The new members of the Baseball Hall of Fame were announced this week, and only two players made the cut. Each year it seems that some players are left off of ballots for personal reasons, such as being suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. Justin Gorman looks closely at the Baseball Hall of Fame voting process and doesn’t like what he sees.
The Baseball Hall of Fame has one central function – to be the entity that pays tribute to the greatest people ever to impact the game. The Hall is truly a shrine to the best of the best, be it players, coaches, umpires, executives – basically anyone who has made a major difference in serving the sport of baseball, with the exception of scouts. This is, at least, what the Hall of Fame is supposed to signify.
The selections of players to the Hall of Fame come down to 440 baseball writers, members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), which was first established in 1908. In order to be eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame, a writer must be an active member of the BBWAA for ten consecutive years. Once given that vote, the writer is eligible to continue voting until they have reached the threshold of “10 years beyond active membership.”
The BBWAA website, beyond looking like something that was created on GeoCities in 1996, addresses the concern of some that there exist Hall of Fame voters who don’t even cover baseball:
The BBWAA trusts that its voters take their responsibility seriously, and even those honorary members who are no longer covering baseball do their due diligence to produce a thoughtful ballot.
There will never be a magical statistic that will create an objective measure by which Hall of Fame induction can be judged. Additionally, as long as human beings are in charge of the voting process, and subjected to the BBWAA “Rule of 10,” subjectivity will be unavoidable.
But to use “thoughtful” as the criteria is so limitlessly subjective that it may have created the situation we find ourselves in today. The BBWAA still elects elite players to the Hall, but the discussion year after year is not about the no-brainers that get selected. The discussion instead revolves almost exclusively around the Rule of 10, or the PED-use arguments, or the players who are losing votes, or who got snubbed because they were not well-liked by the media or because of their political views. The list, unfortunately, goes on and on and on.
The reason that these arguments happen annually is not because the players did not have successful careers, with or without the help of PEDs. These arguments exist solely because the Hall of Fame voting process has turned into a self-righteous, power-hungry push by certain members of the BBWAA to get their 15 minutes of fame by wasting baseball fans’ time. There is no other way to justify two votes for David Eckstein, or two for Aaron Boone in 2015, or one for Jacque Jones in 2014*. These votes are certainly “thoughtful” – the baseball writers who decided to cast votes for these players were thinking of their own righteous indignance. They have made the entire voting process a joke.
The BBWAA should be ashamed of itself. Their own constitution charges them with “competent regulation of press boxes of the…Major Leagues.” Additionally, they exist “to foster the most creditable qualities of baseball writing and reporting.” The sport that they spend their careers (or at least 10 years) covering would not sustain itself without the fans. Year after year, the BBWAA selfishly ignores the fans and turns the Hall of Fame voting process into a laughingstock. This year is no exception, and their behavior falls far short of “creditable,” nor does it make anyone believe they could competently regulate a press box.
While the BBWAA did limit voting privileges in 2015 to the aforementioned “10 years beyond active membership” timeframe, much more needs to be done to fix this broken system. This was certainly a step in the right direction, as it reduced the number of votes from 549 in 2015 to 440 in 2016, and began to normalize the voting population to those with a nexus to modern baseball. Perhaps they should look to take more steps – like updating their antiquated website, or updating their constitution (which has not been updated in almost 10 years) to reflect the changing media landscape.
The Hall of Fame should absolutely be an exclusive collection of the best of the best, but the BBWAA still has a percentage (albeit smaller, and hopefully decreasing over time) of selfish “writers” bent on mocking a substantial responsibility. They would be well-served to start being a little more thoughtful.
*Other notable votes of the recent past: 2013 – One vote for Aaron Sele, two for Shawn Green; 2012 – One vote each for Eric Young and Javy Lopez, two for Brad Radke; 2011 – Two votes for B.J. Surhoff; 2010 – One each for Pat Hentgen, David Segui and Kevin Appier; 2009 – Two for Jay Bell, one for Jesse Orosco; and last but not least, two votes for Rod Beck and one lonely, incomprehensible vote for Chuck Knoblauch in 2008.