Fixing the Hall of Fame – Part 4: Building Consensus

by Daniel Greenia

Part 4a – Renewed Eligibility for 20-Year Retirees / A Ballot

Continual research into history leads to an evolving understanding of past events. The same is certainly true for baseball history. The statistical and historical knowledge are ever expanding. Our understanding of players’ quality, and their standing among the greats, advances a great deal in twenty years. This being the case, the BBWAA should have a prescribed review process for previously eliminated candidates.

The plan proposed in Part 3b allows players on the ballot up to 30 years after retirement (this was the HOF procedure prior to 1964), instead of the current 20-year limit. Most of these will be dropped from the ballot after five or ten elections (or one election if they get no votes). I propose a secondary review of these dropped players; for each election we should review players retired 20 years ago. I would advocate slightly higher standards for reinstatement than we use for first-year candidates. Let’s say this: for the 2011 ballot, all players who retired in 1990 with 1500 games played, or 650 games pitched, or 1900 IP, or a top 3 MVP finish or a top 2 Cy Young finish will get to be on the ballot one more time. They will need to get the support required for their number of years on the ballot (Part 3c) to continue on the ballot. For example, if this is their second time on the ballot, they only need to get a vote to continue. If this is their sixth year on the ballot, they need 10% support to continue. And so on.

With this proposed rule modification, together with those in Part 3, here is what the 2011 BBWAA ballot would look like:

Class A1: Holdover candidates. Since we now give all supported candidates at least five years on the ballot, we return all candidates who received a vote in the 2010 election, 21 players:

Bert Blyleven    Roberto Alomar  Jack Morris
Barry Larkin      Lee Smith          Edgar Martinez
Tim Raines       Mark McGwire     Alan Trammell
Fred McGriff     Don Mattingly    Dave Parker
Dale Murphy     Harold Baines    Andres Galarraga
Robin Ventura  Ellis Burks          Eric Karros
Kevin Appier    Pat Hentgen      David Segui

Class A2: First-year candidates. Add all players who retired in 2005 with 1200 games played, or 550 games pitched, or 1500 IP, or a top 5 MVP finish or a top 3 Cy Young finish. That’s 20 position players and 14 pitchers:

Rafael Palmeiro  Jeff Bagwell    Larry Walker
John Olerud    Juan Gonzalez   Tino Martinez
B.J. Surhoff    Marquis Grissom  Bret Boone
Raul Mondesi   Benito Santiago  Bobby Higginson
Jose Offerman  Carlos Baerga   Wil Cordero
Dan Wilson     Rey Sanchez     Deivi Cruz
Lenny Harris   Dave Hansen    Kevin Brown
Al Leiter         Kirk Rueter       Ismael Valdez
Wilson Alvarez  Brian Anderson Frank Castillo
John Franco   Ugueth Urbina   Ricky Bottalico
Terry Adams   Buddy Groom   Paul Quantrill
Steve Reed

Class B: Second chance – retired 20 years ago. Add in all players who retired in 1990 with 1500 games played, or 650 games pitched, or 1900 IP, or a top 3 MVP finish or a top 2 Cy Young finish. For now, only include players not due to be reinstated by the 1% requirement. That’s 8 players:

Chet Lemon   Jerry Reuss    Claudell Washington
Dave Collins   Bob Knepper   John Tudor
Mike Norris    Greg Minton

Class C: Reinstated victims of the 5% Rule or 15-Year limit. Add in the oldest wave of candidates reinstated by the 1% requirement (ballot debut 1987-92), 15 players:

Jim Kaat       Luis Tiant        Bobby Bonds
Rusty Staub  Sparky Lyle     Al Oliver
Bobby Grich  Mark Belanger  Bert Campaneris
Manny Mota  Vida Blue        Larry Bowa
George Foster Mike Marshall Tug McGraw

It gives us a 78-man ballot, about the size that the BBWAA voters were dealing with in the mid 1960’s, before the screening committee and the 5% rule were in force.

Part 4b – Removing Barriers to Consensus

The Hall of Fame should communicate to the BBWAA voters that they must stop denying election to so many deserving players; that the voters have a mandate to comprehend and adhere to the standards established over 75 years of electing players to the Hall. So the Hall of Fame and the BBWAA should be looking for ways to promote consensus. This is not to say they should strong-arm the voters and coerce them to fall in line with how everyone else is voting. This would undermine their authority and produce results of questionable validity.

