The National Baseball Hall of Fame is a beloved institution. Love, of course, can take many forms. Some are expected, like adoration, pilgrimages, and idolization. Other forms come to the mind perhaps less immediately, such as the little boy or girl pulling the hair of a crush. For baseball fans of the Hall, the equivalent might be podcast and talk radio rants about the wrong players being inducted, not inducting the right ones, lambasts of specific voters and their ballots, or a general critique of the entire enterprise. Sometimes, this love in its negative manifestation can even take the form of an unnecessary and wordy essay.
Like many reacting to the latest ballot, this author submits for your approval yet another proposal for reform of the Hall of Fame and its processes. The reader should know that what follows comes from a deeply felt love of the game and of the Hall itself. Nothing may be sacred, but standing in the Hall is just about as close as it comes.
The 2022 Class That Was Not
As fans surely know, the Hall of Fame decided not to induct Major League Baseball’s career and single-season home run leader, its Cy Young Award leader, five more players with JAWS scores higher than the average for their position, or any of the other eight candidates regarded by many as among the game’s greatest. Travesty is obviously too strong a word for something ultimately as inconsequential as a sports museum, but disappointment is a good fit.
A superminority of baseball writers prevented Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens from induction, and the two will not be considered by the Baseball Writers Association of America again. What is perhaps most infuriating about this decision is the inconsistency. The Hall of Fame features alleged performance-enhancing drug users (David Ortiz, Mike Schmidt, Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Piazza, and Jeff Bagwell, among others). More hypocritically, the Hall includes the leadership that allowed, enabled, and arguably promoted the use of steroids in the 1990s: Bud Selig, Tony La Russa, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, and John Schuerholz.
The rejected will likely, though it is not guaranteed, be on the Today’s Era Veterans Committee ballot in December in 2022. If a superminority of this 16-member body likewise rejects them, their names will probably appear on subsequent ballots in 2024, 2027, and 2029.
Fortunately, the Class of 2022 will feature seven very deserving players. Bud Fowler, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Buck O’Neil, and David Ortiz make for an engaging group. Unfortunately, only three of the seven were alive to receive the call. As is often the case for Veterans Committees, it seems to take death to push many players into the Hall. Certainly this historical pattern does not bode well for Bonds, Clemens, or their fans who might wish to see induction prior to their mortal demise.
Purpose of the Hall of Fame
The Hall of Fame is actually only part of the Cooperstown institution. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is a three-part entity comprising a museum, a research library, and the Hall itself. The stated mission is “to preserve the sport’s history, honor excellence within the game, and make a connection between the generations of people who enjoy baseball.”
Another way to understand the distinctions is to view the research library as a collection for historians to do their work, the museum as a way to tell the full history of the game and to help cultivate connections across baseball fan ages, and the Hall as a means to tell the history of baseball through its greatest players, managers, and contributors.
The Hall of Fame, of course, is the place where those chosen few are recognized and honored. It is this entity which garners the most attention and is the focus of this particular article.
With the exclusion of Major League Baseball’s all-time home run, hits, and Cy Young Award leaders, the Hall simply cannot tell the story of baseball through its greatest players. The mission cannot be achieved.
The Hall as It Could Be
To fix this unfortunate situation, the Hall should re-examine its selection processes. Instead of one 30-person BBWAA ballot and a rotating ten-person Veterans Committee ballot, a new bicameral voting process should be instituted.
Before proceeding to a discussion of the mechanics of this process, there is one other failure of the Hall that commands attention. The mission to tell the story of baseball through its greatest players cannot be met as long as true legends of the game such as Sadaharu Oh, Hector Espino, Ramon Bragana, Seon Dong-yeol, and other stars from foreign leagues (especially from the years prior to the international integration era) remain outside the Hall.
There are two ways to address this deficiency. One is to add a qualifier to the mission emphasizing the national or American limitations of the Hall. After all, the name itself is the National Hall of Fame. That choice seems shortsighted. Instead, the Hall should mirror its counterparts in basketball and hockey, drop the national moniker, and become the true Baseball Hall of Fame and thereby celebrate the game in its global entirety.
The old BBWAA ballot should have a few alterations. In addition to the top recently retired MLB players, nominees should also include managers, executives, foreign players, and contributors who recently retired.
The five year retirement requirement for newly eligible candidates should continue, as should the maximum ten-year stay. However, each candidate should be guaranteed at least two years on the ballot. Far too many eventual or possible Hall of Famers have lost their eligibility after one year of either foolish or clogged ballots. The 75-percent requirement for induction should remain, as well as the five percent threshold for continued ballot inclusion beyond the first two years.
The idea behind having writers as voters is that they covered the players being considered and, given this experience, are uniquely qualified to determine the best players.
Well, so too did other media, fans, and fellow players. Therefore, the voter base should be expanded. In addition to the approximately 400 baseball writers who covered the game for ten or more years and are members of the BBWAA, a select number of television, radio, and digital journalists should have access to a ballot. As should a limited number of international baseball journalists. The Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Japanese equivalent of the BBWAA, and similar organizations might be good places to start in finding additional voters.
As longtime readers of the Golden Hall series know, this author strongly believes that fans should have a formal say in most things baseball. To that end, fans should collectively have one ballot. Candidates receiving a majority (or top ten) of the fan vote will have their names checked on this ballot. This singular ballot will be counted along the 500 or so cast by journalists and players.
Living Hall of Famers who were contemporaries of the candidates should also have the opportunity to weigh in officially. For those Hall of Famers without a contemporary on the Newcomers ballot, there is another ballot that should head their way.
In the present system, usually 16 players, managers, executives, and historians gather in a room, discuss, and vote. Unfortunately, this system has allowed for collaboration and undue influence from just one or two committee members, resulting in the election of the likes of Harold Baines, High Pockets Kelly, and Chick Hafey.
In an effort to minimize the possibility of collusion, the Oldtimers Ballot voter base should be expanded to include all Hall of Famers without a contemporary on the Newcomers Ballot along with at least 200 Society for American Baseball Research-certified historians and approximately 25 of their colleagues from SABR-equivalent bodies in other countries. Just as with the Newcomers Ballot, so too should fans have one collective vote.
Candidates should include the top JAWS player from each position, the top WAR leaders from NPB, the KBO, LMB, AAGPBL, CNS, and NLB, two managers, two contributors, the top JAWS reliever, top JAWS designated hitter, and the remaining 14 spots with those selected by a smaller panel of experts.
Candidates who receive 75 percent of votes will be inducted into the Hall. Those receiving fewer than five percent will be removed from consideration for at least five years.
The Hall should also operate forums for voters from both pools to discuss the merits of candidates. These could be in-person or virtual, with some open to the public and others closer to facilitate more open discussion.
Under this system, what might 30-person ballots look like in 2023 for both the Newcomers and Oldtimers?
Last but not least, these humble reforms would be remiss without a renewed push for the Golden Hall. All voters should combine to cast decennial ballots naming the top 100 players of all-time.
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