Toward Fixing the Hall of Fame Selection Process

By The Common Man

The Common Man believes there is little doubt that the Hall of Fame voting process is flawed. Deserving candidates, such as Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and (until recently) Bert Blyleven and Ron Santo have been held back while clearly less deserving players, such as Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter have been elevated far beyond their actual value by the voters. The process as it currently stands is held hostage by peer pressure, by suspicion, and by ignorance. This is a problem.

It’s a problem because so many fans of the game care so deeply about the Hall of Fame, the ultimate career achievement of the best players in baseball history. In a sport where history is so revered and studied, the Hall of Fame offers a link to the past, and to the players we have loved. And to stand by while that past is willfully ignored and distorted is simply unfathomable to TCM. Quite simply, the system must be reformed.

But how? That’s the central question. Alas, there’s no obvious and glaring fix that we’re ignoring.  Here are a few possibilities:

We could ask the players, coaches, and managers to vote.
This has some appeal because, you’d think, nobody knows the players better than the players themselves. And yet, if you’ve followed the Gold Glove voting, you know that this process is just as unanalytic. Voters rely on their eyes, on small sample sizes, and on reputation. Remember, Derek Jeter has five Gold Gloves, and Rafael Palmeiro won one in 1999 even though he only played 26 games at first. There’s nothing to indicate they’d be any more careful in their picks of Hall of Famers than they are in the awards they vote on, and the All Star selections they make.

We could have a super-committee of reporters, Hall of Fame players, execs, and historians.
Because super committees have worked so well this year…. Anyway, this has some appeal. It’s similar to the current Veterans Committee arrangement that finally oversaw the election of Ron Santo this year. And it would give HOFers a say in who joins their ranks. There are still potential pitfalls however. As Bill has pointed out, players have a financial stake in keeping the pool of Hall of Famers small. They also have proven to be particularly maleable to the whims of one man (Frankie Frisch) in he past. And while the other wings of the HOF vote might restrict some of their flights of fancy, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that a small committee could fall under the sway of a small group of voters who are seen to have greater legitimacy.

We could ask fans to vote.
This has the advantage of being the most democratic. Why does the Hall of Fame exist if not for fans of the game? Shouldn’t the people who love the game most have a voice in who gets its highest honor? Unfortunately, we’ve seen what can happen when fans are asked to vote to honor players. The fan vote for the All Star Game starters and final roster spot have become a combination popularity contest/get out the vote drive that’s consistently claimed by the teams who can best organize their fans to vote. It also is terribly unanalytic, in that it rewards the players who are best known and played in the biggest market. It would presumably lead to a Hall of Fame of Jack Morrises and Don Mattinglys, while Raines and Blyleven continue to stand on the outside looking in.

We could ask bloggers to vote.
Obviously this isn’t happening. The Common Man threw it in to A) flatter your ego (since most of us figure we’d make a great electorate) and B) point out that it’s completely unworkable. While many of the bloggers TCM has been fortunate enough to encounter are smart men and women who think carefully about the game, there would be no way to accredit voters. Which means that these guys would be standing toe to toe with this moron. There’s nothing that differentiates us, as bloggers, from fans except that we take the time to write about it. And there are proportionately as many crazy bloggers out there as there are crazy fans.

We can let the BBWAA continue to vote.
This is actually the best of all of our options, but we need to tweek it a little. The rank and file beat writers and columnists do tend to see a ridiculous amount of baseball. They are close to the game and they have an accreditation process already in place to ensure that most of them are serious, with only one or two exceptions.

Editors, however, really have no place in the voting, given that they have relatively little contact with the game on a day-to-day basis. Nor should it take a full ten years in the BBWAA to gain a vote. Indeed, the BBWAA should not assume that its members started paying attention to the game the moment they joined. Moving the waiting period up to, say, three or five years will put the electorate more in line with the general mindset of the American sportsloving public, which they should be striving for, lest they appear completely out of touch.

Finally, we need to have greater accountability and transparency for the voting that’s going on. Last year, there were roughly 580 voters who cast a ballot for the Hall of Fame. Of those, just 127 posted their ballots publicly, according to Leo Kitty‘s HOF tracker. Here’s the thing. Voting for the Hall of Fame is not the God-given right of BBWAA members. It’s a power and a privilege. And if Spiderman has taught us anything, it’s that with great power comes great responsibility. In agreeing to take on this responsibility, BBWAA members should be required to publish their vote and, preferably, an explanation as well.

Admittedly, this opens voters up to additional criticism, some of which will be unwarrented and ugly. That’s incredibly unfortunate, but it may also be the cost of doing business. If you want to be the authority deciding who receives baseball’s highest honor, you need to justify your picks. You need to stand up to public scrutiny. No more self-agrandizing talk about how voting has become “agony.” No more whining about legitimate criticism levied by fans who have the best interests of the game and the Hall at heart. This is not a burden voters will be forced to bear. They can lay it down at any time. But if they want to continue to wield this power, they should consent to allow that power to be checked by the players who play the game, other writers who make their livings off of it, and the fans who make the sport possible. 

Open your curtains, BBWAA.  Let some light into the process and join in actual conversation.  The Common Man believes we’ll all be better for it.