It’s the time of year when 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America – some 600 at last count – elect former players to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Ballots are due by December 27 and the results will be announced on January 6. Unfortunately, the Hall’s rules limit the number of worthy candidates that get elected every year.
The voting rules are both simple and complex. Candidates must receive 75% of the votes cast to gain election. Beginning this year, players will remain on the ballot for ten years, down from fifteen in prior years. However, any player receiving less than 5% of the vote falls off the ballot. Players who aren’t elected by the baseball writers may be considered by the 16-member veterans committee. Writers are allowed to vote for a maximum of ten candidates. That’s the simple part.
Voting rule #5 requires writers to consider six qualifications: “…the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” But the Hall provides little guidance to the voters beyond stating that the words integrity, sportsmanship and character apply “to how the game was played on the field, more so than character off the field.” However, many writers – too many in this view – have interpreted those words to mean that players who used – or were even suspected of using – PEDs are not deserving of election, regardless of their on-field qualifications.
The result is that players such as Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, arguably the greatest pitcher and hitter of their era, receive enough votes to remain on the ballot – in the thirtieth percentile – but not the 75% of the vote necessary for election.
Consequently, voters have created a logjam as new – and deserving – players become eligible. This year’s newcomers include Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz. Given their credentials, it is likely that they will garner more support than holdover candidates on the ballot. There are several actions the Hall could take to reduce the number of qualified players who are being passed over.
Under rule #9, the Hall’s Board of Directors “reserves the right to revoke, alter or amend (the Rules for Election) at any time.” It should begin by eliminating the arbitrary 10-player limit placed on electors. A candidate either qualifies as a Hall of Famer or not. Why should a player be forced to wait years for election, or worse, fall off the ballot completely, because the PED era candidates have created a backlog of eligible candidates?
Second, the Hall could include a “runoff” election, something it did on-and-off between 1946 and 1968. For example, anyone receiving 50% or more of the vote could be included in a second election with, say, the top one or two vote getters being elected, as long as they receive the necessary 75% of the votes cast.
Third, the Hall could eliminate the words integrity, sportsmanship and character entirely from the list of qualifications. Before you suggest that such an amendment would violate tradition, the fact is that ship sailed years ago. Those words were added in 1945, just one of more than two dozen changes and exceptions to the voting rules that have been adopted since the first election was held in 1936.
Fourth, instead of eliminating the words integrity, sportsmanship and character from the rules, the Hall could provide further guidance to writers. For example, the Board might issue a statement stating that PED use – and certainly suspected PED use – should not be considered by voters. The Hall of Fame is supposed to chronicle baseball history. The PED era was part of baseball history, just like the Dead Ball Era, the Segregated Era, etc. We can’t even determine who used and who didn’t let alone discern the effect PED use had on a player’s career. Are members of the BBWAA so much smarter than we are?
The Hall could also remove convicted or admitted PED users from the list of eligible players. While I am personally opposed to such action, it would help reduce the logjam which is destined to get worse in future years, choking off the admission of new and deserving members to the Hall. It’s in everyone’s best interest to prevent that from happening.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com
Jordan can be reached at email@example.com.