The Hall of Fame Shakes Up its Era Committee System Yet Again

© Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of a bumper crop of six honorees elected by two Era Committees in December — including the first Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues Black baseball honorees since 2006 — the Hall of Fame has radically reorganized the way that it handles candidates who are outside the purview of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Last Friday, the Hall announced its latest restructuring, a return to a triennial voting system that would appear to make it more difficult for any candidate besides a modern-day manager, executive, or umpire to land on a ballot.

The new system won’t please everybody, particularly in spots where it appears to counteract the recent flow of honorees. Fourteen candidates have been elected in the past six elections, including seven living ex-players, the first of their kind since the much-criticized 2001 election of Bill Mazeroski. By comparison, 16 candidates were elected via this route from 2003–16, including just three ex-players, all deceased. While critics can argue — and I have – that some of those recent honorees are below Hall standards, others such as Minnie Miñoso, Ted Simmons, and Alan Trammell were ripe for reevaluation via the additional research and advanced statistics that have come forth since their time on the BBWAA ballots. Those following in their wake may have a harder time getting a similar reappraisal.

Under the new format, candidates will be considered within just two timeframes: those who made their greatest impact on the game before 1980 (Classic Baseball Era), including Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues Black players, and those who made their greatest impact from 1980 to the present day (Contemporary Baseball Era). While the Classic Baseball Era ballot will include non-players (managers, executives, and umpires), those from the Contemporary Era will be considered on a separate ballot. The schedule is as follows:

  • December 2022 (for Class of 2023): Contemporary Baseball – Players
  • December 2023 (for Class of 2024): Contemporary Baseball – Managers, Umpires, and Executives
  • December 2024 (for Class of 2025): Classic Baseball

This cycle will repeat every three years, with those on the Contemporary Baseball – Players ballot eligible for consideration again in December 2025 for the Class of ’26. This arrangement replaces the system of four Era Committees, via which candidates were voted upon on a staggered basis. Candidates for the Early Baseball period (those whose greatest impact occurred during the 1871–1949 period) were to be considered once every 10 years, those from the Golden Days period (1950–69) once every five years, and those from the Modern Baseball (1970–87) and Today’s Game (1988-onward) periods four times every 10 years.

By my count, this is the fifth separate reorganization of what used to be known as the Veterans Committee since 2001, the year I began covering Hall elections. Below is a digest version of the changes; for more details see here, here and here:

A Brief History of Hall of Fame Committee Changes, 2001-21
Year New System Results
2001 Veterans Committee (15 members) disbanded and replaced with expanded VC consisting of all living Hall of Famers, all living recipients of Frick and Spink Awards (for broadcasters and writers, respectively), and all committee members whose terms had not yet expired. No candidates elected in 2003, ’05, or ’07
2007 Expanded VC (without award winners) limited to considering post-1943 players, with 3 small committee ballots (executives, managers/umpires, and pre-1943 players) 8 candidates elected, but only 1 player (Joe Gordon from pre-1943 ballot)
2010 Era Committee system, covering Pre-Integration (1871–1946), Golden (1947–72), and Expansion (1973–onward) periods, voted upon triennially 8 candidates elected but only 2 players, both deceased (Ron Santo and Deacon White)
2016 Era Committee system, covering Early Baseball (1871–1949), Golden Days (1950–69), Modern Baseball (1970–87), and Today’s Game (1988–onward) voted upon on staggered basis 2 candidates apiece elected by Today’s Game in 2017 and ’19, 2 apiece by Modern Baseball in ’18 and ’20, 2 by Early Baseball and 4 by Golden Days in ’22

This fifth reorganization comes as the Hall made it only halfway through the planned 10-year cycle that it laid out for the four-committee system in 2016. “I think it is an evolution,” said Hall president Josh Rawich in an interview with FanGraphs. “As we go through these processes, and we look at it, and we think that there’s a need for a change, I don’t think there’s ever been a feeling that you have to wait a certain amount of time before doing it.”

Rawich took over as Hall president after last September’s belated induction of the Class of 2020 honorees, and carefully observed the process of the two Era Committee elections. “With new leadership comes new eyes and new perspective and new conversations,” he said. “In talking to a number of board members and Hall of Famers and others who shared various perspectives, it was important obviously, from my standpoint, not to jump right into it when I got here, but to listen to a lot of people, see one of these processes through, [and] understand kind of how it goes.”

