My Last Column on the Hall of Fame Debacle. . .
(at least for now)
I’ve started this post – and finished it I thought – at least three times. I’m sure my editor’s ready to strangle me but I just couldn’t convince myself that any of the iterations was good enough. Then last night I realized why. I’d fallen into the group think that blamed the BBWA mercilessly since the announcement. It was the easy and seemingly obvious place to dump the blame but it isn’t all – or even mostly – their fault.
A Slap On The Wrist For the BBWA
I can speak with the tiniest bit of background in similar less well known and relatively unknown events. As some of you know, I spent 28 years in the Air Force and rose to the rank of Chief Master Sergeant (E-9 for you non AF types.) On my way up the ranks and after I made it I took part in hundreds of evaluation boards choosing outstanding units, airmen and organizations as both a voting member and candidate. The one thing they all had in common that the Hall of Fame voting process lacks is well thought out and designed guidance.
In the absence of clear-cut guidance, a voting panel will create its own rules. I watched a group of honest, honorable and ethical men decide amongst themselves that one participant looked the part and would put on a better show even if his records weren’t as good. Group think being what it is they would have done it and been fine with the result had there not been hard and fast guidelines to follow. That’s what’s happened to the Hall of Fame Vote.
With apologies to George Bernard Shaw, America is a big country divided by our common language, throw in Canada and it becomes even more confusing eh? The Hall of Fame’s instructions to voters hasn’t changed since 1945
“They shall be chosen on the basis of playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, their contributions to the team on which they played and to baseball in general.” Source Baseball Hall of Fame
Those are lofty and well chosen words and in 1936 with Baseball trapped in 16 cities east of the Mississippi it was perhaps easier to get a consensus of what they mean. Even then personal prejudices kept some of the best players in the game from being elected as early as they should. In the 21st century however with instantaneous information available to all and everyone watching the process closely, those words simply aren’t enough.
If the BBWA had recognized the problem and worked with the Hall to set some basic guidelines they could have mitigated the effects a bit. But they didn’t try and so they get a slap on the wrist. Even if they had something in place however a ballot like the last one would eventually have happened. So the responsibility for last week and the vast majority of public ire should be directed at the Administration of the Baseball Hall of Fame. They own the process, they profit from the results of that process and it’s time they acted like they were in charge instead of innocent bystanders.
It Is Broken, Time To Fix It
The system is obviously broken and the only ones who won’t publicly admit it are the BBWA and the Hall of Fame. Hall President Jeff Idelson knows it even if his politically correct statement doesn’t definitively say soi.
“The standards for earning election to the Hall of Fame have been very high ever since the rules were created in 1936. We realize the challenges voters are faced with in this era. The Hall of Fame has always entrusted the exclusive voting privilege to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. We remain pleased with their role in evaluating candidates based on the criteria we provide.”
In his interview on MLB Network Radio’s Inside pitch following the announcement he said he’d gladly accept any suggestions on the subject. Others have written theirs and I admit ot not having read all of them. I have one as well of course and you know you want to read it. Go on, you know you want to. . .
Streamlining the Process
Voting works best with an educated electorate and a well designed ballot; no butterfly ballots or hanging chads allowed. So lets start with getting the electorate right; three committees chosen by their various organizations consisting of their most knowledgeable members.
- The BBWA would still provide the majority of the voting block. Most writers are good journalists with integrity and a desire to do that job right. There however just am few who know too little and while their numbers maybe small they force the number of votes needed for entry up. Besides getting the data to 600 voters in an organized form is nearly as impossible as getting them all to read it. I propose one BBWA voter for each team; 30 total selected by the BBWA.
- Television and radio broadcasters see as much or more baseball as the writers. Men like Vin Scully, Jon Miller, Milo Hamilton and other senior primarily baseball broadcasters should have a say as well. All of this tut-tuting about how some work for a team is transparently insulting to their integrity and besides one vote won’t have the power it does now. I’d add another 30 voters from this group.
