12 Ways to Fix the Hall of Fame

The Baseball Hall of Fame is broken. Here are twelve ways to improve the voting process.

1) Fire the BBWAA. That sounds harsh as there are many BBWAA voters who spend a lot of time on their ballot, are objective, capable of doing comparative analysis, and embrace metrics new and old. Unfortunately, they are in the minority.  There are hundreds of voters who no longer cover the game, treat voting like an entitlement, and use the sniff test as their primary voting tool. The most obvious way to improve the voting process is to upgrade the people who vote. Keep everything else the same, even the pointless 10-slot max but overhaul the voters and the process will be in much better shape.  So who votes then? More on that in a bit.

2) Eliminate the 10-slot voting the limit. Once a player is enshrined the Hall makes no distinction as to whether he was voted in by the BBWAA or a Veterans Committee. There is no mention of how long a player appeared on the ballot or what percentage of the vote they received. If you’re in, you’re in. The 10 player max contradicts this approach. If you have a voter that thinks 15 players are worthy of the Hall of Fame, shouldn’t he or she be allowed to vote for all them? Of course.  It’s a rule that truly accomplishes nothing. It actually can hurt players twice. If a voter wants to vote for more than ten players he can’t, that’s obviously frustrating but to make things worse not voting for a player hurts their chances of getting in. If you’re a voter who believes Alan Trammell belongs in the Hall of Fame but can’t find room for him among your ten available slots, you’re essentially voting against him. The Hall is forcing some if its voters to vote against players they adamantly feel are deserving. The BBWAA voting process and all of the various Veterans Committees are systems designed to put deserving players in, not keep them out.  The rules currently in place are doing just that.

3) Sliding scale. The previous change allows voters to actually vote for all of the players they find deserving. With that change in place, there is no need to keep players on the ballot who have peaked at 10% of the vote their ninth year on it. Holdover players should see their vote totals rise every year. I suggest something like this: Year one 5% needed to say on, year two 10%, year three 15%, year four 20%, year five 25%, year six 35%, year seven, 45%, year eight 50%. If a player hits 50% of the vote at any point they will remain on the ballot for the full ten years allowed.  If they fail to hit any of the markers above, they fall off. This step creates more movement at the bottom of the ballot and prevents future logjams.

4) Make all ballots public. Transparency in general is regarded as a good thing. I don’t see any advantageous reason in keeping the votes a secret. It makes the Hall seem like they don’t have confidence in their voters, and it makes the voters who choose to keep their ballots private appear like they don’t have confidence in their own vote. The BBWAA to their credit makes the voting for their yearly awards (MVP, CY Young, Rookie of the Year etc) public. Not only should the ballots be made public but the names of all the voters who participate should be as well. People are interested in the Hall of Fame, many (myself included) care disproportionately about it.  I want to know who voted for who and why.  I think that’s fairly reasonable. The why factor takes me to number four.

5) More than just a ballot. All Hall of Fame voters are asked to do is place a checkmark next to a player’s name and mail their ballot back in. The Hall can and should do better than that. I think each ballot should be accompanied by a written description of the thought process behind it. I’m not looking for several thousand words here just a simple explanation of why you voted for or against someone. What numbers did you look at? What Hall of Famers did you compare that player to? How does he rank among his contemporaries?  That’s all. A paragraph or two about each player would be plenty. Many voters do something similar on their own but the Hall should require this and make these public along with the ballots. This may seem trivial but this would all but eliminate the sniff test which would make for a better process. The sniff test is unfortunately the primary way a player gets into the Hall of Fame, that’s embarrassing for everyone involved. I expect more, the Hall should too.

6) Rank them. Building off part four I think the voters should be asked to rank every player on the ballot. The rankings themselves won’t necessarily be used in any official capacity but it would provide more insight to the voter’s thought process. Asking the voters to rank players and provide a paragraph or two explaining their vote would require more work on their end. The Hall can make this a bit easier but eliminating some of the players who are obviously not deserving from the ballot. This year’s ballot has 34 players on it. Ten could be cut without anyone noticing.  Tighten the ballot up and provide the voters with more information about each player to better assist them in making their decisions.

7) Eliminate the character clause. There are cheaters in the Hall of Fame. There are terrible people in the Hall of Fame. Some have committed violent crimes, others are racists, gamblers, steroid & amphetamine abusers, spitball throwers, and bat corkers. Great players have been accused or charged with sexual assault, kidnapping, domestic assault, fraud, DUI’s, and numerous others violent or despicable crimes. I believe the Hall of Fame should be a collection of the best players ever to play. I also think the Hall should acknowledge a player’s sins on the field and off.  Put the steroid guys in, acknowledge (on their plaques, online, in books, promotional material, etc.) that they used. Do the same with Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson. Barry Bonds is one of the best players ever to play the game, he also used illegal steroids. Both are part of his legacy.  The Hall should recognize both and stop using the BBWAA as their moral goon squad.

