A Hall of Fame Idea

OK, so I’d like to throw out a new Hall of Fame voting system. It is based a little bit on the current system, a lot on old Bill James idea and a little bit more of something new. I’m sure there are many things wrong with it, and I’m sure you’ll be happy to tell me all those things. That’s good. I’d love for it to be a starting point for a conversation.

* * *

The current process: As you know, the Baseball Writers Association of America has been voting players into the Baseball Hall of Fame since before the museum opened in 1939. They (or “we” since I am a BBWAA member) are not the only entry-point. The Hall of Fame has, through the years, put together many different committees to honor overlooked Major League players and those who do not fit the traditional definition of Major League Baseball player (Negro Leaguers, managers, executives, pioneers, umpires, etc).

But the main process (as I’m sure you know) is this: The BBWAA — the oldest and biggest organization of baseball writers — create a ballot of players who played at least 10 years in the Major Leagues and have been retired for at least five years. The BBWAA voters are mailed this paper ballot which they fax or mail to the BBWAA office for processing. Yes, in the BBWAA, we still fax things.

Voters are instructed to consider a player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which he played.

If a player receives 75% of the BBWAA vote he is automatically voted into the Hall of Fame. If he receives between 5% and 74% (no rounding up) he will be placed on to the next year’s ballot for up to 15 years.

If a player receives less than 5%, he is dropped from the ballot and is no longer eligible to receive votes from the BBWAA.

* * *

The problems: I think most of the problems with Hall of Fame voting have been discussed ad nauseum, which translates from the Latin to mean “to the point of nausea” which is exactly what I’m saying.

The New York Times asked me to be part of what they called a discussion with other writers on the Hall of Fame voting problems. I didn’t get to actually discuss this with Rob Neyer, Ed Sherman, Christina Kahrl and Trent Rosencrans — which would have been fun since they are all much smarter than I am. We all wrote our pieces separately. But, whether it was luck or genius New York Times editing, we all seemed to hit on a different issue.

Here, quickly, are five problems with today’s voting. I’m sure you could easily come up with 100 more:

1. The BBWAA does not reflect the way baseball is consumed and enjoyed in 2014. In 1936, when the Hall of Fame turned over its process to the writers, yes, absolutely, the BBWAA was everything, the sun and the moon and the stars of baseball coverage. There was nothing else. No Internet. No television. Little radio. Every newspaper of consequence would send its baseball wrier to the World Series, whether it was near a Major League City or not.

Now: No. Newspapers are shriveling. Fewer and fewer cover baseball regularly. The biggest baseball covering operation in America is MLB.com and its members are not in the BBWAA. The broadcasters around the teams every day are not in the BBWAA. The statistical analysts who have changed the way we look at the game, for the most part, are not in the BBWAA.

Plainly, the BBWAA is just not enough anymore.

2. There’s an ethical question — one Ed Sherman brings up — whether sportswriters even should vote for the Hall of Fame. His feeling (and many others feel this way too) is that journalists should COVER the news not MAKE the news the way the BBWAA does every year with its Hall vote. Several newspapers do not allow their writers vote.

I don’t come all the way around with Ed on this one, but I understand the thinking. I hope my plan has a way to work around this, at least a little bit.

3. Fans feel powerless. This, I think, is why there’s so much outrage about the process. Many baseball fans care a lot about the Hall of Fame but don’t feel like they have any voice in the matter. And this is because, Deadspin aside, fans do not have any voice in the matter.

4. The world has changed much more dramatically than many want to acknowledge. I barely touched upon this in my Times essay but it’s a big deal. Here’s just one small example of how much times have changed (and haven’t).

Every year, in our Hall of Fame voting packet, we will get a statistical packet that offers a brief statistical rundown of each player. In the 1970s and 1980s and even into the 1990s, this statistical packet was ESSENTIAL to vote. There was almost no access whatsoever to even the most basic numbers — not unless you had access to a Baseball Encyclopedia or an extensive baseball card collection.

Thing is they STILL send these packets. Every year, when I get it, I just look at these few stapled pages with basic numbers and shake my head. It’s like being a voter for the greatest mathematical advancement of the year and them sending you an abacus in the mail. These days I can find anything — ANYTHING — in a matter of seconds. Want to know what hitters batted off Mike Mussina after the seventh inning? Three clicks, bam, they hit .246. The BBWAA still sends these statistical relics of another time, and while it’s an innocent thing, it also seems symbolic of something.

5. There’s a powerful divide on what to do with players who used (or, for some voters, may have used) performance enhancing drugs. The BBWAA has, so far anyway, has strongly voted that these players do not belong in the Hall of Fame. That’s a perfectly viable opinion — I sense it’s the opinion of Hall of Fame leadership too — but the BBWAA alone shouldn’t be making that call.

There are plenty of other issues,. Like I say, I want to throw out a new process as a starting point and see if it goes anywhere.

* * *

The new process: Let’s go one step at a time.

First: The BBWAA would still construct the Hall of Fame ballot. I don’t think most people view the ballot itself as a problem. My feeling is that for this new process to work, the BBWAA is the best group to oversee and execute it. The BBWAA has been handling the Hall of Fame vote for 80 or so years. It’s in the group’s DNA.

So the BBWAA creates a ballot just like today. It’s still made up of players who played at least 10 years in the Major Leagues and have been retired for at least five years. This is all the same.

Now is where we make our changes, loosely based on Bill James’ concept introduced in his book Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?

We have four different groups vote on the ballot.

Group 1: The BBWAA. This election can be much like it is now.

Group 2: The living Hall of Famers. I’d actually be for expanding this group so that it is the living Hall of Famers AND anyone else who has ever appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot. I’d be happy if it was widened even more than that and include, say, radio broadcasters.

I’d be for expanding the group beyond just Hall of Famers because Hall of Famers have a habit of not voting for anybody.

- There’s this natural inclination for Hall of Famers to believe that nobody plays the game the right way anymore. Kids today! Goose Gossage’s constant, “I’m not saying, I’m just saying,” grousing about how Mariano Rivera didn’t have pitch two or three innings for saves like he did is a prime example.

– There are business reasons for Hall of Famers to keep the club exclusive. Hall of Famers make a lot of money being Hall of Famers.

