The Hall of Fame electorate will be getting smaller in a good way according to a press release today. The Hall announced that BBWAA members who haven’t actively covered the game for the previous ten years will be eliminated from the voter rolls (though they will be allowed to apply for reinstatement if they can show their work from the past year, more on that in a bit).
Miller and I have long advocated this measure, and we Hall watchers should all welcome this news as it may represent an opportunity to bring more transparency, accountability, and well-informed perspective to the process.
Much is still unclear. The news was essentially buried on the Hall’s website not even making its front page, and the BBWAA has, shockingly, said nothing on their site as of 7.28.15 10:01 PM. The big reveal from the Hall:
Moving forward, potential Hall of Fame voters must hold an active BBWAA card or have held active status within the last 10 years. BBWAA members previously holding Hall of Fame voting privileges who are no longer active in the game and are more than 10 years removed from active status will have the opportunity for annual reinstatement, based on their coverage of the game in the preceding year.
Now this is a potentially strict guideline. For one thing, you have to keep your dues up (“active card”). Been retired ten years? Or been on another sports beat for 10 years like those golf magazine voters we hear from every year? Well, bucko, you’d better have some clippings telling us that you’ve written something more than the occasional fluffernutter about our favorite sport. Of course, it all comes down to the details. How much writing re-qualifies a voter? Does one’s own blog count? Is the quality of the content vetted in any way or are we just talking column inches and pixels here? We don’t know yet. Will we ever know? Maybe, probably not.
Each BBWAA-Hall of Fame eligible voter will be required to register online, beginning in late August, in order to be considered as a potential voter for 2016. Eligible voters will be notified in August of the new registration and survey procedures. Following the close of the registry at the end of the September, potential voters will be notified of their voting status for 2016. Those eligible to vote will receive their ballots in early November.
Or maybe a BBWAA member will Tweet out the survey to show the world. Not a bad idea. By the way, the release later implies that Ernst and Young will be handling some of this registration stuff, though that’s a little murky. Better to get it out of the BBWAA’s actual hands to keep things objective. Anyway, a few guys probably won’t want to pay their dues and do a voter REGISTRATION AND SURVEY!!! In all seriousness, notice how they tell us that this an online registration? Didn’t have to mention that, did they? Well that survey should be required to include links to or PDF uploads of whatever credible content a writer has created in the past year. If a voter can’t by himself or with his teenage grandkids’ help, figure out how to push that content up to the BBWAA registrar, there’s a pretty good chance the game has passed him by. (Oh, hey, watch out for that wide brush I’m tarring with!). Some of these ornery old men are going to be P.O.’ed about all this when they don’t get the vote they are used to. So be it, but the process will be better off for it.
Now, there are a few wrinkles worth noting here. For example, here’s a quote from Jane Forbes Clark who heads the foundation that runs the Hall, which I’m going to do a little FireJoeMorganing with:
“The Board of Directors strongly believes the BBWAA has done an excellent job at reviewing candidates for election each year since 1936.
So far so good. The BBWAA has made a few big flubs but I don’t see any Pop Haines on its record. Well, OK, I do as in Catfish Hunter, but mostly it’s record is decent, conservative, and, as Clark points out in good standing since before UNIVAC was a thing.
The Board feels that the changes enacted over the last two years
That would be a) the reduction of on-ballot time from 15 to 10 years and b) forcing the BBWAA to register all voters and reveal their identities plus c) today’s new third change, which, you know, is why you’re reading right now.
ensure that the highest levels of integrity are maintained in the voting process,
First you told us, Jane, that y’all strongly believe that our band of goofy BBWAAs has done an excellent job at reviewing candidates, and now you’re telling us that we need to ensure the maintenance of integrity in the voting process? Does not compute! No, wait, Jane-o, I see what you did there. You’re trying to tell us that there’s a difference between reviewing and voting, aren’t you. And why would you select these words in a statement almost certainly prepared well in advance and carefully delivered then quickly buried on your own site after the rah-rah news of the biggest BBWAA election group in memory? Hey, what if that’s because by drawing this distinction you’re trying to tell us something about the Hall’s own low expectations over the next several years for its electorates to deliver honorees? You probably realized recently that by cutting five years off a player’s eligibility you’re cutting your own nose off on a ballot this deep. You need plaques on the podium like narcos need drugs on the table, but you’re not going to jerk around the rules again on eligibility because that wouldn’t be face-saving. Right, right, so since you’ve already gotten these codgers to accept registration, you’re taking it to the next level to see if you can skim off the dead weight, most of whom, it’s widely believed, aren’t voting for the Piazzas and Bagwells (and Schillings and Mussinas, too) because they are crazy old bats who either think everyone with muscles did steroids or that no one was as good as Tony Perez and his RBIs. Yes, I see the logic here, and it is strangely good. But the justification ends the means. Or something like that.
with the most active electorate possible considering candidates for Hall of Fame election.”