Back in Part 1, we said that the Hall wants to rely on their voters’ expertise and to trust that they are interested and knowledgeable. How do we reconcile this with the fact that they are missing so many deserving players? Through oversight, education and recruitment.

The Hall needs to institute a program of development to increase the quality of the voters. The aim must be towards developing an expert electorate to replace the present default electorate. We want voters who merit and who seek the privilege of electing players to the Hall, not voters who fell into the job through tradition.

There are several simple fixes to encourage consensus, beginning with a couple of structural improvements to the voting process.

1. Raise the 10-vote limit. This rule was established to prevent too many players from being elected too soon. This is no longer an issue. Let’s raise the limit to 20. This allows voters greater freedom to vote for everyone they see as qualified, while sending the subtle message that voters should be looking to list more players on their ballots.
2. Eliminate blank ballots. In nearly every election a few voters cast a blank ballot. Given the definition of “Hall of Famer” from Part 1 this is unreasonable (actually, it’s kinda crazy). Every hall of fame ballot has many candidates who are arguably among the top 232. I count at least nine on the 2011 BBWAA ballot. So a voter may still send in a blank ballot if they want, it just won’t be counted in the total.
3. Continually drive home to the voters the definition of Hall of Famer: one of the top 232 players retiring in 2004 or before (not including banned players such as Pete Rose and Joe Jackson). We want voters to set aside their personal ideal of a Small Hall and deal with the reality of what the Hall has become.
4. Make our intent clear to the Voters. Tell them: We want the primary electorate to come closer to electing players at the Hall’s historic rate of 2.43 per year. (Achieving this would make a secondary review by a veterans committee unnecessary.) In basic terms, this means increasing the average votes per ballot from the 5-6 range to the 8-9 range. If many voters refuse to take the suggestion to adjust their standards to include more players, other reforms may be necessary.
5. Start the Discussion! The Hall of fame should have its own blog, or discussion board, where fans and voters can come together and discuss the issues surrounding the elections. Fostering engagement between the HOF, the voters, the fans, and the researchers will energize and inform the debate, leading to better results.
6. Make every ballot public. This is a first step towards weeding out obstructionist voters. It makes voters more accountable to the fans, the Hall’s true constituents. Some of the writers will find this intolerable and will drop out of the electorate. I think that these will tend to be voters who were never especially conscientious, never dedicated to creating a well-reasoned ballot. Other writers will be compelled to respond to criticism of their ballot, leading to more careful consideration of who they are voting for. It’s a win-win-win: accountability for the electorate, energizing the fans, publicity for the Hall.
7. Grade every ballot with a consensus score. This is another way to encourage conscientious ballots. Giving publicity to the most nonconformist ballots will stimulate The Discussion. In most cases these voters will be exposed as having no valid reasoning for the ballot they cast. Others will offer an informative defense, thereby adding to the public body of knowledge for players’ HOF cases.

Part 4c – Improving the Electorate

Getting more players on the ballot is only a first step towards fixing the Hall. Efforts aimed solely at devising a fool-proof system ultimately breed a more resistant strain of fools.

Becoming a voter for the hall of fame is a privilege granted to a very few persons. (The last four elections have seen an average of 542 ballots cast.) There is no test that anyone can take before joining the electorate. There is no application. Spending a lifetime studying baseball history or winning prestigious awards for authoring books on baseball do not qualify a person to even be considered to be allowed to vote. The game’s most astute GM’s and scouts can’t vote.

So who are these guys? Basically, college journalism majors who were fortunate enough to be hired to write about baseball for a living. Doing this for ten years earns one the privilege of deciding who gets to be in the Hall of fame. What?!? Clearly, the criteria for enfranchising voters are anachronistic and no longer serve any useful purpose. The task of correctly identifying worthy players for the hall of fame requires specialized knowledge that few among the current electorate possess: A strong knowledge of 142 years of professional baseball history; statistical acumen to interpret the findings from studies of the last 30 years; and a thorough knowledge of the players who are already in the Hall – who are the average hall of famers? Who are the mistakes?

We’re looking to cultivate an electorate of great baseball minds. And because great minds think alike, consensus will converge around the best choices for the Hall.