– Personal feelings about the nominated players might get involved. Hall of Famers might be too kind to teammates, too stingy with opponents they didn’t like. This sort of bias is true in BBWAA too, of course, but I would say it’s not AS true. There is still a wall between writers and players.

Anyway, let’s start by saying it’s just current Hall of Famers. They deserve a say. And we can discuss any expansion of Group 2 later.

Group 3: A SABR-organized panel of baseball historians, researchers, analysts and experts on the game’s history. SABR — the Society of American Baseball Research — is often viewed as an organization of statisticians running around in Star Wars pajamas with slide rule stick out of the front pocket. The term “sabermetrics” is the reason for this.

But it isn’t true. It isn’t close to true. Only a small percentage of SABR members are what people would call sabermetricians. Most of the members are intense baseball fans interested in exploring and sharing the game’s history and its meaning. The group’s mission is very much in line with the Hall of Fame’s. I think we could feel very confident that SABR would create a wonderful voting bloc that would both protect the Hall of Fame and keep it vibrant.

Group 4. Fans. I have a very specific suggestion for the fan group. I don’t think an All-Star balloting system or gigantic Internet poll is the way to go.

Here’s what I would do: The basic membership for the Hall of Fame right now is $50. I’d cut that in half — but make it so that one of the perks for membership is getting to vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

There are countless advantages here. For one thing, it would unquestionably beef up Hall of Fame membership, probably double or triple the membership base, maybe even a lot more than that. It would re-engage people with the Hall of Fame, which I think would be fantastic (and necessary). Also, think a group of baseball fans who cared enough about the Hall of Fame to be members would make for a great collection of voters.

OK, we have our four groups. Now what?

Well, each of the groups gets a ballot. They vote. And here comes our biggest change. Every player who gets more than half the vote is nominated for the Hall of Fame by that group.

So for this year, for instance, the BBWAA would have nominated Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas (of course) but also Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Jack Morris and Jeff Bagwell. All of them got over 50% of the vote.

Only now, they would not just go into the Hall of Fame. The other groups vote the same way. And in order for a player to get into the Hall of Fame, they need to be nominated by at least three of the for groups.

Three out of four. There’s the 75% line that the Hall of Fame is famous four.

So how would this work in real life? Obviously a player like Maddux or Thomas would be nominated on all four ballots and would breeze right into the Hall of Fame. But now, someone like Piazza would probably get in right away. The BBWAA would nominate him, the fans (you suspect) would also nominate him. And then I’m guessing at least one of the other two groups would nominate him. That would get him in.

There are a lot of advantages to this system — here are short responses to the issues listed above:

1. It would broaden the voting group to better reflect baseball in 2014 rather than baseball in 1936.

2. I think it lightens the ethical issues any news organizations might have about their writers voting. In this scenario, writers aren’t CHOOSING the Hall of Famers (like now) but are simply part of a much bigger process. There are those who would say this doesn’t change anything, those who take the ethical issues to extremes. There are editorial board members, for instance, who refuse to vote in elections. That’s fine. But I think, in general, this would alleviate some of the concern about writers making news.

3. Fans would have a say in who becomes a Hall of Famer.

4. This expansion, I think, fits the time. The BBWAA is almost certainly too homogenous in the way it looks at the game. Yes, there are powerfully different viewpoints among baseball writers (as we see every year) but everyone is still looking down from the press box.

5. There will still be divides on controversial issues like drugs in baseball but now you would get many different perspectives on these issues. And we could learn from each other. Let’s say, for instance, that the fans nominate Roger Clemens. I’m not saying that would happen, but let’s say it did. Well, that should be eye opening for the BBWAA or the living Hall of Famers if the fans make it clear that they feel the Hall of Fame in incomplete without Clemens in it. I can think of many different scenarios like this.

Would this system make it harder or easier to get into the Hall of Fame? It’s an interesting question and I don’t know the answer. But I’d like to find out.

96 thoughts on “A Hall of Fame Idea

  1. Sean Tuxill (@thebostinian)

    BBWAA’s top ten voting percentages: Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, Biggio, Piazza, Morris, Bagwell, Raines, Clemens, Bonds. But of those, the last three don’t break the threshold of 50%. Are we capping the maximum number of nominees? Without doing that, theoretically you could have up to 20 guys nominated (not that it’ll ever happen, but that’s the highest it could go).

    I like the idea of taking the power out of the hands of the writes, but I’d like to suggest an addendum: if a player receives 90% of the votes from two groups, they’re in. That’s actually a percentage of total votes and prevents the writers and Goose Gossage from trying to keep the damn kids off their lawn.

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  2. Frank Evans

    Great solution. If only it could be so. I don’t see it happening, for one major reason: Just as HOFers want their group to remain exclusive, the primary relevance of the BBWAA lies in its control over who gets to Cooperstown. Open up the voting, and the BBWAA is no longer relevant. There’s no way they will support their own marginalization.

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    1. btilghman

      The BBWAA’s opinion doesn’t really matter. The HOF Board of Directors established the election procedures and they can change them, with or without the writers’ consent. If they did go with this plan, I expect the BBWAA would go along just to retain some say in the process.

      I’d like to see reform not so much because I’m dissatisfied with the recent elections (although they have disappointed me), but because, as Joe articulates, the current process is an artifact of a different time. But I’m curious if there’s any chance of reform of any kind happening. Have there been any indications that the HOF is unhappy with things? If I remember, after last year’s non-election, they issued a statement explicitly supporting the process.

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    2. Matt Vandermast

      It’s my understanding that changes to the induction process don’t require the BBWAA’s approval; instead, they require the Hall of Fame’s approval. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.