- Hall of Fame Members should have a say in this process and I’d add 20 members from the existing Hall of Fame Players. I’d also include five Ford Frick Award recipients and five J.G. Taylor Spink Award recipients. Making a total of 90 voters.
I know in theory every player is eligible but we all know they aren’t qualified. In the processes I’ve been a part of there was always a way of sending only those likely to win forward. For the Hall of Fame, a provisional ballot containing all names would be sent to each committee in July. The list is scrubbed to leave only those players whose statistics qualify them for consideration. A player whose statistical records reflect superiority as a professional baseball player, who has not been charged with a crime, is not currently suspended by the commissioner for violation of the rules of Major League Baseball or brought the game into disrepute, is entitled to be considered for a place on the ballot. A player’s position on the ballot may be challenged during the initial committee review but proof must be provided. Hearsay, personal opinion founded on unsubstantiated guesswork is not sufficient. In other words, if you can’t print it in your column and wouldn’t say it under oath, you can’t use it to challenge a player’s right to be on the ballot. The proof doesn’t have to be court of law tight and hopefully the committees will police themselves and the fact that the committees have to agree on removal should preclude any silly omissions.
The lists would be returned to the Hall for reconciliation by a conference of committee chairmen and their deputies NLT 1 September. The final ballot along with and a standardized statistical package provided by SABRE to insure everyone is looking at the same numbers in the same format for each remaining player. Additional information about the players on the final ballot and/or their supporters could be provided by a players contemporaries in the Hall, Hall of Fame managers and executives who wished to contribute as well as Spink and Frick Award winners. All packages would have to be in the hands of the voters NLT 1 October for their review.
The voting method must be changed as well. Simply marking an X and walking away isn’t sufficient nor does it allow for consideration of the whole player. Everyone on the ballot is already considered worthy of entry because of prior vetting. Now it’s simply a case of putting them in order. This is similar to the Rookie of the Year voting that takes place now. Everyone – I say again – everyone on the ballot gets a number beside their name. No blanks allowed. If a blank ballot is returned the total required is reduced so that all the voter has done is throw away his or her vote. I created a dummy ballot of 18 players so they would get a ranking from every voter from 1-18. The rank for each player on the ballot is totaled to create a final score. The lowest score would be 90 and the highest possible this year 1620(90*18) The numbers would vary annually with the number of candidates. The 75% baseline for selection could remain or they could decide that there would be no year without an inductee and that if no one reached 75% the candidate(s) with the lowest total would be inducted.
How would that look?
This is a depiction of my mock ballot completed.
And here is a mock up a final vote to show how a spreadsheet of the voting would look. The numbers at the end of each row simply prove all ballots were counted correctly. If you click it it will enlarge
That’s A Wrap
There are other ways to weight the ballots but a weight must vote system of this type at least insures a player a realistic chance of a fair shake. This year’s voting was a disgrace. There were two players at or near the top of the all list at their position who have to wait because some self absorbed writers trying to make up for not outing Bonds et all earlier desperately try to regain some stature. I know there are many fine writers who voted conscience but we really have to end the nonsense that there’s a difference in a first ballot and a second or 15th ballot Hall of Fame player. The writer must come to understand that they created that fiction because of pious attitudes that denied worthy men – like Ron Santo for example – recognition due to them.
We have to end the one guilty all guilty attitude or the madness that lets a man withhold a vote because a play has back hair or has lost back hair. We must rid the ranks of people who believe that Shawn Green and Aaron Sele should get a Hall of Fame vote instead of Lee Smith or Jack Morris. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but if you opinion is uninformed, steeped in bias or can only be explained by cvonvaluted logic the only one who should suffer for it is you.
(Note: At about 10:00 CST on 1/7/13 I’m having rotator cuff surgery on my right shoulder. If I don’t respond right away I’m not ignoring you I just haven’t learned how to type with my left hand yet.)