Where to start?

1. Invite more voters from outside of the BBWAA to join in with the writers’ vote: authors, bloggers and others with the requisite expertise.
2. Devise a simple survey for the current voters, to gauge which ones are truly interested in, and qualified for, electing players to the HOF.
3. Limit the electorate size, reserving 400 ballots each year for the best of the “BBWAA” voters.
4. Weed out voters with consistently low consensus score ballots.
5. Make a test: The BAT – Baseball Aptitude Test. Decide in what areas you’d like your voters to possess expert understanding and test for it. Put it online. Make it a really long, really tough, timed test. Two hundred questions, randomly distributed, pulled from a database containing thousands of questions: 50 history related, 50 stats related, 50 hall of fame related, 50 miscellaneous. Include a short essay: Why I’m qualified to be an elector for the HOF. You can take the test only one time each year. The top 200 scores each year get to be HOF voters for two years, together with the 400 established voters. Each year add another 200 voters. After their two-year term, voters may reapply by testing again.

In summary, I acknowledge that many people do not see the Hall of Fame’s procedures as in need of any reform. They see the number of mistakes as tolerable, and that “the system ain’t broke and don’t need fixin’”. It is not a main purpose of this series to convince these people otherwise.

This series is for those who already discern flaws in the Hall’s procedures; who do not want to settle for an adequate system but would like to help move towards making an excellent system; and who are interested in brainstorming ideas to achieve this end.

Part 5 will propose a new ballot for the BBWAA. Also, the candidates for the Hall will be prioritized.

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26 Responses to “Fixing the Hall of Fame – Part 4: Building Consensus”

  1. Murph Says:

    Any solution that has Buddy Groom on a hall of fame ballot is wrong.

  2. Murph Says:

    Come to think of it, why do we (they) need a ballot at all? if a player is good enough to be considered for the hall of fame a voter shouldn’t need to be reminded of him.

  3. Daniel Greenia Says:

    “Any solution that has Buddy Groom on a hall of fame ballot is wrong.”

    What do you think of a ballot with Shane Reynolds and David Segui on it?

  4. Hartvig Says:

    By my count there’s about 20 players on those lists you could make an argument for belonging in the HOF, over half of them are in the A1 list. A2 & B contain some names that really make me question the cutoff criteria. I’m all in favor of giving “Kitty” Kaat or Grich another look but why Dave Collins and not Lou Whitaker or Albert Belle or Ron Santo? I’m not seeing where this is really fixing past oversights & eliminating the really unqualified candidates, like Buddy Groom.

  5. Daniel Greenia Says:

    The aim of eliminating the ballot screening committee is to eliminate the arbitrariness of the screeners and allow anyone on the ballot who meets a minimum standard; to let the voters decide who the real candidates are. Nobody supports you, you’re gone.

    For the 2010 BBWAA ballot, the screeners gave thumbs up to Shane Reynolds but nixed Andy Ashby and Dave Burba; they liked David Segui but said no to Mark McLemore and Fernando Vina. So there’s no line, no standard, no reason. I think there should be.

    Sure, these guys are little better than Buddy Groom as candidates. The standards I proposed are pretty minimal; they could certainly be set higher. But they seemed to be in line with the minimum quality of players the screeners have typically allowed on the ballot.

    As for players like Whitaker and Belle, I agree, they should be reinstated. Part 3b in this series dealt with them. Kaat, Grich, and other in Class C are just the first wave. As for players retired more than 30 years ago like Santo, I would leave them to a veterans committee to consider for now. I think the BBWAA electorate needs improvement before they can be relied upon to judge the more historical players.

  6. Lefty33 Says:

    “It’s a win-win-win: accountability for the electorate, energizing the fans, publicity for the Hall.”

    A. The electorate will never allow accountability. This isn’t the county race for dog catcher.

    It also would take away from the secret clandestine voting that currently gets some fans and non-voting media to grind their teeth and give the Hall and its voting process more publicity than it probably deserves.

    B. The fans are already energized. Interest in Baseball and the Hall are at all-time highs. Why mess with what is working.

    C. The same as B. The Baseball HOF induction ceremony is the only sports HOF that anyone even cares about and the interest in it out shines the interest in the three other major sports HOF voting and ceremonies a thousand fold.