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      1. Guest

        Here’s the thing that I don’t understand. The BBWAA is the only entity that votes. I understand that the HOF actually sets the requirements, but BBWAA is charged with carrying out the voting. So could they simply hold a national meeting and come up with the association’s official interpretation of the HOFs standards? I understand there would be huge logistical issues (nobody agreeing on anything), but I wonder if it’s actually at least possible as a matter of the procedural agreement between BBWAA and HOF I’m thinking of an analogy to administrative law here. Oftentimes Congress passes laws but gives an agency (SEC, EPA, etc etc) authority to carry out the law. Those agencies then issue rules, interpretations, etc etc about the law. Sometimes those rules, interpretations, etc get challenged and ultimately overturned by courts. But the point is the agency doesn’t have to spend years hand wringing about how the law means; it is empowered to interpret the law. So could the BBWAA theoretically do the same thing — say, this is our official association stance on what the “character clause” means, this is our official stance on how to deal with the “PED era.” I understand there would be myriad logistical issues, but I wonder if it’s procedurally possible. It’s weird when, eg., Jayson Stark writes a column each year asking for a national debate on HOF voting issues when the nation doesn’t vote, the BBWAA votes. Do they have no control over how to define the process?

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    3. Tim L.

      The most interesting part (to me) about the response BBWAA members had to LeBetard and the Deadspin (outside of the moron who claimed he inadvertently made a “retard” about LeBetard) is how many writers seem to be outraged that non-BBWAA people had a say. So many referenced the fact the “non-qualified” or “unearned” entity voted.

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  3. John Brinegar

    I’m not as bent out of shape with the current system as some are. It should be really difficult to get into the HOF. That being said, I think I like the plan – mainly because I want a vote!

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        1. Carl

          Actually, consider Freakonomics. In that book, the author spoke about how groups of somewhat knowledgeable people (and sports writers are all at least “somewhat” knowledgeable will wind up with the correct decisions. Why? because the “too” optimistic and the “too” pessimistic will cancel each other out. In regards to the HoF the “big Hall” and the “small Hall” will wind up canceling each other out. This becomes even more true in an iterative process. Meaning that if Piazza didn’t get in this year, or Roberto Alomar in year 1, as the groups repeat the process, get more knowledgeable, the error margins get even smaller, and those players, ie Yogi Berra and Roberto Alomar, get in on subsequent ballots.

          Yes there are nuts on the BBWAA, but as a group, they tend, over time to vote correctly. When they don’t (mostly due to group bias such as racism) then special groups have, can and will be set up to deal w those.

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      1. Dave

        I agree 100%. Leave it alone, and keep it exclusive. I don’t want to see it watered down to become something akin to the NFL HOF.

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        1. Kris

          Don’t want it watered down? The BBWAA’s most recent inductions include Dawson, Rice, Hunter, Gossage, Sutter, Puckett, and very nearly Morris. While leaving out dozens of players who are by far and away much more qualified. The BBWAA is doing as much as anything over the last decade to water it down.

          Nobody wants the HOF watered down. Leaving the BBWAA to its own machinations is not serving that purpose though.

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  4. pault

    I love it. My one thought on the fans and the HOF is that, not only would they make it a lot more $$, but I would probably pay it to have a say. Or maybe they could lower it and say “You have to be a member for X years (5 maybe?) before you have a say.” I love your idea because it would give them more $$ – and they could use it for things like expanding the HOF and the Negro League Museum, etc..

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  5. jdennis

    This solution is valid only if the groups are of comparable size. The BBWAA is hundreds of people. The SABR group needs to be hundreds of people. The former players need to be hundreds of people. The fans wouldn’t be a problem.

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  6. Terry Benish

    Everybody is angry about who did not get in with this vote. A more pertinent accusation and criticism of the system is how in hell is Tom Glavine a first ballot HOF inductee?

    Wins is how. It should not have been enough. Twenty two years, seventeen with a great team. Five with the Mets.

    He was barely good, never ever dominated. He had at least eight seasons where he was measurably bad. He is a poster child for why the vote should be taken away from BBWAA. They’re incompetent.

    Here are some names: Mike Mussina, Alan Trammel, Lou Whitaker, Edgar Martinez.

    The whole DH disclaimer perpetuated by BBWAA is yet another reason to remove the vote from them.

    I could go on. It is just disgusting though. The Veterans committee and Ron Santo led by ex Red jerks should get them into one of the outer circles too.

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    1. Chris M

      “Barely good”

      Dude, and I say this with the utmost respect, just shut up. I agree that Glavine is more borderline than his vote totals suggest, especially when compared to Mussina and Schillings vote totals. But when you go completely off the deep end the other way, you just destroy your entire argument. He had one MVP caliber season (8.5 bWAR in 1991), 5 more All-Star caliber seasons, and a bunch of above average seasons. In fact, he was only below average 4 times in his career: his fist 3 seasons and his last season, and in only 2 of them was he below replacement level (my definition of “bad”). He’s 28th all-time in career WAR, just behind Schilling and Mussina, and well ahead of any active pitchers (including recently retired Halladay and Pettite, who clock in at 41st and 55th respectively).

      Should Glavine have coasted in while Moose and Schilling scrape for 30%? No, probably not. Do all 3 of them belong in Cooperstown? Yes, absolutely. Glavine had the sexy win total, and I think more importantly rode his teammates coat tails. He got in, and that’s fine. Now just get the other 2 guys in and it’s all good.

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    2. JJ

      Agreed on the cause for Moose, Edgar, Trammell, Whitaker, Schilling, etc. but Tom Glavine is absolutely a Hall of Famer.

      The guy had a 12-year peak (91-02) of a 134 ERA+ (3.15 ERA) with 225 IP per season (including the strike years) without missing a start. He didn’t have standout K/BB numers, but he certainly belongs in the Hall of Fame.

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  7. Edwin Ortega (@Webyacusa)

    Ken Rosenthal disagrees with you. According to him, if I understood correctly, we, the fans, should have no saying on the HoF voting, because we are mostly idiots, or something. And he is one of the reasonable ones. I don’t even want to imagine what Chass would say about your idea.

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    1. DjangoZ

      Many fans are quite bright and thoughtful about these sorts of things…but the average fan? Not so much. Look at all-star voting to see what a group of fans do. It’s worse than any HOF voting by the writers.

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  8. DjangoZ

    I thought I would oppose the plan you put forward, but I’m actually okay with it.

    It reminds me of direct democracy concepts. That if people are complaining about something so much, then let them vote on it. It may not change the outcome but they will feel like they have some control and not be so upset.

    I suspect with your plan that Bonds and Clemens still wouldn’t get in, but people wouldn’t complain about it as much and I like that.

    I will add though that fans have consistently shown they are terrible judges. The voting for all-stars across all the major sports are atrocious.

