Hall of Fame induction problems lie with voters, not Hall

Remember when the Hall of Fame finally excised a goodly number of BBWAA voters who hadn’t actually covered baseball in many years? Sure, some of them have undoubtedly kept up with things, but there was at least the perception that too many of them were simply out of touch. Which hurt the credibility of the process, at least. Remember when we cheered that change?

Well, a lot of the remaining voters are hardly cheering. And what’s got them especially upset is the so-called Rule of 10: You can vote for only 10 players, no matter how many deserving candidates you see.

Wednesday, Buster Olney wrote a scathing column about the current process. Before going any farther, I should mention that Olney stopped participating in Hall of Fame elections last year. So he deserves credit for having the courage of his convictions. I’ve complained about the Hall’s procedures for a long time — especially the various "veterans committees," which have basically been a disaster from Day 1 — but if the Hall offered me a ballot, you know what? I would use it!

What I probably wouldn’t do, in the absence of the Rule of 10, is vote for 17 candidates, as Buster would. 

And I gotta say I’m a little confused by all the complaints about the Rule of 10. It’s one thing to say you don’t like the rule because you can’t vote for everyone you like (although I think saying you’d vote for 17 is a pretty good argument for the rule, since voting for 17 means your standards are fairly low, historically speaking).

But now the complaint has gone beyond that, with a bunch of writers saying the Rule of 10 exists largely (or solely!) to keep Barry Bonds and his pals out of Cooperstown.

Maybe. Probably not, though. It’s probably still there because it’s been there forever, and inertia’s a powerful thing.

Here’s Olney:

Well, it doesn’t take a strategic mastermind like Buck Showalter to understand that the players most affected by the Hall of Fame’s voting machinations are the most prominent of the steroid era candidates: Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, etc.

But there continues to be enormous collateral damage to legitimate Hall of Fame candidates not linked in any way to performance-enhancing drugs: They are losing votes due to the doctored voting process, and not because of anything they did or didn’t do on the field. The baseball writers have tried to address the problems by recommending alterations to the voting, but the Hall has ignored those requests and enacted its own change.

Well, yes. The Hall of Fame has ignored those requests. Should anyone be surprised? After all, it’s not your Hall of Fame or our Hall of Fame; it’s their Hall of Fame, which they’ve demonstrated many, many times over the decades. And it’s at least a little presumptuous to say, “Jeez, we told this organization what they should do, but then they actually decided for themselves what they wanted to do!”

As if anybody ever listened. As if voting for the Hall of Fame isn’t a sort of privilege, but rather a sort of favor.

Granted, it’s a symbiotic relationship. The voters have the pleasure and prestige of voting, and the Hall has the legitimacy conferred by most of the nation’s working baseball writers. Which isn’t nothing. It just seems to me that the writers need the Hall more than the Hall needs the writers. At this point, anyway.

But what I really can’t figure out is who’s being harmed here. By the Rule of 10 (which isn’t a change at all) or the actual changes. Buster writes about “the players most affected” and “enormous collateral damage.”

Where, though? Who’s been affected, and where’s the enormous collateral damage?

None of the “steroid era candidates” Olney lists have come close to being elected, but all of them remain on the ballot, year after year. Except Palmeiro, who fell off the ballot after four tries. But again, so what? If the rules were different, he might still be hanging around. But to what end?

In fact, I don’t believe a single player has been terribly affected by the Hall of Fame’s voting machinations. Not yet. Somebody will probably fall off the ballot just before finally reaching 75 percent. It’s happened very, very, very rarely. But it will undoubtedly happen again, and it’s more likely to happen when the ballot’s overstuffed, as it certainly is now.

Here’s what I would say, though: Physicians, heal thyselves. It’s not the Hall of Fame that refuses to elect Bonds and Clemens and McGwire and Sosa and Palmeiro, all of them with numbers that historically would have gotten them elected. It’s the voters.

But most of the voters simply refuse to elect them, and that leads to a number of other candidates receiving less support because of that now-hated Rule of 10.

But guess what! The Hall of Fame actually came up with a workaround! The Hall lowered the period of eligibility from 15 years to 10. So after 2022, Bonds and Clemens and Sosa will all fall off the ballot, leaving more room for the Mike Mussinas and Jim Thomes and Vladimir Guerreros of the world.

Sure, Curt Schilling’s also going to fall off the ballot, if he hasn’t already (deservedly) been elected. But it’s impossible to devise a system that’s perfectly fair or makes everyone happy.

The procedures for electing Hall of Famers have always been terribly flawed in one way or another. And the truth is that the BBWAA portion has always been the least flawed of those procedures. Still, the recent changes actually made the BBWAA’s job even easier. And the writers’ recent complaints seem to me at least a little petulant and hollow, especially considering the real problem is the writers’ decades-long inability to grapple in a meaningful way with the culture of sports drugs.

Which isn’t something the Hall of Fame – or anyone else, it seems – can make them do.