There has been much controversy surrounding Hall of Fame voting over the last few years, including one voter who sold his vote to Deadspin. It was later revealed that was Miami writer Dan Le Batard, who subsequently was banned for life from voting; there's also been criticism of writers who are retired and no longer cover baseball on a regular basis having votes, and the Hall seemed to want to have nothing to do with players from the Steroid Era.
Well! The Hall took strong measures to deal with these controversies Saturday. And when I say "took strong measures," I really mean "swept everything under the rug":
The Hall of Fame announced changes to its voting procedure on Saturday, including reducing the length of time a retired player can stay on the ballot to a maximum of 10 years. The current length is 15 years. In the new format, after 10 years the players would move to the Era Committee system for review in perpetuity. Players who already have passed the 10 years mark will be grandfathered in on the ballot, meaning Don Mattingly (15th year in 2015), Alan Trammell (14th) and Lee Smith (13th) will all be allowed to stay for 15 years. In another change, Hall of Fame voters will be required to register and sign a "code of conduct" form. Names of all voters will now he made public by the Hall of Fame. The voters will not, however, be required to reveal their votes. The Baseball Writers Association of America will continue to elect players, and those with 10 years of membership will still be eligible to vote.
In a news conference Saturday, Hall officials denied the reduction in eligibility years had anything to do with players from the Steroid Era:
At press conference, Jane Forbes Clark says that steroid era had nothing to do with @BaseballHall changes announced today.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) July 26, 2014
Yeah, right. And I'm going to be the next King of England.
Of course it has everything to do with the Steroid Era. Because after the 10-year period, any player who's not elected would be sent to whatever the Hall decides the Veterans Committee is going to be. Currently, that committee has quite a few Hall of Famers on it, and at least two new Hall of Fame members say Steroid Era players will remain where they are, on the outside:
"They're not going to get in," [Frank] Thomas told the Tribune. "And talking to all the Hall of Famers, they're going to boycott (if anyone gets elected) to make sure they don't get in. They've already said to me, 'Frank, it's OK to like your peers and do so much with them, but a lot of them did a lot of bad stuff to the game, and they shouldn't be rewarded for something they weren't naturally gifted to do. They cheated.'" [Greg] Maddux was not as adamant as Thomas, but he's not crying for the players who put up the numbers to get in but eventually were tainted. "I know you're responsible for your actions," Maddux said. "You never know when it's going to come up. At the time, I think everyone was aware it wasn't the right thing to do, but they did it anyway. It wasn't that big a deal in the '90s, but now it is. You're kind of responsible for your own actions, and now they're paying the price."
My stand on the Steroid Era players is evolving over time. This is, I believe, what is needed to have perspective on history. We're still too close to that time, still in some ways feeling the wounds that era gave to the game. With a bit of distance placed between then and the future, perhaps the players we're talking about could be inducted into the Hall for the performances they gave and the numbers they posted during that time, inflated though they might be. Perhaps the answer is: "Put them in, but make sure it's noted on their plaques when they played, and what happened then." The Steroid Era is part of the game's history, like it or not, and excluding an entire generation's worth of players is whitewashing that history, not telling it. Eventually the Hall of Fame is going to have to come to terms with all of this and figure out what to do. Thomas implied in the article that living Hall of Famers -- the lifeblood of Induction Weekend -- wouldn't show up if steroid users were elected:
"They don't dispute anything (written). They know (how they are), and they're not going to hold anything back. And they've already said, if any of those guys get in and they think they were on it and they have proof, they're not going to be there. There will be an empty room for them going in. That's what they say." Who is "they"? "The living Hall of Famers," he said. "It's serious. They basically told me: 'Shut up. You've earned your place. Be respectful. You're part of an elite club. We have rules in this elite club.' And I respect that, and I'm humbled and honored to be part of that elite club."
And so instead of dealing with the issue, the Hall swept it under the rug by essentially shortening the time players stay on the BBWAA ballot, and based on Thomas' comments, no Veterans Committee will ever elect them, either.
The rest of the changes go towards "fixing" the Hall's "problem" with writers like Le Batard. I put those words in quotes because the real problem is the Hall's insistence that the BBWAA should be the sole arbiter of who's Hall-worthy in 2014, just as they were in 1936. I'm pretty sure you know the multiple reasons why that should no longer be the case; there are many groups of people, from broadcasters to bloggers to fans, who know just as much about baseball as any BBWAA member, and should be included in voting, in some way. Ballots of BBWAA members might still wind up being "sold," or if not actually sold for money, given to others to fill out. We just won't hear about it from Deadspin (or anyone else).
The problem here is that the Hall risks becoming irrelevant if the perception from the public who supports it is that Hall leadership doesn't care about that public's desire to see Hall voting opened up beyond an organization that seems to be decades behind the times.
As is the Hall's leadership itself, in my view. Cooperstown, New York isn't easy to get to. A visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame takes effort and planning. If the Hall is going to be an institution stuck decades in the past, many might think that effort not worth making in the future.