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    1. Ben Goldberg-Morse

      But one of the major problems with All-Star voting is that fans continue to vote for former stars, many of whom have had great careers, long after they’ve stopped being the best in the world. I think that long-term memory would be a positive for a career-encapsulating honor like the Hall of Fame.

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    2. doncoffin64

      Another problem with All-Star voting is that anyone can vote as many times as he/she wants. I suspect that a lot of the weirdness in the voting would disappear if people could only vote once. (But that is practically impossible with All-Star voting.)

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  9. ibrosey

    I think another group needs to be added: The BBBAA, so to speak, with the third B standing for Broadcasters. If someone’s regular body of work includes broadcasting baseball – play by play, analysis, daily, weekly. Whatever. These are the people who live baseball professionally, and their voices, and votes, need to be included.

    Great piece, Joe.

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    1. John

      My only concern with those broadcasters who cover individual teams will be pressured to vote for that team’s candidates.

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  10. Steve

    Joe, unfortunately I don’t think it will fly, even though I like it on first glance. Reason? I don’t think the Baseball Hall of Fame will ever be talked about as much if it is “corrected”.

    If you want a comparison, take the Academy Awards. You could argue it’s even more of a voting travesty because they don’t even report any results, only the winner. No second place, no margin of victory, nothing. And yet look at how much time and money it generates, and how people either think the winner was a correct choice or that someone or some film got jobbed.

    Final point – would you (or the New York Times) write as much about the Baseball Hall of Fame if the voting was “corrected” (like college football supposedly will be)? Just my $0.02.

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  11. Matt Williams (@Matt1J)

    Make vote pubic for BBWAA. If someone makes mockery, they lose voting privileges. No blank votes, no selling votes, no voting 1 guy to prove a point. Follow the instructions. And once you stop covering MLB, you don’t vote for BBWAA. You can vote along with the fans.

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    1. thoughtsandsox

      I agree in part that after someone quits writing about baseball that he/she should not vote anymore. But if you did that across the board too be many people, that really care for baseball and take the HOF vote seriously, would lose a vote. Guys like Peter Gammons don’t write about baseball anymore; he is a broadcaster now. He isn’t a writer anymore but knows more about baseball than 90% of the people on the planet. He should vote. I’m sure there are a ton of other examples of this but he came to mind first.

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  12. Cuban X Senators

    The Hall doesn’t want a system that works efficiently to get all first time deserveds in, as I see many seem to think they should.

    The short-term result that the Hall wants is annually having at least 2 sets of fans that will show up to see the inductions. They’re probably kicking themselves that they loaded up the managers this year.

    In the short-term which inductees doesn’t matter, & down-ballot travesties don’t matter. It will take a slow accrual of absurdly passed over players falling off the ballot & then being passed over by a committee or two (I don’t mean Whitaker’s here, but Bonds’s) for the credibility hit to become a liability.

    The flooded ballot may actually work to the Hall’s advantage, as long as the BBWAA can reach the 75% consensus in who’s next & keep a flow of 2-3 guys coming in most years.

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  13. tombando

    Or just put a billboard sized dartboard up w the hof candidates on there, blindfold 16 monkeys, give them darts and step back. You’d wind up w just as viable a result.

    Reply
  14. bellweather22

    Whenever you average out over four groups, you often end up with four differing opinions and a result that doesn’t actually capture the best result. We call it “Death by Averages”. Sabremeticians might like Whitaker and Trammell, but not like Morris. The writers like Morris, but not Trammel and Whitaker or anyone steroid tainted. The HOFers don’t like any of them, and the fans prefer to focus on Bonds, Clemens and Piazza. Results are hard to predict as all four camps develop their own preferences.

    A better result would be achieved simply by making sure that all voters actually still cover baseball and know what they’re doing. Cranks and crackpots who make protest votes, summarily dismiss entire generations of players or sell their ballots to internet blogs lose the right to vote permanently.

    Also, offering guidance on issues like steroids would be helpful as well.

    These seem to me to attack the root cause of the HOF voting problem more than creating four groups with their own biases and new root cause issues.

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  15. Chip S.

    I’m not sure what problem this is meant to solve. But I do that it won’t end arguments over HoF election outcomes.

    It does increase the number of groups to complain about, so at least we can spread the rancor around more.

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    1. bellweather22

      Nope. You still have the writers who will vote the same way as they always have. Then you have the HOFers, whom Joe described as the “get off my lawn crowd” who will like fewer players than the writers. Then you have the saber metrics folks who will look at WAR and OPS+, and dismiss the narratives embraced by the writers and HOFers and fans. Then you have the fans, now remember the BR HOF vote, who are made up largely of “knowledgable fans” who may likely by themselves a HOF vote for $50, who won’t research their vote very thoroughly (some will, most won’t) will embrace those with name recognition, and vote for their favorite players.

      How is that going to make everyone happy? It’s not. It will just give the fans more voters to be angry with.

      If I go by Joe’s writings, the issues are:

      There are too many cranks and uninformed voters. So, set standards that eliminate voters that make uninformed, protest, or crank votes.

      The HOF ballot doesn’t allow enough votes. So, set a 3-5 years period where voters get 15 votes. When the logjam clears, go back to 10 votes.

      The HOF doesn’t give guidance on steroids. So, provide guidance. Guidance could define users as anyone who tested positive, showed up on the Mitchell report or was involved in a scandal. Instruct voters to consider the advantage they got and make adjustments to their stats. The character clause can also be considered.

      You have to solve for root causes, not just build some random new system that doesn’t address the root causes, will result in unanticipated consequences and will generate a larger new set of root cause issues.

      Reply
      1. Chip S.

        I inadvertently deleted a word from my 4:59 comment, which should have read “I do know that it (Joe’s proposal) won’t end arguments…” So I don’t think we disagree.

        Obvious HoFers will be elected under any system. People will argue over voting on marginal players under any system. So reforms should be guided by general principles such as those you identify.

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  16. Mark Daniel

    I like it. Why don’t you pilot test it? The BBWAA part is already being done. You now have a year to set up a fan survey and a poll for the SABR and current HoFers. A pilot test won’t be perfect, but it can be done. It will be a bit of work, and you may need some help from others, but it’s worth a shot.

