Rosenthal on the Hall: It ain’t broke, but I can fix it
Sorry, the system isn’t broken.
It wasn’t broken last year, when no player received enough votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to win election to the Hall of Fame.
And it sure wasn’t broken this year, when the BBWAA — in results announced Wednesday — elected three players for the first time since 1999, and very nearly a fourth. (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas made it. Craig Biggio missed by two votes.)
Does the system need to be tweaked? Yes. Are voters continuing to struggle with how to confront the steroid era? Absolutely.
But guess what?
Any voting body — be it Congress or the College of Cardinals — would be similarly divided over the PED issue.
Believe it or not, we’re all adults in the BBWAA. We don’t need the Hall of Fame to give us more specific guidelines on how to vote. As long as candidates can remain on the ballot 15 years — and then receive another hearing from the Veterans Committee — they’re going to get a fair shake.
That said, the ballot is so crowded — and will remain so crowded — that the restriction on voting for only 10 candidates needs to be changed. And while the BBWAA currently plans to focus solely on that issue, we should not stop there.
Let’s clean up the voting body and remove those who are not actively covering the game. Let’s reduce the 10-year membership requirement to five to allow newer writers to vote sooner. Let’s require every ballot to be made public, stop being static, and make every reform necessary to ensure the best possible vote.
The 10-man limit clearly is a problem — and not a short-term problem, either, considering some of the players who will become eligible for the Hall in the next several years:
2015: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield, John Smoltz.
2016: Ken Griffey Jr., Trevor Hoffman.
2017: Vladimir Guerrero, Jorge Posada, Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez.
2018: Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel.
2019: Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera.
Voters averaged 8.39 choices this year, the most since they averaged 8.60 in 1960. Some reached the 10-man limit and said they still could not find room for Biggio. In other words, Biggio had support from more than 75 percent of the electorate and some just couldn’t find room for him.
I voted for Biggio, and frankly have difficulty seeing how anyone would have ranked him No. 11 — or worse. I actually like the strategizing that now is necessary to rank candidates properly. And I’m somewhat reluctant to expand the limit, fearing unintended consequences.
Still, the current logjam is untenable.
Only two holdovers on the ballot — Biggio and Mike Piazza — increased their support from a year ago. Everyone else went backward, some by alarming percentages.
I certainly would not favor an unlimited number of selections; that only would lead to more wasted support for undeserving players such as Armando Benitez, Jacque Jones and J.T. Snow, all of whom received votes this year.
A 12-man ballot would be good; a 15-man ballot, maybe better. But at that point, enough. Election to Cooperstown is supposed to be difficult. This is the Hall of Fame, reserved for the best of the best. It’s not Little League where every kid gets a trophy.
A few other thoughts:
• Transparency is essential. The BBWAA should list the names of every voter, just as it does for its annual awards. Likewise, every voter should be required to publish his or her ballot. Many of us are choosing to do just that, and our ballots will be accessible on BBWAA.com starting Friday morning.
Ken Gurnick of MLB.com received heavy criticism for voting only for Jack Morris. Well, at least Gurnick revealed his vote and provided an explanation, however illogical it might have sounded. Fifteen other voters failed to vote for Maddux. And we don’t know who the heck they are.
• Deadspin accomplished nothing.
The website obtained one vote — one out of 571 — in an effort to make “a farce and mockery of the increasingly solemn election process.” Further, it likened some BBWAA voters to “attention-seeking trolls.”
Well, then, what exactly is Dan Le Batard, who turned over his ballot to Deadspin and got plenty of attention for explaining that his vote has “gotten pretty worthless in the avalanche of sanctimony that has swallowed it.”
What exactly is Deadspin, for that matter?
If Le Batard no longer wanted to vote, he could have resigned from the BBWAA and spared us his sanctimony.
• For at least some of us, a refusal to vote for a player strongly linked to PEDs is not a question of morality.
Bob Costas said on MLB Network that the issue was more one of “authenticity.” I see it the same way, knowing full well that my voting choices are fair game for those who argue — quite reasonably — that we cannot accurately judge which players did what, to what extent, and the impact their usage had on the game.
I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing by withholding votes for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and others, and I reassess my choices every year. But as I’ve written before, election to the Hall is a privilege, not a right. And the Hall is a museum — a museum with a stated mission of preserving the game’s history, warts and all.
The so-called steroid era is part of that history. If the BBWAA chooses not to elect Bonds and Clemens, it would not mean that they are whitewashed out of Cooperstown; their respective achievements are well-documented in the museum. No, not electing them would simply mean they did not receive the sport’s highest honor.
• Enough obsessing about a player receiving 100 percent of the vote.
Seriously, does anyone think that Maddux cares that he received “only” 555 out of 571 votes? A Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer, whether he gets 75.1 percent or 99.9 percent. Once a player is in, the “score” no longer matters.
Listen, I find it incomprehensible that 16 voters failed to vote for Maddux, but I am flatly opposed to stripping voters of their ballots simply because of the choices they make.
Democracy is messy. Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in her biography of Voltaire, summarized the French philosopher’s beliefs with the phrase, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to your death the right to say it.”
That goes for Gurnick. And Le Batard. And everyone else with whom I might disagree.