Who needs a Golden Era Committee anyway?

BY foxsports • December 9, 2014

Holy anticlimaxes, Batman!

Monday morning in San Diego, all those august Golden Era Committee members, so many people having flown all the way across the country to announce ... nothing. Well, except that Dick Allen and Tony Oliva missed election to the Hall of Fame by one vote. Which was, I will imagine, small comfort. Immediately after the announcement and short Q&A, one of the committee members scurried toward the exit with his luggage, presumably heading straight for a cab and the airport.

So why didn't anyone get elected? Joe Posnanski says it's all about bad math:

Tom Tango explains it this way: Let’s say all ten candidates on the ballot were equally qualified for the Hall of Fame. That’s not quite true here, but it’s a good starting point — you had 10 good candidates. If they’re all equally good candidates, then each one had a 40% chance of getting picked for a ballot — 10 players on the ballot, voter chooses four, 40% chance. Pretty simple.

Well, if a player has a 40% chance of being on one ballot, his chances on making 12 of 16 is … get ready for it, less than 0.5%. That’s not 5% — it is less than one-half of one-percent. 995 times out of a 1,000, the player would NOT get elected. And remember, that’s assuming every voter uses all four of his votes.

Now, in this case, the panel did not see all ten candidates as equally qualified. They saw Allen, Oliva, Kaat, Wills and Minoso as the best candidates — those five players drew AT LEAST 77% of the total votes cast. For the record: I don’t agree with the Committee. I think Tiant was woefully under-appreciated as was Ken Boyer, and I think Wills was wildly overvalued. But these are just opinions, and we were talking math.

See, each voter could vote for "only" four candidates. Which is three or four more than I would have voted for, and in fact most of the voters voted for the maximum number allowed. Joe thinks the totals for the five candidates with three or fewer votes -- Joe says "fewer than three" but it's actually three or fewer -- were not revealed because then we could have figured out exactly how many votes were cast, which would open the voters to criticism that they hadn't voted for as many candidates as possible ... But hell, should anyone be criticized for that? I would applaud any voter who didn't feel compelled to max out his ballot.

What's the right maximum, though? I have no idea how the Hall of Fame came up with four, but that seems to be the perfect number to elect nobody.

Well, not perfect. Tony Oliva or Dick Allen could have been elected. They just weren't. Bad luck for them. Next time, somebody might clear the bar. Or not. You can't predict with any precision what 16 voters will do with 10 candidates.

So what should happen next? I think a press conference without good news for anyone is probably not worth conducting. If nobody's elected, a press release is probably good enough.

But the bigger question is whether the process should be changed, and your answer depends almost completely upon who you think belongs in the Hall of Fame. Some of us think these committees are pointless; while there might still be a few deserving candidates still, these committees are about as likely to elect non-deserving candidates. Others of us think that many of the candidates are deserving. Posnanski believes that at least five of the candidates on the Golden Era Ballot -- Minnie Minoso, Luis Tiant, Ken Boyer, Dick Allen, and Jim Kaat -- belong in the Hall of Fame. The voters nearly elected Maury Wills, and we know how much support Gil Hodges has gotten in past elections. 

So is four the right number? If not, what about five? If you think that every three years, somebody should be elected from the (so-called!) Golden Era, five would probably do it. And if you really want someone elected, there are other ways. If there's been a runoff election Sunday -- dropping all candidates with three or fewer votes after the first balloting, then revoting -- then someone almost certainly would have been elected. Probably two or three someones.

But is that something we want? Two or three Hall of Famers, every three years, who'd been passed over many times before by a huge pool of voters.

I don't think so. What would make more sense, I think, is to say 

1. We did miss some outstanding players over the years, and

2. we would like to get all of them into the Hall of Fame, but

3. sorry, it's going to take a while and we're going to be really careful.

First step would be to junk the "Golden Era" and its ilk, and consider all the players throughout history in one large group. If you want to elect, every three years, the best player among all the players who aren't in the Hall of Fame, fine. There are plenty of fine candidates if you consider the whole history. Second, expand the committee beyond 16 (I'm being frank here) old geezers who don't have any idea that Bobby Grich was better than Maury Wills.

But all this is theoretical, the result of thinking generally about the Hall of Fame. That's not how the Hall of Fame itself thinks, though. The Hall of Fame thinks very specifically, lurching from controversy to controversy, from sentimental favorite to sentimental favorite, hoping to avoid ruffling the wrong feathers too often.

Which is to say the Hall of Fame is run by people. That's one thing you have to give them: the Hall is an incredibly human institution.



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