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    1. Cuban X Senators

      Plus we can just all write $25 check to Joe Posnanski this year, right?

      (Or maybe another HoF near his heart)

      Reply
  17. Michael

    I’ve been to Cooperstown 4 times. It’s not the sort of place that you just happen to drive by and stop in. You have to want to go. Not sure when the next time will be for me…probably 5 to 10 years from now.

    However, I’d be first in line to pay my $50 if I had a vote…even if it is a small percentage of making a difference. Imagine 10,000 fans paying this fee – that’s $500,000 into the HOF’s budget. What if 10,000 is a small guess – what if it was 100,000 fans – that’s $5,000,000.

    Everyone needs new revenue streams – this would be a no brainer for me if I was on the HOF’s board.

    Some good ideas.

    Reply
  18. Jaremy

    Thanks for also shedding a bit more light on SABR – I think most people do not know how much they do to look at and preserve the history of baseball. Would be great to see a blog post on that one day.

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  19. Triston

    It would be nice if the BBWAA handed out “honorary” voting rights like colleges hand out honorary degrees, based on, you know, having done stuff.

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  20. Ed

    Two points to get out of the way before I make my main point. First, I don’t think the current system is so awful. Its a kludge, in that no one coming up with a “Baseball Hall of Fame” today would design this system, and its been kept going through kludges such as the various special committees. I suspect it will take another special committee to resolve the steroids issue. However, the results have been perfectly defensible. Its a large Hall, so deserving players tend to get in eventually. Some have to wait longer than they should. There have been several marginal inductees. But the record of the baseball HoF has actually been quite good compared to other awards-type systems.

    The second point is that I really like Joe’s system. My proposal is simpler, but this system would be an improvement. My only substantive suggestion for improvement is that the membership of the second electoral college, essentially an expanded veterans’ college, be better defined. Maybe the second college should include retired umpires and the broadcasters be moved into the writers’ college.

    If I was designing a Baseball Hall of Fame from scratch, though, I would do it very differently. The Hall of Fame is part of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. So my proposal would be that members of the Baseball Hall of Fame would be determined by votes from people who have visited the museum. Go to the museum, buy a tickets, view the exhibits, and vote on who would be in the Hall of Fame located on the first floor.

    Obviously there are details that would have to be worked out:

    1. Eligibility for inclusion would basically be the same as at present, ten years as a player and five years retired. I’m OK with changes but I don’t see any real need for them. Players banned from baseball would not be eligible, like at present.

    2. There is a concern about ballot stuffing that is mostly addressed by the fact that the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is in a remote part of upstate New York, only accessible by car. Nevertheless, I have the Museum sell admission tickets to adults good for admission for a week, usuable only by the specific person buying the ticket. Cooperstown is a great place but not the place where you just hang around for a week, so I don’t think this really cuts into the museum’s profits. That means a single person can’t buy more than 52 tickets a year, and you would actually have to visit the museum and hand in your ticket to vote. Minors would get in free without a ticket or half price tickets that wouldn’t make them eligible to vote. Maybe retired players and umpires get the price of their tickets refunded.

    3. The idea is that you buy a ticket to the Museum, and the place to vote is located at the end of the exhibits, so before voting everyone will have to at least walk through the exhibits first. There would be a computer bank where you could look up information about the players on the ballot. So before voting everyone at least walks by an entire floor recounting the history of baseball and players’ achievements. There might be some non-English speaking foreign tourists in Cooperstown to see the Agricultural Museum who have wandered into the Baseball Museum by mistake, but I think its a good assumption that just about everybody who has travelled to Cooperstown and bought a ticket either is interested in baseball or a close relative of somone interested in baseball.

    4. To borrow from Tom Tango’s idea, four players would be inducted each year, and they would be the four players who have received the most votes who have not yet been inducted. The twenty players who have received the most votes and not been inducted would be listed prominantly in the voting area, but a voter could write in anyone eligible, and no one would fall off the ballot.

    5. People who have not played in the MLB for ten years could still go in the Hall of Fame (such as executives and Nego League players), but their induction would be handled by special committees like at present. Because no one falls off the ballot, there would be no need for a Veterans Committee to put in players overlooked by the writers.

    The same concept would be used with other Hall of Fames. Though I think this system would “work” at least as well as the present system, I though it out as a point of discussion, to demonstrate that you don’t necessarily have to make things more complicated for reform.

    Reply
    1. Karyn

      To your #3–the totally lets out people who cannot afford to travel to Cooperstown. I don’t think that’s particularly wise.

      Reply
  21. wordyduke

    Interesting idea. I support the idea of somebodies trying a pilot test. (And some of the cash bonanza — if there is one — from HofFmembership should go to keep the Negro Leagues museum afloat.)

    In the limited space you got, you and Rob Neyer did well in the NYTimes Room for Debate.

    Reply
  22. Alejo

    Your ideas seem a way to get your favourite PED users in. It wouldn’t work. It’s not the BBWAA that’s keeping Bonds and Clemens out, it’s what they did that’s condemning them.

    In the wake of A-Rod’s suspension for 2014 and the latest HoF voting I will tell you this: baseball doesn’t seem to need or miss PED users in the Hall or the field.

    Reply
  23. Richard Aronson

    The typos: matter of seconds, not sections; it’s in the DNA, not its; famous for, not famous four.

    I don’t want to get into the weeds on the math here, but your proposal makes it anywhere from somewhat to drastically easier to get into the HOF. I think that’s a good thing, but I think it would become too easy. A guy like Gil Hodges or Jack Morris would probably be in using this method, and I’m only comfortable with one of the two. Yes, it would also significantly shorten he time it would take for some guys who need many years to get elected to get in, since it would unclog the ballot. But it would also leave such an unclogged ballot that some non-deserving players, players who would otherwise not exceed 60%, would get in.

    To address this issue, I’d make two minor changes:

    To get elected, you must be nominated by all of the four groups (50% or more) and elected by at least one of the four groups (75%). That guarantees that the player is not considered unworthy by any group, and one of them thinks he is worthy by the traditional measure.

    Any group may put up for consideration one player per year who was not on the original ballot. If a player gets 5% of the write-in vote (it takes more work to write-in a name than to just tick a box) from any of the groups, that player is put on the next year’s ballot, and can stay on the ballot as would any other player, to a maximum of 15 times.

