Now that this year's Hall of Fame class has been announced, and we have gone through the seemingly annual requisite controversy about how the votes were cast, it's time for the seemingly annual requisite article about how to change the voting procedure so it's... I don't know, "more fair" isn't really right, perhaps "more in tune with modern baseball" is better.
I wrote about this a little over a year ago, and my views on voting have changed, a bit, not all that much, over that time.
Perhaps you don't care about this topic. Perhaps you're burned out on hearing about voting weirdness like Ken Gurnick's, perhaps you think only statistical achievement should be considered when voting for Hall induction, perhaps you don't think anyone should vote at all, but baseball people should be given plaques by the Hall itself -- after all, it's a private institution and can do as it damn well pleases. Which, in fact, is exactly how it's done things for pretty much all of its existence.
Gabriel Schechter, an author, fellow Colgate University grad, and a man who once worked at the Hall of Fame, wrote this article, which I also linked earlier today, on why the Hall likely won't change anything:
... the Hall of Fame has turned its living membership into a huge cottage industry. The Hall pays members a lot of money (in five figures) to come back and participate in many events, not just the induction ceremony. During the big weekend, members make a fortune signing autographs, and for some this Hall of Fame largesse is their chief source of income. In addition, living Hall of Famers receive 30% of revenues from items merchandised by the Hall, split evenly. Having 60 people dividing the pie and cashing in on their immortality rather than 50 would spread the windfall that much thinner.
That's very likely true, but that issue is beyond the scope of this article. Let's assume for a moment that the Hall has decided things must change. Here are xx steps that would make the vote more inclusive of knowledgeable baseball people, and thus, likely would make the Hall of Fame a place that all baseball fans could be proud of.
Keep the BBWAA as one voting group, but change the rules on how they vote
The Baseball Writers' Association of America is the voting body for the Hall largely by historical accident. Joe Posnanski explains:
The Hall of Fame election process wasn’t even discussed enough to be fairly called an afterthought. The Hall of Fame founders simply dumped that part on the most obvious group of the 1930s, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The BBWAA was really the only option at the time — this was years before television, and owners were still reluctant to have their baseball games on the radio. The Hall gave the BBWAA almost no instruction.
75 years ago, this made sense. Now? Um, no. There are hundreds if not thousands of other people who are well qualified to vote. This doesn't mean that some BBWAA members don't cast thoughtful ballots. Many do. What I'd do is keep the current qualification that a BBWAA member has to have at least 10 years in the organization before voting -- but then, once that writer retires from full-time work, give him or her five more voting years, then they must give up their ballot. That would mean that in general, BBWAA voters would be those still active and covering the sport.
Add local and national radio and television broadcasters to the voting pool
This group likely sees more baseball games than anyone; many writers don't cover all their team's games. Any active broadcaster with 10+ years of experience would qualify under my proposal; this would include national broadcasters as well. Again, five years past retirement, any such voters would have to give up their ballot.
Add Internet baseball writers to the voting pool
I'm not going to be as bold to say that I personally deserve a Hall ballot -- I don't -- but there are many qualified national internet baseball writers who do. National internet baseball writing isn't quite 10 years old, but I'm reasonably certain that a number of qualified national internet writers could be found. How would you determine this? That, I'm not quite sure. The same qualifications would apply: 10 years of writing, give up your ballot five years after you stop writing full-time
Living Hall of Famers should vote
Some of these men wind up voting on Veterans' Committees. Why not have them vote for future inductees? You'd run into the problem described by Schechter above -- the idea that once in, Hall of Famers tend to want to close the door behind them -- but this issue could be solved by the next change.
Full transparency on ballots
Every voter would be required to publicize his or her ballot. This would help make the Hall more inclusive. This would also stimulate even more public discussion of players' qualifications.
Eliminate the 10-player voting cap
This would help in years like 2014, where there are likely more than 10 qualified players.
Prune the ballot to make it smaller
There were 37 players on this year's ballot. The only official qualification for Hall induction is to have played 10 years and be retired for at least five. Obviously, not everyone who's done that appears even now, but of the 19 new names on this year's ballot, I can think of at least eight who don't really belong: Ray Durham, Richie Sexson, Paul Lo Duca, Armando Benitez, Mike Timlin, Sean Casey, Jacque Jones and Todd Jones.
Have the voting panel submit nominations instead of simply having the Hall release a ballot. You'd set the bar at some percentage of the total voting population to even appear as a nominee.
None of my changes address what's been going on with how the voters are treating players from the Steroid Era. That's a separate issue that I'll probably address sometime in the future.
Honoring former players, managers, executives, umpires and other contributors to baseball should be a process filled with joy and happiness for the memories they've given us. Instead, it's turned into a game of embarrassed finger-pointing. I believe some of the proposals I've made, if instituted, would allow us all to celebrate the greats of the game we all love.
One last thing about Cooperstown you should remember. The full name of the place honoring baseball history is "The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum." If you feel you want to boycott the Hall because of the voting process, don't pass up an opportunity to go to Cooperstown anyway, to see the museum, which is a great repository honoring all sorts of baseball history. You can go to the museum and skip the Hall plaques if you choose -- but every baseball fan should go to Cooperstown, hard as it is to get to, at least once.