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A modest proposal to fix Hall of Fame voting

This would make enshrining players in Cooperstown more inclusive.

Al Yellon

One thing I think almost all baseball fans can agree on is that Hall of Fame voting is broken.

People say they no longer care about the Hall of Fame, but I believe that’s because the voting process has, over the years, something that doesn’t reflect the reality of baseball in the 21st Century.

Before I get to my modest proposal, a bit of history.

The reason the Baseball Writers Association of America was chosen as the voting body for the Hall of Fame when it was created in the 1930s is that back then, baseball writers saw more games than anyone else. Radio was still only in its second decade of broadcasting baseball games and some were done by recreating play-by-play from wire reports — the radio broadcasters didn’t travel to road games. Television didn’t exist. Most fans didn’t travel to away games; that didn’t become a thing until Americans in general became more mobile in the 1960s. Only two teams (Cardinals and Browns) existed west of the Mississippi, and then just barely, and there was no interleague play, so (for example) Ernie Banks never played in places like Boston, Cleveland, Detroit or Baltimore.

The writers, though, actually saw players play, traveled with teams, and it was thought they were more knowledgeable. Back then, that might have been true.

Now, though? Every baseball game is televised, so fans can see players from all teams, every single day, in glorious high definition. Many fans travel to road games of their team, seeing players from other teams, and interleague play has brought most players to all cities (and is being expanded in 2023).

The internet has brought vast stores of baseball statistics to everyone. Before 1951, when Hy Turkin and S.C. Thompson published a baseball encyclopedia, there was no single place where baseball numbers could be found. The publication of the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia in 1969 brought even better historical numbers to fans. And is a treasure trove of numbers, and with their partner, the folks who run those sites are trying to put together a complete play-by-play record of every game ever played.

So the BBWAA’s knowledge base, mostly limited to them 80 years ago, has spread to many other people. There’s much more information available to everyone now than back then, and many people other than baseball writers could make informed decisions about Hall of Fame induction.

That’s what I am going to propose, then — adding many more voters. Of course, the Hall of Fame board, which appears stuck in a 1930s mindset, won’t ever do this. But they should.

First, the cap on the number of players a voter can choose should be eliminated. This would end “strategic voting,” where a voter doesn’t choose a player because some other player might fall off the ballot, or for some other reason. There’s no reason the Hall needs to be as stingy as it is with inductions. One of the reasons for the Hall’s existence is, well, to get people to make the pilgrimage to Cooperstown. Keeping players out doesn’t help that.

Second, any voter who returns a blank ballot should have his or her voting privileges revoked. There’s always someone on the ballot worth induction. Making a “statement” like that, in my view, says that the voter doesn’t really care about the history of the game.

Here is how I would expand the electorate.

The BBWAA would keep its vote, but would become a smaller portion of a larger electorate. The requirements of being a BBWAA member for 10 years and having to be an active working writer within the last 10 years would remain. I would reduce the BBWAA’s proportion of the vote to 30 percent.

Another 30 percent of the vote would go to active team radio/TV broadcasters, with the same requirements as the BBWAA: At least 10 years as an active broadcaster, and having to be an active working broadcaster within the last 10 years before the vote is cast.

Then I’d include all living Hall of Famers and all living winners of the Frick Award and the BBWAA Career Excellence Award. (There would be some overlap between the two latter categories and the active BBWAA and radio/TV broadcasters; those people would get only one vote.) Count this as another 30 percent of the vote.

Five percent of the vote would go to active MLB players. Criteria: The player must be on a 40-man roster at the time the vote begins each year.

I would give the remaining five percent to fans. Criteria: One vote per account. Sure, people can sign up for more than one of those but really, why would you bother just to do this vote? In any case, doing that would have only a small impact on the final vote.

This sort of system would have a couple of thousand people involved in the first four groups, and millions in the last. All people in those five categories have some stake in baseball, and being more inclusive might make people feel, “Hey, the Hall of Fame really is an inclusive place.”

Maybe this would work; perhaps it would have to be tweaked a bit.

But in the end, it couldn’t be worse than the system we have now.


Regarding Hall of Fame voting...

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    ... the Hall should keep the system they have now
    (38 votes)
  • 27%
    ... the proposal in the article is a good one and the Hall should adopt it
    (113 votes)
  • 63%
    ... the current system is bad, but I have a different idea than the one in the article (leave in comments)
    (263 votes)
414 votes total Vote Now