    That way, if the HOFers think Dave Stieb was really the best pitcher of his era and deserves reconsideration, or the SABRs think Bobby Grich got shorted, they can be evaluated again with the mindset “These other folks who love baseball as much as I do (maybe more if they’re paying for a fraction of one percent of one quarter of the voting) think I missed something in this guy’s careers, so in fairness I’ll listen to what they have to say.” Then borrow a page from the NFL election process and let a BBWA fan of that player write a short piece on why that player really deserves a second look. Since the argument piece will get wide publicity, I’m sure there will be no shortages of volunteers. That piece would go out with the ballot, and might explain that this pitcher played for terrible offensive teams and with merely average offense behind him he’d have had 300 wins, or that hitter spent his career in pitcher’s parks which dimmed the glow of his greatness, or that player was a credit to the game in ways that only guys who played with or against him could know.

    The second change would probably be more controversial (It’s what the Veterans Committee is for!) so the compromise would be just the first change occurs. Which is all right.

    Reply
      1. Chris M

        Do Sabermetric guys really think he shouldn’t be on the ballot? I doubt that very much. Morris absolutely belonged on the ballot, and he probably deserved to stick around for a few years (if not the whole 15). He’s not good enough for the Hall, but he is certainly in the same class as guys like Dave Parker, Don Mattingly, Gil Hodges, etc. I don’t think he ever should have gotten more than, say 30% of the vote, but that’s far different from saying he didn’t belong on the ballot.

        Reply
  24. Baseball Guy

    I like the idea…and will enjoy reading more about this.

    I also like the idea of former MLB players voting, not just Hall-of-Famers. How about expanding that vote to all retired MLB players who accrued a certain amount of playing years. One would think that ex-players would know a Hall-of-Famer…

    Reply
  25. Jake Bucsko

    I think a 50% threshold is too little, even if you have to get three out of four groups. Maybe the numbers should be tweaked so that if, say, 90% of one group votes for Bonds, that counteracts another group not voting for him?

    I can’t support this plan as is, but I absolutely support SOMETHING. There’s just no discussion being held on HOF voting as if its just fine the way it is, which it most certainly is not. I would actually love for this plan, flawed though it may be, to be actually proposed to the Hall board, just so we can get a dialogue going.

    And yes, I would absolutely pay $50 a year for a chance to vote on the Hall of Fame. That was my favorite bit.

    Its worth mentioning though, that fans don’t have a say in ANY of the Halls of Fame in major sports. No fans are clamoring to be a part of the football/basketball HOF, that I know of…of course, they’ve never had this kind of problem. Every one of the greatest players in hockey, basketball, and football is in the Hall.

    Reply
  26. Eric Chalek

    I doubt that this plan would change the results. Bobby Grich, for example, still wouldn’t get love from the BBWAA, probably not from the HOF players (see the Joe Morgan Superfriends balloting), and who can say with fans. SABR members might and might not. Insert Kevin Brown or Stieb or Whitaker. Would Alan Trammell suddenly draw support from two or more groups? I doubt it.

    What we’d get is exactly what we have now. The no-brainers make it. The rest are held hostage by the cranky BBWAAs, this time with help from cranky players.

    Joe is exactly right to recommend modernizing the voters and culling dead wood. He’s also right to include other constituencies to increase numbers and diversity that support the wisdom of this crowd. But without some mandatory induction of players below the 75% limit. Ballot bloat will likely continue because the steroids issue is Balkanized and votes for non-roiders who could make progress under more normal circumstances now can’t because of a dedicated bloc of voters vote for roiders. I happen to agree with their vote, but it creates gridlock since those guys are not gaining support.

    Either steroids gets resolved, or no reform will likely work in the near term.

    Reply
    1. Bill Caffrey

      No. That link demonstrates that it’s is correct. Its is possessive. It’s means “it is” or “it has.” Joe was using a possessive. To write the sentence out long-ways…It is in the group’s DNA. So you replace It is with It’s, not Its.

      Reply
  27. DM

    I would side with the 50% or above standard. Seems to me like simple majority should prevail. If you’re considering honoring someone, and you get a majority, why shouldn’t that be good enough? 75% has always seemed to me to be way too high a standard. Think about it the other way around….as it stands now, all you need is 25.00000001% to say no to someone, and that’s enough to keep them out. Think about if we routinely made decisions using that threshold…..”OK….if over 25% of you don’t like this proposal, we won’t do it, and to hell with the rest of you”.

    I realize that this would let in some players like Jack Morris. I don’t endorse his election, but as it stands now, he’s been able to get more than 60% of the vote, including many people whose opinions I respect (for example, Bob Costas). Bill James, in many of his baseball books that he was putting out in the ’90′s (when Morris was wrapping up his career), often concluded that, based on the HOF standards, Morris would probably end up in the Hall. So, I wouldn’t endorse him, but with a clear majority supporting him, I wouldn’t rail against him either. It really doesn’t diminish the Hall at all to have Morris in there. 50%+ agreement works fine for me.

    Reply
  28. larry morris

    The problem isn’t who gets to vote, the system has done a good enough job in the past and the real issues was when the vet committes elected thier friends. the problem is no one knows what to do with steroids. 90% of the voting “problems” go away if you know if you should vote for bonds or not. If the hall says ignore PEDs or you lose your vote, there are 3+ people elected each ofthe next few elections and most of the problems go away. if the hall says PEDS count, then the 15 deserving candidatees becomes less then 10 real fast.

    Reply
  29. Steve Adey

    To me the issue”What is the Hall of Fame?” This was a way simpler question 50 years ago. Let me propose several different parallel Hall of Fames.
    1. The best team. Say 30 guys. All positions represented fairly. Who would you want on it?
    1A. The next best 100 guys.
    2. The best 10 players ever at each position (maybe give pitchers 20 or 30).
    3. Everybody else who is exceptional/famous/whatever.
    Players may periodically get voted in or out of 1, 1A, and 2.
    Hall of Fame, like life, needs to be dynamic. If it stays static I can imagine the time when the 100th best ever first baseman gets elected. The HoF will be irrelevant.

