Looking back on the Hall of Fame issues that came up, I think quite a few of the problems would disappear if they would just have a real election.
What, you say they already have one? No, they do not. Maybe I’m being overly pedantic, but an election, to me, is a way of choosing people to fill a position that must be filled. In particular, it has to result in a winner. The Hall of Fame selection process does not ensure a winner; it is more akin to the process of passing a piece of legislation than to the process of selecting a legislator.
The Baseball Hall of Fame has a pretty basic conflict. The Hall itself – and the community that founded it – desires, and needs, to have induction ceremonies held every July, and induction ceremonies without inductees is just bad for business. This argues for making voting easier, to ensure that we don’t have another repeat of 2013, when no one was selected.
On the other hand, they have given the keys of election to a group – the BBWAA – which seemingly takes more pride in denying entrance to the unworthy than welcoming the worthy. The procedures they have adopted also are intended to exclude all but the best.
Looking at things from a large, historical perspective, we see that major league baseball recognizes 2425 team-seasons in major league history – 1256 in the NL, 1048 in the AL, 85 in the 19th century American Association, 16 in the Federal League, 12 in the Union Association, and 8 in the Player’s League. Personally, I’d include all the teams in the National Association of 1871-75 as well, which would bump us up another 50, getting us to 2475.
There have also been 211 players elected to the Hall of Fame – not counting managers and Negro League players. I’d also include a few players from the NA days who were inducted as “pioneers”, but whose playing career demonstrates at least some worthiness (George Wright and Al Spalding for sure; Candy Cummings is more questionable). I’d also add to the list of players some obvious selections (based on their play) who have been denied entrance for moral failings of one kind or another – let us say Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Roger Clemens. That is 220 players, 2475 teams, or a player for every 11.25 teams in history.
That was the most expansive definition. If I wanted to be stricter, I could just look at the 211 players selected to the Hall. And I could throw out the NA teams, and all the third leagues, and probably the first three years of the AA, when it’s quality level was way, way below the NL of the day. That produces a narrower list of 2358 teams. Ratios vary from 10.72 (using the largest number of players and smallest number of teams) to 11.73 (the reverse). To be less precise – there’s been a Hall of Fame player selected for every 11 or 12 teams in history.
Since there are currently 30 teams playing in the majors every year, it means that if you simply accepted the existing ratio as a guide, then we should be creating around 2.5 new Hall of Famers every year just to keep up.
So my proposal to the Hall of Fame committee is this – make it a real election. The top vote getter each year gets in, regardless of the vote count. The second-place finisher gets in, assuming a 50%+1 approval. The third (or more) person goes in if they can pull a 75% approval.
In all of Hall voting, there have only been two players who have finished first or second in the voting without currently being in the Hall of Fame – Craig Biggio (1st in 2013, and near-certain to crack the threshold at some later date) and Jack Morris (who finished 2nd in 2013). Even in third, there’s only a few cases – Jeff Bagwell in 2012-13, Tony Oliva in 1988, and Gil Hodges four times in the 70s. I don’t think the Hall would be in any way diminished by these inclusions.
How would the last 25 years elections have worked following my rules? I’m going to make the naive assumption that votes for other players would not have changed due to players that I’ve removed from the ballot by inducting them before their time.
1994 – The real Hall tabs Steve Carlton, and we concur. But we will also honor Orlando Cepeda, who picked up 73.5% while finishing second, and won’t make him wait until a Veterans Committee meeting in 1999.
1996 – No one is elected by the real Hall. Niekro was first, so we skip him; that makes Tony Perez #1, so in he goes without waiting four more years. Sutton is next, skip him, and that brings up Steve Garvey…but he only has 37% vote. Perez is our only inductee this year.
1997 – The real Hall chose Niekro, followed by Sutton and Perez, all of whom we’ve already honored. The top recipient, and our winner, even though he only had 39% of the vote, is Ron Santo. We salute him in 1997, instead of making him wait until the afterlife (died 2010, inducted to Hall in 2012).
1998 – The Hall selected Don Sutton. We skip him, and then skip Perez, and Santo, and then its welcome to the Hall of Fame, Jim Rice. We’re already under 50%, so he’s all alone, but he doesn’t have to wait another decade until 2009.
2000 – Carlton Fisk is selected by the Hall, and we’re fine with that. Perez and Rice were next, and we already have them; our second place finisher is Gary Carter, but he is just under 50% and so will have to wait.
2002 – Ozzie Smith is really elected. Gary Carter is second, and now has over 50% of the vote, so he gets in a year earlier than reality.
2003 – Eddie Murray finished first, and was genuinely elected, and Carter was also elected. Since we already have Carter in, our second-place finisher is Bruce Sutter, who qualifies with 54% approval. In three years early.
2006 – Sutter was the only real inductee that year. Ignoring him, and second-place finisher Rice, our top recipient is Rich Gossage. And our second place finisher is Andre Dawson, and 61% makes him a qualifying second-placer. Gossage goes in for us now instead of 2008, and Dawson moves up from 2010.
2008 – Gossage was the Hall’s real choice. We’re going to go past him, and Rice, and Dawson, and find ourselves a nice shiny Bert Blyleven. The next finisher would be Lee Smith, but he’s under 50%; so Bert has the podium to himself now instead of waiting until 2011.
2009 – Rickey Henderson is taken in reality, as was Jim Rice. Our second place finisher (after skipping Rice, Dawson, and Blyleven) would again be Lee Smith, but again he’s under 50% and is not inducted.
2010 – Reality elects Dawson, but we’ve had him in for four years already. Next was Blyleven, also in already. Our top finisher in 2010 is Roberto Alomar, so he goes in a year ahead of time. Our second place finisher is Jack Morris, and he does receive 50% of the vote, so he goes in, too. Morris is the first person we’ve inducted who has not made the actual Hall. However, like Cepeda and Santo, similarly rejected by the BBWAA, he’s a near-cinch for a future Veteran’s Committee.
2011 – Reality selected Alomar and Blyleven, but we have beaten reality to the punch. Barry Larkin is our inductee. Morris would have gotten in again, but skipping over him means that, for the third time, our second place finisher is Lee Smith. And for the third time, he is under 50%.
2012 – The Hall really chose Larkin; we’ll ignore him, and then ignore Morris. Our number 1 becomes Jeff Bagwell. Our number two, again, is Lee Smith; but this time he picked up 50.6% of the vote. He’s in!
2013 – No one was selected by the BBWAA this year. Craig Biggio was on top the list, though, so he is in. We can ignore Morris, and Bagwell in third, to get down to Mike Piazza. He’s our second-place man, and he’s got 58% support, so in he goes.
So to summarize – this way guarantees that there will be someone to honor at Cooperstown each year. Players who aren’t selected in their first year tend to get in a couple of years earlier this way. Virtually all players who meet our rules but not the BBWAA 75% rule eventually get named to the Hall anyway. We’d have saved Orlando Cepeda and Ron Santo from the Veteran’s Committee. We would have inducted Jack Morris and Lee Smith, who have (definitely, probably) missed out from the BBWAA. We’ve already gotten to Bagwell, Biggio, and Piazza, who should all be eventual winners.
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