Thursday, January 10, 2013

Proposal for the Hall of Fame

I have already written a lot of words about the Baseball Hall of Fame and the inanity of many of the BBWAA members who comprise the voting bloc, but after yesterday's failure to induct any of the thirty-seven (!) players on the ballot, I thought I might post some thoughts about how to revise the process.  In the process, I will undoubtedly say some things that I have said before, but such is life.

I mentioned this on Facebook yesterday, but the primary purpose of a museum is to document history.  Thus, the primary purpose of the Baseball Hall of Fame is to document baseball's history.  In that vein, it is impossible to pretend that the "Steroid Era" never happened, and that none of the players involved (or rumored to be involved) should enter the museum's doors except as paying customers.  The same writers who now decry convicted or purported steroid users were the same journalists who weren't doing their jobs well enough ten years ago to notice that players' bodies were changing, or at least to investigate why.  Mike Lupica wrote a popular book about the 1998 chase of Roger Maris' home run record and how exciting it was; now he refuses to vote for any candidate "tainted" by steroid use.  There is something wrong with that picture.

If you are going to keep out steroid users, real and imagined, because they "cheated," then you also need to remove all of the players who used amphetamines to energize themselves for the long six-month grind of the season, a list that includes players such as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle, among others.  You would need to remove everyone who kept the majors a white-only dominion for decades, like Cap Anson and Ty Cobb.  A Hall of Fame without those players is meaningless, and one without Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds is meaningless as well.  Anyway, did not all of those player do exactly what we asked of them by doing their best to remain as competitive and great as possible?  If you are a baseball fan, did you not enjoy 1998?  Does the realization that Mark McGwire and probably Sammy Sosa were taking steroids affect how excited you were then?  Of course not.  It already happened.  I will give the caveat that gambling on baseball, as in the case of Pete Rose, is different in affecting the integrity of the game.  As Law said with regard to that, "Those bets would, assuming he's human, affect his decision-making in those games - and in games on which he didn't bet as well."  Meaning that he was not necessarily playing to win, which is the whole point.

And you know what?  Keeping those players out will only hurt the Hall of Fame, the draw of which accounts for an enormous percentage of the Cooperstown region's economy.  For the first time in half a century there will not be a single living person inducted into the Hall of Fame, via either the BBWAA or Veteran's Committee, which will mean a huge lack of interest in the ceremonies, which means less attendance, which means shriveled revenues for the shops and hotels and restaurants.  Cooperstown, even with one of the best micro-breweries in the country, is struggling mightily, and a sparsely attended induction weekend is sure to drive several businesses under.  Congratulations, BBWAA!  Pat yourselves on the back up there on your high horse and be proud of bankrupting an entire region of a suffering state.

This is not to say that votes should be based on how inductees will help the local economy.  But the relevance of the place matters, and no one is going to give two shits about Jacob Ruppert, Hank O'Day, and Deacon White, all of whom have been pushing up daisies for over seventy-five years.*  So what are ways that the Hall of Fame can improve its voting process to both recognize those who played when steroid use was widespread and to remain a relevant attraction for baseball fans?  Bob Costas suggested that going forward, anyone who tests positive be barred from consideration, but this is extreme.  As Keith Law pointed out, you could then render ineligible some 19-year-old kid who tested positive in the minors and then went on to have an excellent, clean career.  That's an extreme solution.  How about these?

*Also, it's ludicrous that these three guys got selected by a "Pre-Integration Committee" when a) the Hall is overstuffed with pre-integration people already and b) they enshrined two more non-players while the most influential non-player in American sports, period, the recently deceased Marvin Miller, remains on the outside looking in.  Ridiculous.

1) Make ballots public - This, to me, is a no-brainer. Voters should not be allowed to hide an agenda (which so many of them clearly have) behind an anonymous ballot.  Several voters reveal their picks every year, but if everyone had to, personal agendas would be a lot harder to use.  Additionally, BBWAA voting results for season awards (MVP, Cy Young, etc.) are now made public. Why not the Hall of Fame?

2) Eliminate the lifetime ballot - Currently, if you have been a BBWAA member for ten years, you get a ballot for life, even if you no longer cover the sport.  In football, you have to actively cover football in order to vote on who gets enshrined in Canton.  Trim the writers who no longer cover baseball from the voting roster.

3) Change the voting limits - No matter how many players are on the ballot, you can vote for anywhere from zero to ten people.  This year's ballot included at least seventeen people with legitimately strong Hall of Fame cases (Morris, Murphy, Schilling, Sosa, Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Palmeiro, Lofton, Trammell, Piazza, Raines, Bagwell, Biggio, Walker, McGriff, and Martinez in no particular order), meaning that it was inevitable, especially this year, that someone would get pushed off the ballot because they were overlooked. This year it was Lofton, who failed to make the 5% cut to remain on the ballot despite being one of the best leadoff hitters and center fielders of his generation.  In place of a maximum vote, I would instead institute a minimum threshold; I think it's fair to tell voters that they have to vote for at least five players every year, with either a higher maximum (say, fifteen) or none at all.  Sure, there may be some jackasses who will vote for Todd Walker, Jose Mesa, Mike Stanton, Woody Williams, and Ryan Klesko (to name five on this year's ballot who polled no votes), but they would have to defend their choices via the public ballot.  This would also go a long way towards ensuring that at least someone gets elected every year with 75% of the vote.

4) Shorten the time frame - Do we really need fifteen years of voting to determine whether or not someone is a Hall of Famer? Let's cut it to ten.

5) Deserves consideration - Joe Posnanski came up with a great idea of having another box on the ballot to check off for players who deserve more consideration but that you cannot vote for because you've run out of room on your ballot.  Even with a maximum of fifteen names, that would have come into play this year, and it will in the future, too. Lofton (under 5%) and Murphy (ageing off) are the only deserving names who will not also be on next year's ballot, which adds Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, Frank Thomas, and Jeff Kent.  Then Jack Morris will age off, and 2015 will see the additions of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield, and John Smoltz.  In 2016 Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman join.  The ballot will only get more crowded with time.

These are my suggestions.  Feel free to comment with your own, but remember that any suggestion should be made with the intent of preserving and recording ALL of the past, not just the parts you like.