    Reply
  30. Adam S

    An interesting proposal and in general I like the idea of getting other groups involved in the vote. But it doesn’t solve the actual problem.

    We (myself included) cast the problem as the BBWAA has a lot of voters who don’t take it seriously or don’t have the ability to truly determine who was and wasn’t a great player. At some level this is true when you see people leave off Greg Maddux or Frank Thomas.

    But the real problem basically boils down to players who “I” think clearly deserve to be in the Hall aren’t getting elected. Who the “in” group is varies from person to person. For me personally, I think there are 13 deserving candidates on the ballot and 5 others worthy of discussion. And I’m disappointed to see 3 get in and many deserving candidates get 30%. Yet whether you look at BBWAA, IBWA, or the fan vote on Deadspin, there are only a handful of players getting 75%.

    From the fans, only 2/3 think Bonds and Clemens should go in. That 2/3 is going to be unhappy with the 1/3 that want to invoke the character clause while 1/3 are disappointed with the other 2/3 who don’t have a problem with cheaters.

    Even setting aside the PED issue, Trammell, Mussina, Morris, and Walker got abut 40% support. That 40% is going to shake their heads and wonder how the other 60% doesn’t “get it”, while inducting Larkin and Glavine easily. While the 60% laugh (or cry) at those who want to induct inferior players (all some hyperbole).

    I don’t think any system is going to make the analytical community who uses WAR and JAWS as their starting point (that includes me) very happy. Across all walks a large number of fans/writers are focused on obvious fame not the stats.

    One final note on the original proposal. Letting the Hall of Fame players vote is a terrible idea. You touched on the political issue but the bigger problem is that most of these guys have no sense of baseball history and little understanding of what’s valuable. Didn’t they do a survey some years ago and most players didn’t know who Jackie Robinson was? Do you want that group voting for the Hall of Fame?

    Reply
  31. Peter

    I think that the only candidates who should be voted on are those who fall below the mean WAR at their position. Those who are above should be automatically inducted when eligible. Eligibility can be denied to those who fail a drug test. All with WAR above the average HOFer gets inducted eventually. Why wait? Those candidates just clog the ballot.

    Reply
  32. Wilbur

    I hope Murray Chass reads this essay, Joe. His head would explode. If only.

    It’s of course an interesting topic, but I gave up caring about who was in or out of the HOF many years ago. The selections, or lack thereof, have been so peculiar and haphazard for so long that the institution fails to truly honor anyone by induction.

    I reject the HOF processes as determinant of greatness.

    Reply
  33. Ian R.

    The BBWAA has the authority, for instance, to decide which members of the BBWAA get to vote. The 10-year minimum length of membership comes from the BBWAA, not the Hall of Fame. The fact that “honorary” members who no longer cover baseball can still vote comes from the BBWAA, not the Hall of Fame. And, as we saw this week, the BBWAA also has the right to strip voting rights from individual members.

    Thus far, however, the BBWAA has shown precisely no interest in policing its membership – other than penalizing Dan Le Batard on Thursday. The writers certainly could do what you’re suggesting, but it’s unlikely that they ever would.

    Reply
  34. Ian R.

    Eh. Since All-Star voting moved online a few years ago, the results have generally been OK. Not perfect, but not terrible.

    Also, making fans pay for voting rights (as in Joe’s proposal) would weed out a lot of the casual, less informed fans.

    Reply
  35. shadgregory

    Why would any sane person want to give the Hall-of-Famers a vote? May I remind you that Reggie Jackson wants to kick Gary Carter out of the Hall? Reggie Jackson wants to kick Gary Carter, one of the greatest catchers of all time, out of the Hall of Fame. In case you were napping during the last sentence, Reggie Jackson wants to kick a dead man out of the Hall. Not a dead man who sucked like High Pockets Kelly, but a dead man who was great. Like Gary Carter. They let Hall-of-Famers on the veteran’s committee in 2010, and do you know what happened? Nobody was elected! Do you know why? Because only an idiot would give a vote to a bunch of ex-jocks! If you want to ask me for a hall of fame of idea, just let Bill James pick two guys to induct every year. And then after James dies, pick some other smart guy. What?! Do you want me to think of everything?

    Reply
  36. Brian Clark

    What makes sense to me is to select a committee similar to how the NFL does it. Pick a group of 20 highly respected ambassadors of the game like Gammons, Costas, Bill James, Rosenthal, etc. They go into a room and discuss the top 15 opitons. Everyone that receives 15 or more votes gets in. No min or max limit.

    Reply
    1. Sean Kelley

      I like your suggestion of no max liimit. There’s a backlog of viable candidates who are in danger of getting overlooked as the greats of the 90s and early 00s come on the ballot.

      However, I don’t think making the group smaller is the answer. You had something similar with the old Veterans’ Committee, which is responsible for almost all of the worst players in the Hall, many of whom were Frankie Frisch’s old teammates because Frisch had basically “captured” the committee.

      Agree or not with what Deadspin did, I don’t think you can argue with the quality of their ballot, which is a direct result of opening up the vote to the thousands of Deadspin readers.

      Reply
  37. Luke Duke

    Can I ask an unrelated, but related question? (I guess that makes my question semi-related). It seems to me that in many cases we consider fielding, and defense more broadly, as reasons to vote someone into the Hall of Fame — particularly where it has rightfully pumped up their WAR (e.g., Ozzie Smith). I am curious as to whether folks think this is something that is only sensible in cases where a player’s position is clearly related to suite of skills he has. That is, Ozzie Smith played shortstop because that was a sensible place for him to play. The same would be true, in the future of someone like a Jim Edmonds.

    But what about the converse? What about when someone has no true, organic position? What about when franchises, through the course of their development programs, just stick someone at a given position? Why are we locked into viewing them as being a second baseman or a center fielder, or whatever, if their primary skill is offense and their team is just looking for a place to stick them?

    I am sure I am being entirely inarticulate, but the two cases that bug me are Piazza and Kent. It seems clear to me that both of them were principally offensive players. No different than, say, Edgar Martinez or Jim Rice. They had little to no discernible value as defenders and ended up catching and playing second base for no good reason. For instance, the Dodgers could have easily decided Piazza should have been a first baseman. Kent could easily have played first or LF. Yet their candidacies are basically based on being the “best offensive” catcher and second baseman of all-time, which seems disingenuous. If they played elsewhere, they would be good players who a lot of HRs. But not HOFers. And WAR does not really capture this phenomenon since it is measuring Jeff Kent, in part, against a historical cohort of light hitting second basemen.