    In the last part Daniel, before you copped out of the discussion, I asked you who the BBWAA voters have so egregiously missed that you think that this process, which already is wildly successful and makes all three organizations associated with it crap loads of money, interest, and relevancy, needs to be more or less completely re-done from the bottom up.

    I’m still waiting.

  7. Daniel Greenia Says:

    “I asked you who the BBWAA voters have so egregiously missed”

    The next article in the series addresses this topic.

  8. Joe B Says:

    More “let’s pull out old guys who couldn’t make the hall and give them more chances so we can water it down even more” posts.

    Why is it everyone wants to make the hall easier to get in? It should be harder. If these old timers couldn’t get in before, nothing has changed.

  9. Hossrex Says:

    This whole series of articles would be like if we had a hall of fame for smells.

    Everyone may be upset that “early morning cinnamon rolls” hasn’t gotten in yet, while “fresh cut grass” has been stinking up the joint for years… but no matter how you structure the subjective voting, all of your favorite smells will never get in, and like it or not a few smells in the hall will always make you gag as you walk by them (who voted for “gasoline spill at the gas station”?).

    The only way to make the process less subjective is to… (*drum roll*)… make it less subjective.

    If you think an objectively elected hall of fame is a good thing, you’re silly. Baseball isn’t an objective game, and that’s what people like Chuck are trying to tell some of you.

    People make the mistake of thinking that since there’s SO MUCH statistical analysis, that the statistical analysis must measure the game completely, and that’s just wrong.

    I don’t care what any of you say… I think “brand new box of Crayons” should be in.

  10. Patrick Says:

    “Early morning cinnamon rolls” isn’t in? WTF. That’s like leaving Babe Ruth out.

    Smoldering green bud would be in if it hadn’t failed it’s drug test.

    Lol Hossrex.

  11. Chuck Says:

    Jeez, Rex, see the can of worms you just opened?

    Farts after a six pack of Guinness would be first ballot, but what about farts after a night of drinking draft?

    Draft farts getting in would really stink.

    Just like baseball players and the era’s they play in, not all beer farts are alike either, because of the way beer is made.

    Just like with baseball players, not all farts are created equal.

  12. Jeff Rose Says:

    Hossrex, the whole point of the Hall of Fame is subjectivity. It’s like playing the game: if we’re picking sides for teams the people who know baseball on the field will pick a different team from the one purely based on stats. Kirk Gibson will never be in the Hall of Fame. Hell, he never even made an All-Star game. But I guarantee you he would get picked before many, many of the players your system would rank above him, and he’d be better on the field.

    The Hall of Fame is not a science, as going by numerical standards would make it, it’s an art. Who earns it starts in the books but ends on the diamond. The best players do not always have the best numbers, or great numbers alone do not confer greatness in the team sense that leads to winning. We’re picking the best, so numbers count but we have to go beyond them. It’s a judgment, a selection, not an arbitrary yardstick.

    To prove that, who are the great travesties (I’m asking you seriously) related to the Hall of Fame? Who’s been kept out for whom it’s a travesty he’s not in? Who got in for whom it’s a travesty that he is? Are there really any clearcut people who have been treated significantly unjustly? I can’t think of any. Even if there are some it’s only a few. Where’s the problem?

  13. Chuck Says:

    So, you want to remove subjectivity from the ballot, yet you want subjective award voting to be a factor in who actually gets on the ballot?

    You want to hold the voters to a higher standard and hold them accountable for a “consensus score”, and yet you are willing to present them with ballots containing the names of such legends as Paul Quantrill and Deivi Cruz?

    Here’s a suggestion..let’s have a screening committee in place who will weed out those players who HAVE ABSOLUTELY ZERO CHANCE OF EVER GETTING INTO THE HOF, that way, voters don’t have to run the risk of getting a low consensus score.

    Wait a minute.

    The HOF process already has a screening committee.


  14. Lefty33 Says:

    “Here’s a suggestion..let’s have a screening committee in place who will weed out those players who HAVE ABSOLUTELY ZERO CHANCE OF EVER GETTING INTO THE HOF, that way, voters don’t have to run the risk of getting a low consensus score.

    Wait a minute.

    The HOF process already has a screening committee.


