The Baseball Hall Of Fame Needs Change
Over the past decade, we have been witness to incredible virtue signaling and hypocrisy from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, commonly known as the BBWAA. Others call them the cranky old men that vote on the Hall of Fame. These writers made a name for themselves covering players like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and “Big Mac” Mark McGuire but refuse to consider them for the Hall of Fame. Under the guise of an infamous clause within the Hall of Fame’s criteria, these men are allowed to sit on the highest horses in America.
The Character Clause, which states, “Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played,” is the writers’ main argument against the Hall of Fame cases of many players from the Steroid Era of Baseball, the late 1990s and early 2000s. In the history of the Hall of Fame, the Character Clause had never been previously mentioned in a discussion regarding a player’s candidacy. In addition to being a nonfactor, the Character Clause traces its origin to Kennesaw Mountain Landis, a vocal segregationist. He established these principles when he was the first commissioner of Major League Baseball in the 1920s, but one could beg the question of whether he is the best person to judge character.
The current system fails to recognize our national pastime’s history effectively. Writers currently use their vote as a platform to express personal vendettas against athletes they maliciously attack in articles over off-the-field conduct. This has become more evident in recent years, as sure-thing Hall of Famers end up stuck on the ballot because of the Character Clause. The backlog of stars on the ballot causes many worthy ballplayers to be overlooked and fall just short of Cooperstown. Thankfully, we have the Modern Era Committee, which is a group of 16 Hall of Fame veterans, writers, and baseball executives who reassess whether a player should be in the Hall after the writers passed on voting him in.
Following the World Series, the Hall of Fame mails a ballot to each member of the BBWAA. Then, a voter fills out a ballot over the offseason and mails it back to the Hall sometime before the second week of January. Each writer has 10 votes per ballot and can decide how many votes to use. At the bottom of these ballots, there is a box that, when checked, allows the Hall to publicly release the ballot with the writer’s name on it.
In the past, writers have intentionally left deserving Hall of Famers unchecked to make sure that no one would be elected unanimously. The reason for protecting the elusive 100% stems from players like Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, and Ted Williams not being unanimous selections. If you find it hard to believe that writers would go out of their way to be so petty, look at Derek Jeter’s Hall of Fame case. 99.7% of the voters selected him. One voter intentionally did not send in a ballot, nor did he or she admit to it. Still do not believe me? Look at “The Kid” Ken Griffey Jr. and Tom “Terrific” Seaver’s votes; both should have been unanimous selections, but, in both cases, a few gatekeepers were doing their self-proclaimed duty by not returning a ballot.
These stories frustrate me as a baseball fan. Therefore, I want reform. My issues with the current system include:
Rules which currently allow anonymous ballots to be sent forward, especially the completely blank ones like in the cases of Jeter, Griffey Jr., and Seaver.
Limiting the ballots to 10 players is baseless. If you have Hall of Fame numbers, you should be in the Hall. Reward the deserving players based on their individual performance.
As of now, the ballots trickle in over the course of 2 months, which allows other voters to be influenced by ballots that are publicly released earlier.
10 years on the ballot has created a significant logjam of players remaining on the ballot. These backlogs create issues for the annual Hall of Fame voting and the Modern Era Committee. A problem that has in the past kept deserving players out of the Hall: Kenney Lofton, David Cone, and Lou Whitaker, to name a few.
The Hall is about celebrating players that inspired generation after generation of ballplayers and fans. To think that it has become a petty platform for writers to decide who is a man of character is infuriating. Writers’ ballots should be public so that they cannot disservice the Hall by gatekeeping and hiding behind anonymous ballots. The Hall of Fame is more about the players than it is the writers. Thus, I propose the following changes to the current system:
All ballots are publicly released with each writer’s name on the ballot.
All ballots are released at the same time.
A binary ballot, where there is a choice of “yes” or “no” for every player.
No number limit to how many players can be voted “yes” on a ballot.
Each player spends at most 5 years on the ballot.
While I acknowledge that this is not a perfect system, my goal in this structure is to provide greater accountability and eliminate partiality towards certain players. Under this proposal, writers are not able to namelessly submit blank ballots for the sake of gatekeeping. All ballots becoming public simultaneously with the announcement of the Hall of Fame class will minimize one voter’s influence over other writers. Players will be admitted into the Hall based upon their own numbers and how they compare to current Hall of Famers. This process is about the players and not about the writers’ grandstanding and virtue signaling to gain clicks like this:
I mean come on, REALLY? Who is this about? The ballot is about celebrating the legends who have shaped this game. My voting system aims to do just that.
As for how to handle the “Character Clause" players, I want a group of Hall of Fame players from every decade of baseball since the 1960s to hold a committee meeting and vote on whether each player belongs in Cooperstown. The Hall should reflect what the players want it to be. As for the traditional Modern Era Committee, they can stay and continue to honor forgotten players.
The Hall of Fame should reflect the whole history of baseball and not just the good. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and the 1919 Chicago White Sox need to have their story told. I want Pete “Charlie Hustle” Rose to be acknowledged as the hit king. The 1998 Homerun Record Chase that saved baseball after the 1994 lockout deserves to be celebrated. Barry Bonds’s on-base percentage and slugging numbers from 2000-2004 are the stuff of legend. Curt Schilling’s Bloody Sock game, which was a crucial performance in completing one of the game’s most historic comebacks, was awesome. Whether or not they belong in the Hall is a different debate, but the stories should not be ignored or swept under the rug due to players’ off the field actions. We, as baseball fans, cannot forget what has brought us to this point in history.
The Hall of Fame gives baseball fans something to talk about and be excited for in the offseason. While debates about the Steroid Era are entertaining, I am tired of watching journalists, who made a name for themselves praising these players, suddenly turn their backs on them. In my new system of voting, I am looking for an accountable and unbiased system. I still do not know where I fall on questions regarding Bonds, Clemens, or Sosa because players have differing opinions. I would rather players establish the precedent over some journalist that never played baseball. Like many problems, I do not have all the answers, but I see these proposals as a rational step towards honoring the game and its legends.