Some Final Thoughts on the Hall of Fame Process

Now that we know who is going to be celebrated in upstate New York this summer, the Hall of Fame conversation has now shifted to voting reform. And a lot of people have a lot of thoughts on the matter.

Ken Rosenthal:

Believe it or not, we’re all adults in the BBWAA. We don’t need the Hall of Fame to give us more specific guidelines on how to vote. As long as candidates can remain on the ballot 15 years — and then receive another hearing from the Veterans Committee — they’re going to get a fair shake.

That said, the ballot is so crowded — and will remain so crowded — that the restriction on voting for only 10 candidates needs to be changed. And while the BBWAA currently plans to focus solely on that issue, we should not stop there.

Let’s clean up the voting body and remove those who are not actively covering the game. Let’s reduce the 10-year membership requirement to five to allow newer writers to vote sooner. Let’s require every ballot to be made public, stop being static, and make every reform necessary to ensure the best possible vote.

Jeff Passan:

Because, hell yes, it’s shameful that writers who demand openness from those they write about can hide behind some self-administered cloak of anonymity and cast votes with no merit. And you’re damn right that if 50 percent of the 10-man ballots were stuffed and voters copped to wanting to vote for Biggio except he was No. 11, the process deserves – demands – to undergo a thorough vetting and reconsideration. There are problems in the voting, no question, and in his explanation at Deadspin, Le Batard did a poignant job at pointing them out and forcing the BBWAA to ask itself how to remedy them.

Is it right, for example, that he has a vote? Le Batard admitted he’s not qualified to vote. Hundreds of others fall into the same category – and that’s not an exaggeration. These are questions worth asking. Any organization that wants to legitimize its relevancy – and, sorry, but as long as the BBWAA not only handles the Hall of Fame votes but owns the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards, it will be exceedingly relevant – will ask itself whether it is handling something of great import in the proper fashion.

Jayson Stark:

What kind of Hall of Fame is this?

Is this the Hall of Fame we want to see shining in the Cooperstown sun 100 years from now?

Is this what we want — a Hall that attempts to pretend that players who just happen to hold some of the greatest records in the entire record book are now invisible to the naked eye?

If we do — if that’s what we really want — OK, fine. But I, personally, am really uncomfortable with that. I know I’m not alone.

And I hope the people who run this sport and the people who run the Hall understand that one of these years, they’re going to have to explain what happened in the PED era somehow. No matter which trail through the wilderness they blaze.

At this point, it seems like some kind of reform is inevitable. It might be something as small as removing the 10 player limit, or as large as changing the criteria for eligible voters, but the demand for change is getting louder each year. When the status quo produces this much angst even while electing three candidates and essentially confirming a fourth, it says something about the level of dissatisfaction even among those who are part of the process.

And the level of dissatisfaction from non-voters appears to be even higher, as the BBWAA is publicly perceived as a stodgy, old-guard organization that is slow to embrace any kind of progress. When those in power create nearly insurmountable barriers that serve to keep themselves in power, it begins to resemble tyranny, even if those rules might have been well intentioned.

But beyond just the rules governing who gets to vote, for how long, who they can vote for, and how they vote — I know it doesn’t matter, but why on earth are writers still asked to fax in their ballots in 2014? — it seems to me that there is another, more significant divide that is driving a lot of the ill will that begins to surface every December: a significant difference in opinion over what the ballot actually is.

While this is an oversimplification, it seems to me that there are two distinct schools of thought on the issue:

A. The ballot is a survey of opinions and preferences, and as such, all opinions are equally valid, since it is a question of personal taste.

B. The ballot is a test, a puzzle to be solved, with empirically correct conclusions to be found for those who seek them.

The various reactions to Ken Gurnick’s ballot, which contained a single vote for Jack Morris only, highlight these different beliefs, and I think are well summed up in this Twitter “conversation” between Rosenthal and Passan:

While I have a lot of respect for Rosenthal, I’m with Passan on this one, and do not believe in the concept of “my logic” and “your logic”. Logic is not personal, and we should not obfuscate that fact by referring to our own whims and preferences as if they were logical. It is entirely acceptable to have illogical whims and preferences — I have a strong distaste for mint flavor, for instance, even though everyone else seems to love it — but there is a large contingent of the baseball community that believes the Hall of Fame ballot is not supposed to be a voter’s opportunity to express those whims and preferences.

Instead, we see the Hall of Fame ballot in a similar manner to how we viewed college exams. There’s studying to be done, facts to be learned, and answers to be defended based on the merits of the argument. And yes, there are right and wrong answers. This is not to say that a logical process will lead everyone to the same conclusion, or that the goal is uniformity of thought, because logic can dictate different decisions for different people. But that doesn’t mean that every decision was made logically, or that the process behind each decision was sound. And at the end of the day, what those of us in Group B really want is a process that empowers people who will use sound logic to reach their conclusions.