8) Year by Year. Voting for the Hall of Fame is currently just a lifetime achievement award for BBWAA members. At least 40% of the voters who participate no longer cover the game or are involved with it in any capacity. I think the process would much more efficient and effective if the voters were selected on a year by year basis. I think voters would take the process more seriously if they know it was possible that any given year could be their only chance to participate. I don’t think term limits are needed, some voters may vote for several consecutive years, take two off, than get asked back. Others may vote once and that’s it. This would allow the Hall to change over its voting group as much or as little as it wants, freeing itself long term from voters  who submit blank ballots, protest ballots, are retired, biased, or just plain incompetent.  No one participating, regardless of their fame, what media outlet they work for, or what awards they have received would be guaranteed a vote beyond the current year.

9) The Hall of 100. I think the voting group should be comprised of 100 people. That would reduce the voting pool by roughly 500 voters. I think that the group of 100 should be a reflection of those who study, research, and participate in the game. Some of the voters should be BBWAA members, some should be play by play announcers or analysts, some should be radio or TV personalities, some should be researchers, sabermetricians, and historians. Get the best people voting regardless of what affiliation they have.  Some will say team employees are too biased in favor of their team. I think that’s unfair, I also think if that proves to be true, they shouldn’t be voting. The best part of not tying yourself to any one organization of voters or guaranteeing people the right to vote year in and year out is accountability. Accountability, like transparency is a good thing. The Hall should stop running away from both.

10) 10% turnover. So, with this system 100 people vote every year. However, I don’t think it should be the same 100 year in and year out.  That’s not fair to the players on the ballot. If the voters never change, why would their votes? Change over the voters by at least 10% every year. This allows for fresh opinions to constantly be rotated into the process. It also creates a system that has every voter eventually taking a least one year off.  The days of people voting for thirty or forty consecutive years will be a thing of the past.

11) The Director. Who should be in charge of all of this? Who picks the voters? Who decides what players appear on the ballot or ushers in change to the process as it’s needed? I think the Hall needs to create a job for someone to do just that. Director of Player Admissions. This person would likely have a staff, be in charge of the voting process and the voters. It should be someone’s job to handle all of these things, a job at a director level, a position that pays well. This person should always be looking for new and better ways to improve the voting process and get deserving players in.

12) Constantly evolve. This is perhaps the most important thing on this list. The Hall currently makes changes to their voting system roughly as often as Charlie Brown successfully kicks the ball. Using the BBWAA as voters made sense initially as they were the only people who objectively covered the game, but that’s not the case anymore. Having a ten player max made sense when there weren’t more than ten deserving players on the ballot but that no longer holds true either. The character clause was put in place by three conservative white men in the 1930s, I don’t think their values have evolved in line with present day common sense. The Hall clings to these things simply out of convenience. It’s the way things have always been done, why change? This is backwards. At some point effectiveness and efficiency should trump tradition. The Hall should always be looking for ways to improve or change the voting process.  If something new doesn’t work, get rid of it.  Keep the things that work well, get rid of those that don’t but never be complacent that everything is fine. Do better than fine.

This new system would be based on objectivity, transparency, and accountability.  You would see all-time great players getting voted in with 100% of the vote, a voting group that’s informed and fully engaged in the process, and new points of view constantly being added to the mix. Blank ballots, and protest ballots would be a thing of the past as would relying on one group of people (The BBWAA) to vote.  I think this new system would do a better job at getting deserving players in and keeping the undeserving out. Which I hope is the point.

Here’s the best part. These changes are not that radical, they could easily be implemented for the 2016 ballot. Next year I think Griffey is the only guy who gets in (unless Biggio falls short again this year). How different would the 2016 class look if these changes were in place? I’d love to find out.

Follow me on twitter @RossCarey

Comments

  1. Thomas Cipolla says:

    I would like to suggest one more reform. To correct a bad system in the past there could be a means of removing someone from the hall. That should be a high hurdle to climb but possible.

    • There are definitely many people enshrined in the Hall that don’t belong there. At least 40 players fall below any reasonable standard for induction. However, I don’t think the Hall should actually remove anyone. The bad choices are part of history, removing them wouldn’t actually accomplish much. I think it might actually do more harm than good. If you’re Jim Rice or Bruce Sutter and you see the Hall suddenly purge 40 players, don’t you worry that will be you in 50 years? I think that would diminish the accomplishment of getting in and players would lose interest. The mistakes are part of history, they all were voted in one way or another and together they represent a flawed voting process. The Hall should acknowledge how they got there, explain Frisch’s tenure as head of the VC, it’s part of the history of the museum. The Hall needs to stop running away from history, especially its own.

  2. 13) Kick Jim Rice out yesterday. Replace with Dwight Evans.

    Your podcasts are excellent, Mr. Carey. Guest requests: Michael Humphreys, Sean Smith, Clay Davenport. Another HOF idea is to let Michael & Sean write a couple lines on Derek Jeter’s plaque about his defense. However, Jeter is a such a good egg I’ll be happy for him upon his enshrinement.

Leave a Reply