Who Should be in Charge of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Vote?

Over the weekend I read two articles bashing the Baseball Writers Association of America (“BBWAA”) over their annual election results and concluding that they should be stripped of the honour of making the selection.  Jeff Pearlman over at Sports Illustrated thought the whole process was a farce perpetuated by a bunch of fat nerds who were not any good at sports but crave the power to decide who is immortalized.  Scott Carlson over at Sportsnet.ca focused on the travesty that was the omission of Roberto Alomar from 142 BBWAA voter ballots, thus costing Alomar a first ballot admission into the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Both articles posed an interesting conclusion but did not go to any lengths to propose any alternatives.  If the BBWAA should not be in charge of the vote, then who should be?  Should the BBWAA tweak their rules on who can vote?  Perhaps the BBWAA gets it right thus no change is required?  I think those are the interesting questions to be answered. 

First though, a less interesting question: how does the Baseball Hall of Fame vote work? 

“The BBWAA has also been authorized by the National Baseball Hall of Fame to serve as the body that elects former players for enshrinement. Writers who have been active members of the BBWAA for at least 10 consecutive seasons are eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame. Writers who are eligible may remain “lifetime members” even once they are no longer active in the BBWAA.” 

Baseball is a writer driven vote with no defined number of voters.  If my math is correct, there were 540 voters for the 2010 class, or 18 writers per team.  Or perhaps there are 200 national writers and 11 writers per team.  Any way you slice it, it defies logic and defines confusion.  

I have cut about 500 words from my original draft drowning on and on about the baseball voters and was left with the following five sentences.  There are currently employed voters who do nothing but watch, write and think about baseball and take an active interest in promoting the game.  There are currently employed voters who exchange their writing for a paycheque.  There are retired journalists who seem to think that their role is to protect the Hall against young whipper-snappers who are not worthy of enshrinement and those role players whose role did not exist in the 1930’s (see relievers and the DH).   This is not a ‘hall of fame’ group of representatives in the baseball community who are charged with the tremendous responsibility of the Hall of Fame inductees.  Why shouldn’t the best baseball has to offer be in charge with the decision? 

Before we conclude on what to do to improve the voting process, let us answer the most important question: Do the voters get it right?  If the voters get it wrong then it is full steam ahead on changing the process.  If they get it right, let’s all agree to disagree from time to time with who is elected but let’s not get too worked up about it.  Sound good? 

To determine if they get the vote wrong, let me ask three questions:  Do the voters fail to induct players who are certain Hall of Famers?  Do the voters induct players who are certainly not Hall of Famers?  Do the voters change their mind on players, moving them from clear non-Hall of Fame status to induction in the Hall?  While I will struggle to answer the second question objectivity, there is clear evidence that the answer to the first and third questions is ‘yes’. 

I only need to look at this year’s vote to answer these questions.  The voters inducted Andre Dawson, an individual who was at one time nowhere near induction.  The same voters failed to induct Alomar, who will certainly be inducted next year.  They do not vote the most likely candidate and instead elect an individual who was not worthy the first eight times he was eligible?  There is no an explanation that any of the voters can give me that will make me agree with that logic.  The baseball vote has devolved into some weird political game that only makes sense in the minds of those that play it.   I think that was Pearlman’s point in his piece it you stare at it hard enough.

So the conclusion is that the current voting structure gets it wrong.  What to do?  

When trying to figure out an answer, I like to see how my friends and colleagues have answered the question.  MLB’s friends and colleagues in this case are the Pro Football, Basketball and Hockey Halls of Fame.  Here is how they tackle the topic of who gets into the Hall of Fame: * 

* Each sport has a variety of special committees that can facilitate the entry into the Hall of Fame.  I will just focus on the primary means which are comparable to the BBWAA vote. 

Pro Football:  

The Committee consists of one media representative from each pro football city with two from New York, inasmuch as that city has two teams in the National Football League. A 33rd member is a representative of the Pro Football Writers of America and there are 11 at-large delegates.  With the exception of the PFWA representative who is appointed for a two-year term, all appointments are of the open-end variety and can be terminated only by retirement or resignation, as long as the member continues to attend meetings regularly” 

Like baseball, football is a media pick though they only have 45 current media members involved in the vote.  The football writers narrow the list down to 5 final nominees who are put to a yes/ no vote.  80% of the votes are required to get in. 

My one pet peeve with football is that once on the committee the elector is on it until you he decides to step down.  I also take issue with the media exclusivity to the vote.  Lastly, I take issue with Cris Carter not being in the Hall of Fame (and I do not really like the guy which puts me in good company with the voters it would seem).

Hockey:  

Hockey uses an 18 person committee, 6 each at varying stages of a 3 year terms.  The committee “be generally, but not necessarily exclusively, composed of former hockey players, former coaches of hockey teams, former referees or linesman for hockey leagues or associations, current or former senior executives of hockey teams or hockey leagues or associations and present or former members of the media who cover or covered the game of hockey. “ 

Hockey represents a radical shift from both baseball and football.  While it is a smaller selection group like football, hockey brings in representation from a variety of sources.  Another difference is that the Hockey Hall of Fame is not limited to NHL players and includes female recipients.  Lastly, hockey attempts to fill a quota each year.  If a player received 75% of votes, they are in.  If there are any individuals who received more than 50% of the vote and the quota has not been met, then a runoff vote is conducted. 

I was enjoying the hockey process until the quota portion.  On the one hand it means a fairly constant stream of inductees from every era, but it means that there are borderline Hall of Famers in the Hall due to the luck of when they were up for induction. 

Basketball:   

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is very similar to hockey in that it recognizes amateur, international, female and professional players in their hall.   They have four committees of 24 members which are comprised of Hall of Famers, basketball executives, media members and other contributors to the game.  A 75% vote is required for entry.  I do not have any real issues with this process. 

If I had to cherry pick out my favourite elements of the above, I would have a Hall selection committee that: had representation from players, media, coaches and other relevant individuals; would have a fixed and rotating period of participation; and would have a 75% minimum vote with no fixed number of individuals elected each year. 

Now that we have possible alternatives to the MLB methodology, let us take a closer look at how we might apply these changes to the baseball vote: 

  • A fixed number of media voters that are significantly less than the current 540.  How about one for each every other team plus another 5 national writers to get us to 20 voters?   The BBWAA appoints these voters and gives them a term of some fixed length (5 to 10 years).
  • A fixed number of current Hall of Fame players who serve a fixed term.  You can pick a number here, but I will pick 10 for the purposes of this exercise.  These players can be elected by their fellow Hall of Famers.
  • A fixed number of current and former team executives, managers and related individuals, again serving a fixed term.  Let’s say another 5 voters here appointed by the team owners.
  • A fixed number of other individuals who have been integral to the game, again with a fixed term.  This is a bit of catch all of 5 more people appointed by the Hall of Fame itself.

So there you have it.  From 540 down to 40 voters with 30 votes required to get into the Hall.  I have put together a group of voters appointed by four differing stewards of the game.  I have put together a group of voters that could actually get in the same room and discuss each and every Hall of Fame candidate.  Perhaps I have even put together a group that might get the vote right most years.  And that my friends is the whole purpose of this exercise.

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