Alan Trammell fell short of election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his 15th and final attempt this month. He belongs in Cooperstown, as I’ve written and said many times, on the strength of a career closely resembling that of Barry Larkin, who needed only three attempts to gain entry through the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
The BBWAA’s oversight should be mitigated by the next phase of Trammell’s Hall of Fame candidacy: the Veterans Committee, which in December will vote on candidates from the Expansion Era who have been retired for at least 16 seasons. Trammell’s longtime Detroit Tigers teammates Lou Whitaker and Jack Morris will be eligible.
Trammell won’t, because of a rule that needs to change.
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Since at least the 1940s, a clause in the Hall’s voting rules has prevented candidates from being considered in two elections within the same calendar year. Because the BBWAA election results were announced in January 2016, Trammell is ineligible for the Veterans Committee vote in December 2016.
Why? Because that’s the way it’s always been. There is no rational explanation.
The rule should state that candidates can’t be considered by multiple electorates for the purposes of the same July induction ceremony. That’s sensible. The Veterans Committee convenes in December. The BBWAA vote is announced in January. A player should appear on a maximum of one ballot within a single winter cycle.
Instead, Trammell has to wait an additional three years — until December 2019, when the Expansion Era committee next convenes — simply because the BBWAA tally isn’t announced until after Jan. 1.
Two decades after Trammell’s last game, is there any logical reason to require at least 12 months between BBWAA and Veterans Committee elections, rather than 11?
Obviously, the rule is arbitrary, and precedent exists for the Hall to change it. In 2014, the Hall’s board of directors announced that a player’s eligibility on the BBWAA ballot would be reduced from 15 years to 10. Trammell, who by that time had been considered 13 times, was grandfathered under the old structure and allowed the full 15.
In explaining the decision, Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said, according to MLB.com: "The Hall of Fame is all about relevance. In a study of Hall of Fame voting over its history, it has become clearly evident in the last 30 years or so that after 10 years the likelihood of election is incredibly minimal. … We think it maintains the integrity of the process, and for those that fall off the ballot after 10 years it gets them to consideration by the era committees a little sooner."
While Trammell was considered for 15 years, Idelson’s central premise should be honored: If the Hall’s desire is to involve the era committees sooner, then it should do away with an antiquated "calendar year" wait that makes the process less efficient. Trammell is the relevant case now, but the same will happen to others who drop off the BBWAA ballot at a similarly inopportune time on the Veterans Committee’s every-third-year cycle.
Fortunately, there’s time for the Hall of Fame’s board of directors to fix this. The board has a biannual meeting within the next several months; given its broadly defined power, the board could abolish the "calendar year" wait in plenty of time for the BBWAA’s historical overview committee to consider Trammell in establishing the ballot this fall, with the veterans themselves casting votes in December.
To think: At long last, Trammell and Whitaker — the greatest double play combination in baseball history, with careers that become even more impressive with sabermetric analysis — could be elected to the Hall of Fame in the same year.
If the Hall’s goal is relevance — both historic and contemporary — it shouldn’t let a silly, obsolete rule stand in the way of a story like that