I voted for 10 players for the Hall of Fame last year. I’m voting for 10 this year. And I’m going to continue voting for 10 for the foreseeable future.
For me, the only way to clear up the backlog of candidates for Cooperstown is to elect more of them, opening the ballot for others who are deserving.
The class of 2015, then, should include at least four candidates – first-timers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, plus holdover Craig Biggio, who missed by only two votes last year.
The rules are screwy – we all know that. But voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America need to take a pragmatic view and account for the under-representation of players from recent eras while continuing to push the Hall to adjust the voting process.
The Hall initiated a change of its own in July, reducing a player’s eligibility from 15 years to 10. To me, this seemed a rather obvious attempt to clear the ballot of players who are linked to performance-enhancing drugs, and I didn’t like it.
Not because I vote for such players – to this point, I have not. But perspectives occasionally change over time, as evidenced by the elections of Bert Blyleven in his 14th year of eligibility and Jim Rice in his 15th. As I’ve written before, I want to stay open-minded on even confirmed PED users. Reducing the years that such players are eligible deprives them of a fuller consideration.
The BBWAA delivered a sensible response to the Hall’s maneuver at the winter meetings, asking that the maximum number of votes on each ballot be increased from 10 to 12. Honestly, 15 might have been an even better number, but 12 at least would ease the pressure on each voter, pressure that only increased with the Hall’s unilateral action.
To illustrate how the backlog affects even a voter who snubs confirmed PED users or others with compelling evidence against them, consider my 2015 ballot.
(I’m not getting into my rationale for voting on the PED crowd the way I do here; I’ve explained it at length in the column linked above and on many other occasions in the past.)
Choosing my 10 actually wasn’t all that difficult – I simply took the three spots that I reserved for last year’s inductees (Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas) and awarded them to the three compelling first-time candidates (Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz).
My holdovers were the same: Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines and Curt Schilling. But my exclusions again included three players for whom I have voted for in the past (Fred McGriff, Lee Smith and Alan Trammell) as well as at least one other for whom I would strongly consider voting for in the future (Jeff Kent). And again, I did not even factor Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa into the equation.
Going to a 12-man ballot would help. Going to a binary ballot, as suggested by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, really would help; a voter would simply say “yes” or “no” to each candidate, with no limit on how many he or she could select. I doubt, however, that the Hall would approve a change that effectively would allow voters to pick as many candidates as they want.
The concerns, though, are real.
Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron has written about the diminishing percentage of Hall of Famers by birth decade, while SI.com’s Jay Jaffe has pointed out the decline in the number per team per year.
The BBWAA simply is not getting it right, and the solution is for voters to stop being so stingy. Only 50 percent of the voters used all 10 slots in last year’s election, and that’s not good enough.
I appreciate the position of ESPN’s Buster Olney, who wrote recently that he would abstain from voting because he did not want a non-vote for a player he deemed worthy to hurt that player’s chances of attaining the required 75 percent.
Still, a voter has the option of taking a strategic approach to his or her ballot. The classes of 2016 and ’17 include only one certain first-ballot choice – Ken Griffey Jr., who becomes eligible next year. The backlog, to a degree, figures to ease.
If Olney wanted, he could replace slam-dunk choices with candidates who are on the bubble. I know, I know – who among us wants to leave a Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez off our ballot? But if a voter’s primary concern is harming a pitcher such as Mussina, it actually might be the smart thing to do. Johnson and Martinez will be elected on the first ballot, whether Olney votes for them or not.
Yes, the BBWAA needs to pare down its voting body; the number of voters increased from 456 in 1994 to 506 in 2004 to 571 in 2014, and I seriously doubt even half that many are qualified.
Yes, the arguments over PED users only will continue, leaving almost all of us frustrated by the lack of definitive answers. But in the meantime, voters have a responsibility to fulfill their mission, and at the moment we are failing.
We need to elect more Hall of Famers. Starting right now, with the Class of 2015.