    I guess what I am saying is that if Kent and Piazza are really just “bats” then why do we boost their candidacies by focusing on their respective positions? Shouldn’t view their peers as Rice, Martinez, etc.?

    Reply
    1. Spencer

      Because they played those positions (2b and C) and there is value in that.

      If Jim Rice was capable of playing 2b capably the Red Sox most likely would have played him there.

      Reply
      1. Adam S

        Right. Any intelligent discussion of Kent or Piazza as a great hitter for his position adjusts for the fact that he was a below average defender. But a bad fielding 2B or C is still a much more valuable defensive player than a DH.

        At least someone who is passable enough to hold the position for a decade. I imagine Gary Sheffield playing SS or Jesus Montero catching could be so bad as to be worth more by moving to DH.

        Reply
        1. Which hunt?

          I thought the newer defensive metrics were pretty kind to Piazza. I think he rated as an average fielder with a below average arm. iguess I could look that up, but you know, I’m at work and shouldn’t really be commenting on blogs at all.

          Reply
  38. KC Oracle (@KCOracle)

    Joe’s proposal is logically flawed because it conflates the 75% current standard with 3 or the 4 voting groups hitting the 50% mark. Assuming that the four groups would have roughly equivalent views of players, it significantly reduces the bar for entry to the HOF.

    Personally, I think Joe and others spend too much time worrying about the vote. It is just one more potential honor for guys who already are fabulously rich and famous [I realze to some extent it also makes their fans feel good, but that seems relatively minor.]

    I would be okay with a modest modification whereby over 75% from any of the three other groups would keep the player on the ballot. It essentially would be a battle between one (or maybe all three) of the other groups and the baseball writers, with mounting pressure on the writers to acquiesce in the judgment of the other groups. I still don’t think it is that big a deal to achieve the perfect voting process. My guess is that Joe would sign on to the modification. It would add to the fun and accomplish much of what he wants to offer. The writers would acquiesce if challenged by the other groups and give us four votes to talk about.

    Reply
  39. Chris K.

    This is actually the proposal that makes the most sense to me as well…am I being naive to think this would work??

    Assuming that the Baseball Hall of Fame offered guidance regarding the usage of PEDs vis a vis a player’s eligibilty, explain to me how a consortium of Posnanski, James, Rosenthal, Neyer, Costas, Gammons, et al, would fail to do a better job of electing worthy representatives into the Hall than the Baseball Writers Association currently does??

    Reply
  40. MCD

    I keep hearing that the voting process is “broken”. While I agree with some of the issues, to me the process isn’t “broken” in the sense that the voting is coming out “wrong”. Is it ridiculous to have someone voting for Jack Morris, but not Greg Maddux? Absolutely, but the verdict came out right for both of these players. There have been a couple of borderline candidates make it over the last 20 years or so, but (*PED issues aside) when was the last time the BBWAA denied a truly deserving candidate? The truly egregious selections seem to come from the Veteran’s committe.

    I think with Joe’s process, Jack Morris would have been voted in this year, which would make it a de facto more flawed process.

    Group 1. We know for sure he would have gotten more than 50% (I think a ridiculously low number) by the BBWAA
    Group 2. Jack was a contemporary of a pretty significant percentage of the players, and the ones before his time probably still prescribe to the concept of “clutch”. I can easily see him getting 51% of the vote.
    Group 3. Nope of the SABR group
    Group 4. I obviously am not sure, but once again 50% is a pretty low number

    *I think PEDs are indeed the crux of the matter here Depending on one stance, *this* is what is going to make someone say that this year’s vote was “wrong”, when dealing with both the known offenders (Bonds, Clemens) and suspected ones (Biggio, Piazza). But none of these guys have fallen off the ballot yet. The BBWAA have some time to iron this out.

    Reply
      1. Which hunt?

        It is perverse that they remain out. They both have strong arguments not just as all-time great players, but as the best ever.

        Reply
  41. wogggs

    I love the part where the fans get to vote. I hate the part where if a player gets 50% from 3 groups, he’s in. one way you solve this is to take Joe’s procedure and add to it that a player who gets 50% from 3 of the 4 groups is put on the final ballot, which then requires 75% of all voters (the same people who nominated would get to vote again) to be elected.

    Reply
  42. invitro

    I am very heartened to see that most people here are now saying that the BBWAA voting system is good enough.

    I would support Joe’s system. But I would support the Bill James solution even more. I don’t see where Joe is improving any on what James has suggested.

    Reply
  43. KB

    I guess I am in the minority in not thinking there needs to be reform. 75 percent? Fine, it should be hard to get in. The writers get the vote? To be honest they have done a fairly decent job through the years. The vast majority of questionable selections came out of the various iterations of the so-called “old-timers” committees, thus proving the players generally make lousy voters, certainly worse than the writers.

    It seems to me the problem boils down to “the process is broken because steroid users aren’t getting in no matter how good they were.” So? The fact clean players may be getting penalized shows all the more why steroid users have sullied the game and offended against the integrity of the game and all should be done to root them out.

    Ask your self another question, all things being relative why should this current era get more players in the Hall than other eras? Could it be the numbers really were inflated by PEDs after all? If so, then I think limiting the number of selections is what was intended all along and should stay as is.

    Reply
  44. Ron

    KB you hit the nail on the head. Nothing to add. This whole “controversy” was going to happen no matter who got elected. The firebrands want a fight. The process worked, period.

    Reply
  45. Rohan

    I think you would need to tweak your numbers a bit. I suspect that 50% on three groups will be too low. For example [51,51,51,49] gets in, even though no group is very enthusiastic about it.

    I would try 75% on 2 of 4 groups. That would mean that at least two of the four groups values the player highly.

    Basically, I think that if a player is Hall-of-Fame material, they should have at least one constituency willing to go to bat for them. I’d rather have a player who was loved by fans and veterans, but disliked by SABR and writers, or vice versa, than someone who has a tepid acceptance by all four groups.

    Reply

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