Later today, we will find out who voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America will have determined is worthy of enshrinement in baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. More specifically, we will find out who, in addition to Ken Griffey, Jr., will be so blessed by the BBWAA, because Griffey, in his first year of eligibility, is a lock.
I’ve written, in the past, about my feelings toward the BBWAA, as the great guardians of morality in baseball (I think they’re just about the last group we should want judging others’ moral worthiness) and the whole HoF voting process, in general. I won’t go off on that subject again, but you can get a sense of those feelings by clicking here to read an article I posted a couple of years ago.
The Hall made some changes this year in the voting process, most notably by culling the electorate by about 20% by eliminating any writer that has not actively covered baseball in the past ten years. That’s a good change, in my view. However, still believe that, as long as there’s some sort of “morality clause” involved with the voting, the writers should not be determining who gets into the Hall and who doesn’t.
The BBWAA also attempted to get the Hall to allow them to vote for 12 players, rather than ten. I understand that, since the current ballot has a lot of potentially worthy players on it. But I’m OK with the Hall rejecting that request, because this stacked ballot results directly from so many writers insisting on serving as the morality police when it comes to voting against anyone known to use (or in some cases just being suspected of using) Performance Enhancing Drugs.
If the writers had simply voted for Bonds, Roger Clemens and others when they should have, those players would no longer be clogging the ballot and nobody would be having a problem limiting their ballots to ten players now.
Another way that this problem could have been addressed would have been for the Hall to provide some guidance to the voters concerning how to apply the infamous character clause that allows writers to anoint themselves to be the Hall’s guardians of morality. But the Hall has continued to refuse to do so. Only players who have been banned from the game (e.g. Pete Rose, Joe Jackson, etc.) are deemed ineligible to be enshrined by the voters. Since baseball has never taken the step of banning PED users, we are left with BBWAA voters as determinants of moral worthiness.
What the Hall has done, however, is significantly reduce the number of years a player will be included on the ballot. Previously, as Bert Blyleven can attest, players would remain on the ballot for 15 years, as long as they continue to be listed on at least the minimum percentage of returned ballots. That term of eligibility is now limited to ten years on the ballot (though some players have been “grandfathered” to allow them to remain for 15 years).
The bottom line is that these changes will likely have the following effects:
- Fewer borderline players will be elected. Those, like Blyleven, who would garner late support in their 12th, 13th and 14th years of eligibility will not get that opportunity (though it’s likely that fans of some of these players will simply attempt to rally support for their favorites beginning in year six or seven, instead of waiting another five years).
- Some worthy players will not be enshrined. The ballots will continue to be clogged by known/suspected PED users, resulting in some writers having to choose between voting for great players who used PEDs or very good players who don’t have that stigma attached to them. This issue won’t be going away soon. Not only will Bonds, Clemens and others remain on the ballot for several more years, but even when they drop off, they will be replaced by Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz and others who will (or should, if the writers are consistent in their moral judgements) be similarly excluded from consideration.
- It is possible that a truly great player with no suspicion of PED use could eventually finally be named on 100% of returned ballots. Griffey is expected to set a new record for support when results are announced tonight, but I doubt that even he will get 100%. However, many of the “nobody should get elected in their first year” club of voters were among the 20% who lost their vote and, presumably, even more of them will drop from the voter rolls as they reach ten years since actively covering the game, so the chances of someone eventually appearing on every ballot may continue to increase over time.
How would I vote? I think I could make a case for 13 players: Bagwell, Bonds, Clemens, Griffey, Hoffman, Martinez, Mussina, Piazza, Raines, Schilling, Smith, Sosa and Trammell.
Cutting to ten wouldn’t be difficult for me. First, I would eliminate the relief pitchers. I would never say that bullpen arms should not be considered for enshrinement, but they would have to meet a higher level of excellence to get my vote and, if it comes down to having to make tough choices, relievers will probably be cut. Hoffman and Smith had terrific careers, but they don’t come close to being guys I would feel guilty about not voting for this year.
Of the remaining 11, Schilling would be my 11th guy and be dropped from my ballot this year to make room for the other ten.
Tonight, I suspect we will find out that Griffey, Bagwell and Piazza have been elected. Raines, unfortunately, will probably fall short again.
While I celebrate the results, every year I pay less and less attention to this process because of all the complaining that voting writers do. They complain about PED users. They complain about lack of guidance from the Hall. They complain about being limited to ten players on their ballots. They even complain about the pressure to make their ballots public influencing their votes.
That last point drives me nuts. This isn’t you and me voting for President. This is a group of elites who are, essentially, given the honor of voting on behalf of all baseball fans. If you want a parallel, imagine if our Congressional representatives could cast secret ballots on bills before Congress. There would be absolutely NO accountability – just as there is no accountability in the HoF voting process.
True, many voters do make their ballots public. Or at least they show us something that looks like their completed ballot. That’s admirable and I appreciate them doing so. But, even with those voters, do we really KNOW that they voted the way they claim they did? I don’t know what benefit there would be to lying about how you vote and it’s not my intent to cast aspersions on the integrity of any particular writer, but until we have formal public disclosure of all votes, we won’t know for sure how anyone voted. There is absolutely no legitimate justification for a secret ballot for the Hall of Fame.
Tonight, I will silently congratulate Griffey and any others who are elected into the Hall. It’s a crowning achievement for careers of players who, without exception, dedicated themselves to being great and brought a great deal of enjoyment to us, as baseball fans, during their careers.
I just wish the voting process wasn’t so silly.