The Baseball Hall of Fame announced changes to its voting process over the weekend that will reduce the number of years players remain on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot from 15 years to 10.
In practical terms, there have been only 11 players voted into the Hall by the BBWAA after their 10th year on the ballot.
But in immediate terms, the candidacy of a player like Tim Raines, whose vote total slipped to 46.1 percent this year after reaching 52.2 percent in 2013. This was his seventh year on the ballot, but instead of eight more chances, Raines is suddenly down to three.
Three players will be grandfathered onto subsequent ballots under the new rule—Don Mattingly, Alan Trammell and Lee Smith. Mattingly’s name will be on the ballot for the 15th and final time in 2015 with Trammell entering his 14th year under consideration and Smith his 13th.
None of the three has ever come close to election—Mattingly topped out at 28.2 percent in his first year of eligibility in 2001 and received 8.2 percent this year, Trammell’s peak was 36.8 percent in 2012 and he was at 20.8 percent this year and Smith was at 29.9 percent in 2014 after peaking at 50.6 percent in 2012.
Induction requires 75 percent of votes cast.
The transparent reasoning behind the rule change is to further prevent players linked to performance-enhancing drug use such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire from gumming up the ballot for 15 years.
The secondary effect of this will be to reduce the opportunities for the retroactive moralists of the BBWAA voting bloc to turn each January into another opportunity to do the public posturing dance.
The BBWAA and the Hall of Fame were embarrassed this year when voter Dan LeBatard gave his ballot to Deadspin.com, which in turn conducted a survey of readers. LeBatard then submitted that ballot under his signature.
Raines gets killed, though, because the BBWAA did nothing to change its arbitrary rule of 10—voters can choose no more than 10 players each year. My hunch is that the first ballot the BBWAA sent to its members had 10 lines on it, so by God that’s just how it is.
But 2015 will see Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz go onto the ballot for the first time. In 2016, the Ken Griffey joins the party. The backlog of candidates means that Raines’ chances go from slim to basically non-existent.
Part of the problem is the makeup of the BBWAA electorate itself. A writer has to be an accredited member for 10 years before earning the Hall of Fame vote, but once it’s given, it is basically a Supreme Court appointment—it never gets revoked, even if the closest thing a voter has gotten to a ballpark in the last 20 years has been to eat a hot dog.
At its root, the BBWAA itself is a flawed organization if it wants to truly represent the people who cover Major League Baseball. Formed in the early 20th century, the BBWAA’s original purpose was to help those writers covering baseball—and in those days each big-league city had several newspapers doing so—had the proper access and working conditions.
When the idea for the Hall of Fame sprang up in the 1930s, the BBWAA was the only organization available to handle the voting. There was no television, commercial radio was still relatively new and there were still many newspapers in big league cities covering the sport.
But the same eligibility rules that were in place 100 years ago remain today. There is no journalistic enterprise that covers baseball more than MLB.com, but because it is Internet-based, none of its writers are eligible for BBWAA membership unless they were members at a newspaper prior to joining the website.
Broadcasters have never been included, nor have the people responsible for the groundbreaking work done in developing the new generation of advanced statistical analysis.
Baseball is the grand old game, but the voting process for its most hallowed shrine is still stuck in a world that no longer exists. Sportswriters long ago stopped being the guys in the fedoras banging away at their manual Underwood typewriters in the press box, producing sheets of paper that a courier would take to the newspaper’s offices.
There will be a degree of accountability demanded from the voters, which is a good thing. Voters will have to register and agree to a code of conduct and, for the first time, the names of the voters will be released by the BBWAA for public consumption.
Mostly, the only voters to identify themselves to this point are the ones who want to make the voting process about them—which is never has been, nor should it be—rather than on the greats of the game and the institution that is the Hall of Fame.
The 11 players in question, those players who were elected after their 10th year of eligibility, include:
- Harry Heilmann (elected in his 12th year of eligibility in 1952)
- Bill Terry (14th year, 1954)
- Rabbit Maranville (14th year, 1954)
- Gabby Hartnett (12th year, 1955)
- Dazzy Vance (16th year, 1955)
- Ralph Kiner (13th year, 1975)
- Bob Lemon (12th year, 1976)
- Duke Snider (11th year, 1980)
- Bruce Sutter (13th year, 2006)
- Jim Rice (15th year, 2009)
- Bert Blyleven (14th year, 2011)
Here’s the thing, though. Even if they hadn’t been elected, if these players had fallen off the ballot after 10 years, there’s every likelihood all of them would still have plaques in Cooperstown. The various iterations of the veterans committee would have seen to it, just like theappropriate committee will do with Jack Morris the next time his era is up for consideration.
It’s the first time since 1991 that the Hall has changed any of its voting rules. That year, a clause was added to exclude players on baseball’s permanently ineligible list (i.e., Pete Rose) from the ballot.
The only reason that rule was enacted was to ensure there was no chance of the circus that would result from a Pete Rose induction ceremony, just as this year’s changes are aimed at preventing a late surge of support for the PED gang as those players enter the final stages of eligibility.
Between the rule change and the revisionist historians of the BBWAA, the PED suspects will likely be kept out of the Hall through the BBWAA process.
Whether or not that is a good thing is left to the individual fan, considering Major League Baseball itself has not seen fit to exclude any of those players from the game.
Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds were both guest instructors for clubs in spring training this year. Mark McGwire serves as the hitting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
MLB has suspended active players for involvement with PEDs, but has never made a move to take any action against those no longer playing (since Bonds has never officially retired, “retiree” seemed like the wrong term to use).
There are two important factors that shouldn’t be forgotten.
The first comes from the infamous Mitchell Report, on page 28:
In 1973, a Congressional subcommittee announced that its staff had completed an “in depth study into the use of illegal and dangerous drugs in sports” including professional baseball. The subcommittee concluded that “the degree of improper drug use—primarily amphetamines and anabolic steroids—can only be described as alarming.”
That’s 1973. Not 1993.
In 1973, Jose Canseco was 9 years old … so he probably wasn’t supplying anyone in Major League Baseball with steroids or instructing any players on their use.
And the other factor is this:
In 2010’s “Ken Burns’ Baseball: The Tenth Inning,” Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post—the first person to connect steroids to Canseco for what it’s worth—gave this quote on camera:
“There was another player now in the Hall of Fame who literally stood with me and mixed something and I said, ‘What’s that?’ and he said, ‘It’s a Jose Canseco milkshake.’ And that year that Hall of Famer hit more home runs than ever hit any other year.
“So it wasn’t just Canseco and so one of the reasons that I thought that it was an important subject was that it was spreading. It was already spreading by 1988.”
What that means simply is this: If a bloc of the BBWAA Hall of Fame electorate wants to keep PED users out of the Hall of Fame, it’s already too late.
Something to think about the next time one of the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa cheerleading society members from 1998 wants to come on television to talk about how the MLB Hall of Fame cannot be tainted by players who cheated.