Rawich isn’t the Hall hierarchy’s only newcomer, as its board of directors experienced turnover since the last Era Committee election in December 2019 with the deaths Phil Niekro and vice chairman Joe Morgan in ’20 and the resignation of Roberto Alomar in ’21. Last July, Hall of Famers Craig Biggio, Tom Glavine, and Ken Griffey Jr. were elected to the board.

Off the bat, it’s clear that the board of directors took to heart the public and private feedback regarding the heightened interest in segregation-era Black baseball candidates, who were eligible for the first time since the 2006 Special Committee on the Negro Leagues election. The building of the Seamheads Negro League Database and its incorporation into Baseball Reference reflects a wealth of research into that period, and Major League Baseball’s official recognition of seven professional Negro Leagues that operated between 1920 and ’48 as major leagues has further stimulated reflection and reevaluation. Under the previous format, candidates from the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues Black baseball would not have been considered again until the next Early Baseball panel, which wasn’t scheduled to meet again until December 2031.

“One of the first things that I recognized was that we couldn’t wait until 2031 to look at some of these candidates,” said Rawich, referring to those from the Negro Leagues and Early Baseball period. “Having gone through it this last time around, we saw some great conversation around various candidates.”

Seven of the 10 Early Baseball candidates were Black players shut out of the process for over a decade and a half. From that group, the committee elected pioneer Bud Fowler, a Black player who intermittently played in integrated minor leagues in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Buck O’Neil, who played and managed in the Negro Leagues, then became a pioneering scout and coach in the integrated majors, and finally an ambassador for the Negro Leagues who played an outsized role in raising awareness of Black baseball and in recognizing its greats. O’Neil was by far the most notable omission from the group of 17 candidates elected by the Special Committee in 2006.

With experts keen on recognizing a number of Black players beyond Fowler and O’Neil, accelerating the reconsideration of candidates from that pool is a laudable goal. To these eyes, however, it made more sense to do so with the creation of another Era Committee that could operate within the existing 10-year cycle, one with a high concentration of Negro Leagues researchers and historians.

If the accelerated reconsideration of segregation-era Black baseball candidates is the good news, the bad news is that with the new format comes a significant bottleneck: each slate will contain only eight candidates, two fewer than in previous Era Committee votes. In the case of the Classic Baseball Era, that’s just eight slots available for candidates whose greatest contributions may have come more than a century apart! What’s more, the 16 voters (still a mixture of Hall of Famers, executives, and writers/historians) are limited to voting for a maximum of three candidates, instead of four. Candidates will still need to receive a minimum of 75% of votes to be elected. For those who make it to the ballot, the math that was already very tough is undeniably tougher. Instead of a maximum of 64 votes spread across 10 candidates (an average of 6.4 per candidate), there are now 48 spread across eight candidates (six per candidate). Electing four candidates from a single slate — which happened for the first time on the 2022 Golden Days ballot — would require each of those four to receive exactly 12 votes.

“It does make it more challenging to get on a ballot, which I think is pretty obvious,” said Rawich. “The ballots not only will be a little bit smaller, but will also cover a large period of time.”

The goal would appear to be cutting down on some of the ballot’s ballast, the players whose candidacies have been endlessly reheated to little avail — a major reason why the Early Baseball period election was supposed to occur once a decade. “There was definitely a feeling that we wanted to make sure that we’re not looking at a lot of the same players every single time,” said Rawich. “Once somebody’s had a chance to be reviewed a number of times, it’s time to let somebody else get looked at.”

It’s true that we’ve probably seen enough of some of these candidates for awhile. To use a couple of examples, Allie Reynolds peaked at 33.6% in 13 appearances on BBWAA ballots (not including runoffs) and between 1980 and 2000, was considered at least 13 times by the old Veterans Committee according to the research of Graham Womack, then again by the expanded VC in ’03 and ’09, the Golden Era ballot in ’12, and then the Early Baseball slate. He had a close call, getting 66.7% on the 2009 VC ballot for players whose careers began prior to 1943, but was in the “three-votes-or-fewer” bunch in 2012, then rebounded to six votes (37.5%) last year. Turn of the century shortstop Bill Dahlen played in the period before he could draw much notice from the BBWAA, but he was considered by the VC at least nine times in the 1953–95 span. Like Reynolds he’s been up and down since, in three-or-fewer territory on the aforementioned pre-1943 ballot in 2009, then with 62.5% on the 2013 Pre-Integration ballot, and 50% three years later, but back to four-or-fewer range last year.