    Damn Right. (Shaft)

  15. Hartvig Says:

    “Why is it everyone wants to make the hall easier to get in? It should be harder. If these old timers couldn’t get in before, nothing has changed.”

    Because a significant portion of the people doing the voting are ignorant or idiots. I do not qualify as an “expert” in any sense of the word but I know for a FACT I could assemble a team of 15 position players from passed over candidates & 15 HOFer’s and the passed over candidates would be FAR superior both offensively &, in many cases, defensively to the HOFer’s. I mean 1961 Yankees vs 1962 Mets better. Pitching, with a handful of exceptions, is a little different but there is no doubt there are at least of couple highly qualified candidates (like better than about half of the pitchers already in) still awaiting induction.

    I don’t have a problem with Jack Morris not getting in even though he’s better than Rube Marquard or Jesse Haines. But I do have a problem with Alan Trammell not being in even though he’s arguably better than all but a handful of existing HOFer’s and clearly better than at least half of them. Same argument applies to at least a dozen or more players.

  16. Jeff Rose Says:

    Thurman Munson was in the league eleven years and just as good as Carlton Fisk during that time. Some or many would say better. He’s a Hall of Famer to me.

    Setting aside the shortness of Munson’s career, who would a gm pick, Munson or Fisk?

    I think they go Munson.

    Thurman Munson for the Hall of Fame.

  17. C. Michael Says:

    You are forgetting Ted Simmons he has better career numbers than Gary Carter and others at the catching position but nobody has his name listed above.

  18. Patrick Says:

    Jeff Rose, yes. I could never understand how Munson has received so little consideration. I’d say most thought higher of Thurman than Carlton in the 70’s.

  19. wilbur price Says:

    two points : the initial class did not include Cy Young. No one, Ruth, Bench, Ryan, or Gehrig, ever got 100% of the vote. who votes for these guys? Does someone volunteer NOT to vote for a guaranteed hall of famer? what a joke!!!!!!

  20. Jeff Rose Says:

    Thank you, Patrick.

  21. brett Says:

    I love reading about Hall of Fame debate. I have a blog devoted to such a topic: that gives bios of Hall of Fame snubbed players. I agree with the above poster that mentioned Ted Simmons: he was BETTER than Bench and Fisk but never gets any credit for it. If you’re so inclined, stop by my blog and leave a post–champion one of the many biographed players on the site–or bash Buddy Groom to your heart’s content. His profile isn’t listed yet, but it’s coming–after a couple hundred more posts–so is Paul Assenmacher’s too.

  22. Hossrex Says:

    Wilbur Price: “the initial class did not include Cy Young.”

    There was a confusion with the ballot for Young. The writers thought there was going to be a separate ballot for pitchers, so a lot of them didn’t vote for Young.

    That doesn’t speak much for their intelligence, but his year long wait for enshrinement had nothing to do with the perception of his skill.

  23. Hartvig Says:

    I think the mix up with Young was there was supposed to be a separate ballot for pre 1900 players & some voters weren’t sure which ballot to put him on.

  24. jimmy vac Says:

    There is something wrong with a Hall Of Fame when Ted Williams, Willie mays, hank Aaron and Seaver do not get 100 per cent of the vote. Every year, some idiot does not file his ballot, or some other moron decides noone is worthy of first ballot, or votes for Rose.. these issues need to be enliminated. I agree the HOF should be for the top players but within that we have the top guys of all time as the guys mentioned before and then we have the guys who are the best of an era or guys like Puckett whose careers were shortened by injury. There are too many guys in there now that are questionable like Ruffing, Pennock, Bunning, Maranville, Ferrell, Dean,Mazerowski, and Hafey…there was alot of cronyism with guys like Gehringer and Frisch pushing for their former teammates or peers..
    Daniel, good read and soem good ideas..

  25. Daniel Greenia Says:

    “these issues need to be enliminated”

    Thanks for the good thoughts, jimmy. Yes, the HOF election process has some procedures that could be improved. Recognizing this is the first step towards positive change.

  26. Murph Says:

    Alan Trammel is CLEARLY better than at least half of the existing hall of famers?

    The extremes of calling the voters ‘morons’ or ‘idiots’ is far dumber than not voting in a player or taking the stand that no one is worthy of first ballot hall of fame status.

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