sounds easy, but if you’ve ever read a “this is my ballot” column, you know it’s not. But, dear voter, if you are conscientious and follow the first two steps above, this step will come naturally.

Fourth, please only use facts. Unless you have facts about a player’s “PE”D usage and good science on how that usage affected the player’s performance, you should not be making up your own facts to fill in. Unless you have facts about how a player’s intimidating stare resulted in extra wins for his team, you should not be making up your own facts to fill in. And so on.

Fifth, please consider defense. I understand that there is some tension between this point and point number four because our knowledge of defensive skill is ringed with enormous error bars, but it seems clear that outside of a handful of “greatest defender ever”-type players (Ozzie Smith, Brooks Robinson), being a really good hitter with really good defense, such that the total value is approximately the same as someone with excellent hitting but zero defense, is not a great ticket for getting into the Hall. This is obviously wrong, because defense counts. You should figure out some way to think about it in Advice Number One above.

Sixth, and finally, don’t be a curmudgeon. The players of your day were not better than the players now. They weren’t nicer, they weren’t better people, and they’d probably bat .220 against Roy Halladay. Furthermore, you are not better than us simply because you have a Hall vote and we don’t. You have, perhaps, a certain amount of insight and expertise from spending years in locker rooms and watching games in person, but don’t let that go to your head. Be humble with your vote. Take criticism. Think about why people are making the arguments they’re making. If it comes down to philosophical differences on methodology or Hall size, then that’s fine. But if an actual error is identified in your reasoning, then think about that. Engage with the community. Be nice. You’d be amazed how much better we’ll treat you if you do this.

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