On the other hand, what of Doc Adams? The long-overlooked pioneer led the charge to standardize and refine the rules of the game in the mid-19th century, including nine-man lineups and nine-inning games — innovations inaccurately credited to Alexander Cartwright on his Hall of Fame plaque — as well as the 90-foot distance between the bases, the “fly rule” (eliminating balls caught on one bounce from being automatic outs), and the shortstop position (which helped to differentiate the game from rounders). On the 2016 Pre-Integration ballot, from which no candidate was elected, Adams had the highest share at 62.5%, but he was conspicuously absent from the 2022 Early Baseball ballot, and he now faces additional competition for space and attention from candidates who came along more than a century later. A cynic might wonder if the Hall simply wanted to spare itself the scrutiny of contradicting one of its existing plaques in the face of more modern research — and focus more upon drawing fans to Cooperstown to celebrate living honorees of more debatable merits.

Consider for a moment what that eight-slot 2025 Classic Baseball ballot could look like in a couple of years. The two highest vote totals on the Early Baseball ballot below those of the elected pair belonged to manager/outfielder Vic Harris and pitcher John Donaldson, both of whom played in the Negro Leagues, though the latter’s heyday predated it. Both will now be eligible seven years ahead of when they would have previously been considered, but will compete for space and attention with slugger Dick Allen, who missed election via the Golden Days Era Committee by a single vote and would not have been eligible again until that committee’s 2027 ballot. They’ll also be up against some of the older candidates from the Modern Baseball group. Neither Tommy John nor Thurman Munson made much of a dent on the 2020 ballot from which Simmons and Marvin Miller were elected, but both made their greatest contributions before 1980 (Munson was dead by then, alas). Luis Tiant, who was left off the 2020 ballot but was on in ’18, is in a similar boat

While their classification as Classic Baseball candidates is clear-cut, there’s ambiguity with regards to three of the top four holdovers from that 2020 ballot, namely Dwight Evans, Dave Parker, and Steve Garvey, who respectively received eight, seven, and six votes out of 16. Via Hall vice president of communications Jon Shestakofsky, the Historical Overview Committee — a group of 11 senior members of the Baseball Writers Association of America that determines who will wind up on the ballot — has not yet met to determine which candidates belong to which period if their classification is in doubt.

Evans, who was born in 1951, played in the majors from ’72 to ’91, and started for pennant winners in both ’75 and ’86. His arrow probably points towards the Contemporary Baseball ballot, as he won five of his eight Gold Gloves and made two of his three All-Star appearances from 1980 onward. Within my JAWS system, five of his seven peak seasons (his most valuable ones by bWAR) are within that timeframe as well. In isolation, that classification makes complete sense, but it will look quite strange if he’s in the later group while Parker, who was also born in 1951 and played in the majors from ’73 to ’91, winds up in the earlier one, which appears likely. He won batting titles in 1977 and ’78, as well as an MVP award in the latter year and a World Series in ’79; five of his seven All-Star appearances were from 1980 onward, but five of his seven peak seasons by bWAR were in the ’70s. So where does he go? Garvey, meanwhile, won an MVP award, made six of his 10 All-Star appearances and played in three of his five World Series before 1980; six of his seven peak seasons came in that timeframe, but he was on the winning side in the 1981 World Series, and was the NLCS MVP with the Padres in ’84.

Why 1980? “It wasn’t specifically set up for any player, we really kind of looked at it as basically the last four decades and a little bit more than that,” said Rawich. “And I think we also know that over time, that number tends to shift. So at some point, it will probably be the people who played in the pre-1985 or pre 1990 [period]… I think it was just where we felt was a good breaking point.”

The decision regarding Lou Whitaker, who tied with Garvey with six votes, appears to be more straightforward. He was the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year, though his five All-Star appearances and three Gold Gloves took place in the ’80s, as did his pivotal role on the ’84 World Series-winning Tigers, and six of his seven peak seasons. Because he went one-and-done on the writers’ ballot with just 2.9% of the vote in 2001, he didn’t even get placed on an Era Committee ballot until ’20. His 37.5% showing on that ballot at least gave him a foothold for future consideration, but with the new system, it will likely be harder for one-and-done candidates who have yet to make an Era Committee ballot such as Bobby Grich (who probably belongs to the Classic Baseball group) and Kenny Lofton (Contemporary Baseball). Both are sabermetric favorites who stand among the best players at their positions outside the Hall according to JAWS, but particularly given the extent to which BBWAA ballot support drives Era Committee ballot placement, they would appear to face uphill battles to crack the eight-man slates. I wouldn’t hold my breath for the likes of Dave Stieb, Kevin Brown, and other Contemporary starting pitchers either.