In other words: Hey, old farts, get off our lawn so we can make room for more spectators as we elect more ballplayers!
Let’s look at the wording of this announcement in another way. It seems like the 15 year to 10 year drop is contradictory to the idea of clearing off the old-fogey voters. After all, it seems as though the Hall wanted the roids guys off the ballot quickly, doesn’t it? Otherwise, why do it? But these crotchety old men who are now subject to a REGISTRATION AND SURVEY!!! wouldn’t vote for a steroid user anyway (see below), so what’s the difference? I think, and I could be wrong, that the Hall sees two things happening. One the above-mentioned potential dearth of honorees coming up, of course. But just as shiver-inducing the strong shift away from talking about players’ relative merits and toward the demerits of the process and its voting members. Which makes the Hall look bad. And while the Kim Kardashians of the world might believe that all publicity is good publicity, the Hall probably wants Craig Biggio’s moment in the sun unsullied by the lingering idea that the old duffers weren’t voting for him (whether true or not, see below). The voters have become something of a liability to the Hall, derailing its ability to stay on message with any kind of integrity. After all, it’s hard to call it a shrine to the greatest players ever when those guys aren’t being elected and the stink about steroids has seeped into otherwise untainted players (read: Biggio and Piazza and Bagwell). All while the soap-boxing electors are stealing the show, making our sports immortals look like victims.
OK, and all that snarky fun aside, the big, big question is how many voters will be knocked off the rolls. I’m not an expert, but the BBWAA’s partial results include 93 people designated as honorary with no emerita paper beside them. Here’s what the BBWAA says about these folks:
How is the pool of Hall of Fame voters different?
In order to be eligible for a Hall of Fame vote, a writer must be an active member of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years. Once a writer receives a Hall of Fame vote, he is eligible to continue voting even when he is no longer an active member of the BBWAA, provided he becomes a lifetime honorary member.
Does that mean some Hall of Fame voters don’t even cover baseball any more?
Yes. 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.
Well, Jane Forbes Clark doesn’t trust them, and neither do the rest of us! That’s why they are being coerced into completing an online REGISTRATION AND SURVEY!!! Now, there are 93 of these folks represented among the 231 published ballots. That’s 40%, and that’s a lot of honorary voters! Someone might know, but I don’t know, how many of these 93 potential voters have been inactive members for 10 years or more. Let’s say it’s 25%. I mean if they retire around 65, how many are still living after 75 and also popping out a ballot? Most are likely still in the ten-year grace period. Anyway, there are about 560 members of the electorate in recent years. If the Hall of Fame’s vox populi is 40% honorary and 25% of them are not going to be eligible anymore, then by dint of multiplication that’s about 55 or 56 voters lopped off and an electorate of 500 to 510.
Turns out these 93 known honorary voters are a pretty interesting group. Here’s how they voted compared to the entirety of the electorate by candidate:
- Smith +9.2%
- Mussina +7.3%
- E. Martinez +4.9%
- Schilling +4.4%
- Biggio +2.4%
- Bagwell +1.7%
- Johnson +1.6% (yes, they went 93-1 for the Big Unit)
- Trammell +0.4%
- Kent -1.2%
- Raines -1.8%
- McGriff -2.3%
- Piazza -2.9%
- Sheffield -3.2%
- Walker -3.3%
- Sosa -3.4%
- McGwire -3.6%
- Bonds -12.3%
- Clemens -13.0%
So potentially an obstacle for Smith, Mussina, Martinez, Schilling, and Bagwell but a small gift to the rest.
Truth is we don’t know yet how many voters this will effect. Could be 56. Could be 5 or 6. Could be 100 or more if they get real serious about things. We won’t know until we know. But for now we know this: The real-politick of the situation suggests that the Hall is asserting control over the BBWAA in a way and to a degree we haven’t seen before or in a long time, and it is obviously listening to the discussion out there about the institution and concerned enough about its reputation to take action. And today’s action is a good one, just how good remains to be seen.