Group A seems mostly content with any outcome, because by definition, the results of a survey cannot be correct or incorrect; they just measure the preferences of those people participating in the survey. They enjoy the ambiguity of the process, and often are the ones celebrating the annual discord over the definition of Most Valuable Player, because the gray area creates a playing field where all opinions are equally valid.

And this attitude frustrates the hell out of Group B, because many of us don’t see these questions as opinion-based. I like chocolate ice cream is an opinion. 2 + 2 = 5 is not an opinion, it’s ignorance. There is a difference, and not every question is asking for the personal preference of the responder.

For those who see the ballot as more of a right-or-wrong test than a i-like-this-more-than-that straw poll, it can aggravating to see others treat it as a platform to express their illogical feelings. It isn’t saying that they aren’t allowed to have those feelings; it’s just that perhaps the Hall of Fame voting process isn’t the right place to be expressing those feelings.

Unfortunately, no matter how many changes are made to the Hall of Fame voting process, I don’t see a solution to this divide, which means we’re likely in for continuing annual displays of animosity between two groups who simply see the question being posed as fundamentally different. As long as the electorate contains people from both schools of thought, there is always going to be some level of distrust between the two factions.

I think, unfortunately, this is just going to remain part of the process. We can change the rules and even change who gets to vote, but as long as some people view it as a survey while others view it as a test, we’re always going to have frustration from each side towards the other. We can’t legislate that reality away.

So maybe the best bet is to just put the focus back where it belongs, on the players getting elected. And the best way to do that is to ensure that players actually do get elected. If we spend the next decade making up for lost time and putting Hall of Famers into the Hall of Fame, perhaps we can turn the conversation back towards a celebration of the great baseball players of all time, rather than the infighting between the baseball writers version of the Hatfields and McCoys.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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8 years ago

about as good a summary as I could envision. nicely done.

8 years ago
Reply to  robby

I disagree in part with this.

There IS opinion involved, even though Cameron doesn’t mention it.

It’s the old “big Hall” vs. “small Hall” issue. The roiding issue has, to the degree it’s created a “backlog,” affected big Hall voters a lot more than small Hall voters.

Consistent small Hall voters, or consistent small Hall fans like me, don’t think any major overhaul is needed.

8 years ago
Reply to  SocraticGadfly

Also, I don’t fully agree with Stark.

Voters who don’t vote for some, or all, players they thing were PEDing, aren’t they, too, talking, and even “explaining” right now?

And, given that he’s a “big Haller,” that’s what’s behind this, too, in part.

8 years ago
Reply to  SocraticGadfly

“Consistent small Hall voters, or consistent small Hall fans like me, don’t think any major overhaul is needed.”

This may or may not be as accurate as you think, even when dealing with your opinion alone.

What I think you mean is that, in your opinion as a Small Hall fan, there will likely never be any need for more than 10 votes. And that’s a perfectly fine position to take.

However, if you were presented a ballot that had 11 players that you truly believed deserved induction, does it logically make sense that you are restricted to 10 votes? Small/Big Hall preference makes no difference in this circumstance. There’s 11 players you truly believe deserve the honor.

I think, logically, you would have to come to the same conclusion as anyone, regardless of Small/Big Hall preference: A restriction upon number of votes allowed is not the best possible practice for this election process.


8 years ago
Reply to  cthabeerman

Actually, no I logically wouldn’t, and I’m not alone. Rosenthal, in his column that Cameron references, says he’s in favor of expanding to 12, leans away from expanding to 15, and totally opposes unlimited voting.

As for the hypothetical, I’d do like some Big Hall voters did this year who don’t buy Rosenthal (and Costas) on the “authenticity” issue but who knew Bonds and Clemens weren’t getting in this year anyway: I’d vote strategically.

8 years ago
Reply to  cthabeerman

To put it more concretely, here on my blog is how I voted on Deadspin’s ballot, with some background explainer by me. Without Bonds and Clemens, with “just” 10 votes, I got Tramm, Raines and Biggio, among others, on there. And, there and elsewhere, I note why I don’t have some people on there for reasons aside from any roiding suspicion.

8 years ago
Reply to  cthabeerman

The 10 vote limit needs to be changed, but only because of past problems with voting, not because of a small or large hall debate. No one can seriously believe 10 worthy hit the ballot every (or indeed any) year, so over time the number of inductees should average the number of worthy players hitting the ballot – ie far less than 10.

If all the players on this year’s ballot had been treated fairly in the past, 10 votes would not be a problem

8 years ago
Reply to  robby

I hate Ken Rosenthal. Twerp.

8 years ago
Reply to  DrBGiantsfan

Ken just wants to be nice. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.