Some Final Thoughts on the Hall of Fame Process by Dave Cameron January 9, 2014 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: @Ken_Rosenthal We are all entitled to our opinions. But the strength of our voting bloc is rooted in logic, and this fundamentally lacks it. — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 7, 2014 @Ken_Rosenthal Logic isn't malleable like that. It's about consistency and reason. The rationale behind the submitted ballot lacks both. — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 7, 2014 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.