MLB Hall of Fame: Three ways to improve the voting process for Cooperstown
The current method is flawed and gives us bad results
On Wednesday, the BBWAA will announce the results of its Baseball Hall of Fame vote for 2018. They have a process, you see, and the process does not work especially well. Let us now fix the process in three easy steps:
Step 1: Lose the stupid character clause
So here are the ballot instructions given to each BBWAA voter:
Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.
In the PED era, the "integrity, sportsmanship, character" part has gone from secondary consideration to prime mover for too many candidates. The plaque room already includes a sherpa's load of racists, borderline sociopaths, and amphetamine users from the 1960s onward. To subject modern candidates to some kind of nebulous and ever-shifting moral calculus is at best ahistorical in the extreme. Beyond that, it asks sportswriters to survey the anecdotal landscape as though they double as CDC public health responders (witness, for instance, Murray Chass' devoting bandwidth to his estimations of Mike Piazza's back acne).
So do the voters, the candidates, and the Hall itself a favor by no longer giving writers political cover to pretend they can divine someone's character from afar. If voters insist on a moral schema, then they'll do so without sanction. Let them damn well own it rather than use the "character clause" as rationale. Again, it's a Hall of Fame not a Hall of Sterling Honor.
Speaking of the Hall, if the stakeholders insist on some kind of moral component, then let that be reflected in the initial vetting process. The Hall ruled that players on the permanently ineligible list cannot be inducted (nevermind that they instituted this rule only after Pete Rose was placed on said list), and nothing is stopping them from doing something self-defeating like barring players who tested positive for banned substances or whatever. That would be a stupid thing to do, but on occasion there's something to be said for going from farce to self-parody.
Step 2: Establish a statistical threshold for automatic induction
Here's another slice of the ballot instructions:
No automatic elections based on performances such as a batting average of .400 or more for one (1) year, pitching a perfect game or similar outstanding achievement shall be permitted.
So let's lose that. Let's establish a cutoff of some all-encompassing metric, at which point (or above) a candidate is automatically elected. Let's go with WAR until something better comes along. It's something of a blunt instrument, but it's useful in capturing value across large samples (like, say, full careers), and it's illuminating at the margins.
Did you compile, say, 75 WAR in your career? Then you're a Hall of Famer. Survey the list of those who reached 75 WAR and you'll find that five players presently on the ballot -- Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Chipper Jones, Mike Mussina, and Curt Schilling -- satisfy this criterion. So they're in. This way voters can't somehow screw themselves into thinking that players who comfortably exceed the established standards for Hall of Famers aren't, you know, Hall of Famers. Let them debate candidates whose bodies of work actually need debating.
Don't like the idea of Bonds and Clemens going in automatically? Then see above. Here are the current eligibility rules:
Candidates to be eligible must meet the following requirements:
A. A baseball player must have been active as a player in the Major Leagues at some time during a period beginning fifteen (15) years before and ending five (5) years prior to election.
B. Player must have played in each of ten (10) Major League championship seasons, some part of which must have been within the period described in 3(A).
C. Player shall have ceased to be an active player in the Major Leagues at least five (5) calendar years preceding the election but may be otherwise connected with baseball.
D. In case of the death of an active player or a player who has been retired for less than five (5) full years, a candidate who is otherwise eligible shall be eligible in the next regular election held at least six (6) months after the date of death or after the end of the five (5) year period, whichever occurs first.
E. Any player on Baseball's ineligible list shall not be an eligible candidate.
There's nothing stopping the Hall from expanding those requirements. To repeat, that would be dumb and comically self-important, but the freedom to be wrong is an important freedom.
3. Adopt Derrick Goold's "binary ballot" idea
I've praised the genius simplicity of Goold's idea before. His idea, which you can read about here, directly addresses the rule that limits ballots to 10 names per year. Goold proposes that each voter should give each candidate a yes or no without regard to limitations. Every candidate gets declared a Hall of Famer or unworthy of said honor without regard to the other names on the ballot. Every candidate should be evaluated on his merits -- in a vacuum, in essence -- and this allows voters to do just that. As well, I like the idea of forcing voters to say "no" to each name much more than the current passive-aggressive setup. Is he a Hall of Famer in your mind? Check yes. If he's not, check no.
And there you have it. Lose the ill-defined moral component, take the cases of obvious Hall of Famers (and, yes, Mike Mussina is an obvious Hall of Famer) out of the voters hands, and give each candidate a yes or no vote. Three easy steps that lead to fun and profit, or at least a more sensible voting process.
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