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What If No One Voted For The Hall Of Fame?

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Two noted baseball writers might have started a trend.

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News item: ESPN.com's Buster Olney won't submit a Hall of Fame ballot this year (ESPN Insider article):

Maybe I should've figured it out last year, but this puzzle cannot be solved. There's no way to judge each candidate strictly on his merits given the current ballot limitations, no fair way to vote.

I can't stand the protest ballots we've seen in the past, when someone signs a blank ballot that counts as a vote against all candidates. That's unfair. I've hated to hear the stories of voters who haven't voted for a player because they didn't like them personally. The voting shouldn't be about the writer; it should be only about the players and whether they're worthy of induction.

And I can't stand the idea of casting a ballot that works against players that I think should be inducted, such as Mussina, Schilling or others. So as much as it has been an honor in the past to participate in the voting, I'll abstain, and hope that in the future the rules change.

News item: Detroit News writer Lynn Henning won't submit a Hall of Fame ballot this year:

A year ago, we had a robust discussion of the 10-man limit at a heavily-attended BBWAA meeting annually arranged at the Winter Meetings. A committee was formed to study the 10-man limit.

It was urged, personally in an e-mail letter to BBWAA officers, that the 10-man limit be expanded – this year – to avoid the very clutter and marginal chaos that voters now face on an unnecessarily restricted ballot.

Nothing has happened. Anyone understands change can take time. But there are Constitutional amendments that have been ratified in shorter time than would have been required to make the fair and reasonable expansion on this year's Hall of Fame ballot.

This is separate from another plea I've formally made – that all Hall of Fame ballots be made public. It would go a long way to ensure that better ballots and more accountability is made part of an increasingly unpopular referendum on those who ultimately crack Cooperstown.

I was told by BBWAA officials this year that the Hall of Fame bosses want ballots to be private.

There are 34 names on this year's Hall of Fame ballot. Many writers have bemoaned the fact that they can "only" vote for 10. That restriction, plus another newly-minted Hall rule that players will appear on the writers' ballot for 10 years rather than the previous 15, seems aimed straight at keeping reported PED users out of the Hall. Why is that?

It's pretty clear that the reasoning goes along these lines: The existing Hall of Famers have made it clear that they don't want to be joined by Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and others who have been accused of PED use, never mind that some (Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and others) are being accused by not much more than innuendo ("back acne" and "being too muscular"). The threat to the Hall of Fame by this is that already-inducted Hall of Famers might not show up on induction weekend, thus robbing the Hall of the presence of their fans who might make the trek to Cooperstown to hobnob and sign autographs.

So what if all the BBWAA writers refused to vote? I've been of the opinion that the BBWAA shouldn't be the only group of people who cover or care about baseball to be given a vote for making players immortal; the fact that they are is mostly an historical accident. When the Hall began in the 1930s, professional baseball writers were the only people who knew enough about all the players' careers to vote. There wasn't any body of general knowledge for fans to know enough, and radio was then still in its infancy.

That isn't the case today, obviously, and now there are some superannuated BBWAA members who haven't covered baseball in decades who still get a vote, and there's been much criticsm of the Hall for not letting other knowledgeable groups (broadcasters, for example) in.

But now the BBWAA could hold all the cards. What if they en masse decided that none of them would send in a ballot this year? There are at least 10 qualified players on this year's ballot, maybe more, as Henning and Olney state. They're making a protest against a system that makes no sense, and maybe it's even time for BBWAA management to tell the Hall, "Thanks for 75 years, but you'll have to figure out some other way to put people in your Hall of Fame now," and pull out of the balloting entirely.

This is all made even worse by Monday's announcement:

What's the point of having this committee at all if they're not going to do anything? It was this kind of embarrassing vote that kept Ron Santo out of the Hall until after he died. Why bother with a Veterans Committee that elects maybe one "veteran" every three years?

As many of you know, I'm a member of the Internet Baseball Writers of America. The IBWAA holds its own Hall of Fame vote, concurrent with the BBWAA vote, though we have no influence and our votes count only amongst ourselves. But the IBWAA has acknowledged that there are many deserving candidates and has increased the number of players we can vote for to 15. I'll have something on my vote (which is due by December 31) here in the near future.

Some of you will say you no longer care about the Hall of Fame, and given what they've done with voting over the last few years, that's not an unreasonable position. It's time for the Hall of Fame to get off its proverbial high horse and realize who its constituency really is. It's not writers and it's not the people who have already been voted in. It's baseball fans, and those of us who are serious about having a worthy Hall of Fame for the sport we love are tired of being told what's good for us.