The news is somewhat better for Fred McGriff, who topped out at 39.8% and has more appeal to old-school voters based on his 493 home runs and squeaky-clean reputation in an era rife with performance-enhancing drugs. Even so, he and anyone in the Contemporary Baseball player pool will now have to compete for space and attention with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa, all of whom just aged off of the BBWAA ballot. Sosa’s weak ballot support (he maxed out at 18.5%) will work against him but the high shares for Bonds, Clemens, and Schilling (each topped 65% at least once) mandate keeping their candidacies in circulation. Leaving them off would cause an uproar.

That explains another wrinkle the Hall added to its reorganization. Those BBWAA “graduates” will be eligible for the 2023 ballot, just as they would have under the previous format, but starting next year, Era Committee candidates will have a minimum one-year waiting period following their final year of potential eligibility on the writers’ ballot. In other words, if 10th-year candidate Jeff Kent isn’t elected on the 2023 BBWAA ballot, and if ninth-year candidate Gary Sheffield isn’t elected either next year or on the ’24 ballot, both will be eligible for the ’26 Contemporary ballot. But if Billy Wagner, who has three years of eligibility remaining, isn’t elected on the 2025 ballot, he won’t be eligible until the ’29 Contemporary one (assuming the format survives that long) instead of simply bouncing to the ’26 one.

Had the Hall not grandfathered the “graduates,” the optics would have been terrible, as the institution is already perceived by many as having stacked the deck against Bonds and Clemens by unilaterally truncating the eligibility windows of all but three grandfathered candidates from 15 years to 10 in 2014, following that pair’s second year on the ballot. They’re still taking a hit within the new format in that they will at most be considered three times within a 10-year span instead of four times.

“Hopefully it shows people that we are not out to set who gets into the Hall of Fame, we really aren’t,” said Rawich of the grandfathering. “We are looking to make sure that there’s a good process in place. It is hard to get 12 out of 16 votes, it’s hard to get 300 out of the 400 writers. It is supposed to be a hard process by design. We’re happy with what we came up with but we also recognize we can’t make everybody happy.”

The happiest people in all of this might be the proponents of the recent managers and executives, who now have their own lane. Managers Lou Piniella and Davey Johnson, and owner George Steinbrenner were all on both the 2017 and ’19 Today’s Game ballots, with manager Charlie Manuel on the latter as well, but Jim Leyland was crowded out. Now there’s ample room for him, the recently-retired Bruce Bochy and Mike Scioscia, and eventually Dusty Baker, if not by the 2024 ballot then by the ’27 one, when he will be 77 years old. Sandy Alderson, Billy Beane, and Brian Sabean might be the next executives up for election, and umpire Joe West, who holds the record for longevity if nothing else, will get his hearing as well. While keeping these candidates from crowding out players makes sense, devoting a year of the cycle, instead of running them in parallel to a third player ballot (for which there’s obviously room), is more questionable, as comparatively fewer of their proponents are going to make the trip to Cooperstown for their inductions.

The changes that the Hall put in place with this move are a lot to digest, and there’s more to be said about which types of candidates it helps and hinders. In all, this is the most radical shift in the committee voting process since the dissolution of the expanded Veterans Committee and the advent of the Era Committees in 2010. Those who feel the Hall needs to be as exclusive as possible may be buoyed by this move, but for those pleasantly surprised by the parade of recent honorees, and the chance to reevaluate long-overlooked Negro League players and still-living candidates who slipped through the cracks, this feels like an overreaction that shuts the door in too many faces. But if there’s one thing we know, it’s that the new system won’t last forever, for better or worse.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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1 year ago

The Hall is doing everything it can to keep out the steroid users. Why even let them be on the ballot then? It’s ludicrous.

FWIW, I’d like to see both Dwight Evans and Darrell Evans get in.

1 year ago
Reply to  dl80

Clearly they aren’t. If they’d have gone ahead with the 1-year “cooling period,” I’d agree with you. Honestly I expected that somehow something would delay Bonds and Clemens (and Schilling) being considered, but they didn’t do that.