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How the Hall Failed

The new Veterans/Era Committees rules: A Miller and Eric discussion

During Hall of Fame Weekend, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced a series of reforms to its Veterans Committee, the so-called Era Committees. Below are our thoughts on the changes. First the gist of them for those in the TLDR camp:

  • The Hall now has four committees instead of three:
    • Early Baseball 1860s–1949
    • Golden Days: 1950–1969
    • Modern Baseball: 1970–1987
    • Today’s Game: 1988–2016
  • The size of the ballot of each committee will be 10 names (the old Expansion Era committee was 12, the others 10)
  • Instead of meeting every third year, the Modern Baseball and Today’s Game committees will meet twice every five years. Golden Days meets once every five years. Early Days meets once every ten years. Like this:
    • 2016: Today’s Game
    • 2017: Modern Baseball
    • 2018: Today’s Game
    • 2019: Modern Baseball
    • 2020: Golden Days and Early Baseball
    • 2021: Today’s Game
    • 2022: Modern Baseball
    • 2023: Today’s Game
    • 2024: Modern Baseball
    • 2025: Golden Days
    • 2026: Today’s Game
    • 2027: Modern Baseball
    • 2028: Today’s Game
    • 2029: Modern Baseball
    • 2030: Golden Days and Early Baseball
  • There is no longer a wait for players who have fallen off the BBWAA ballot to be reviewed by the Today’s Game committee, provided they have been retired 15 years.
  • Negro Leaguers are now officially eligible and will be reviewed by the Early Baseball committee.
  • The age at which active executives achieve eligibility has been raised to 70 from 65.

* * * * *

ERIC: The Hall is still trying to figure out how to fix its electoral back door. What do you think it’s done well in this set of reforms?

MILLER: There are plenty of good things to choose from here, but the best is what seems to be an acknowledgement that they’ve underpopulated the last 40 years or so. More discussion of Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, Luis Tiant, Keith Hernandez, Dick Allen, and Kevin Brown has to be a good thing. What’s your favorite part?

ERIC: My favorite part is simply the acknowledgment that the Vets aren’t doing their job and neither are the writers. Otherwise, the Hall likely wouldn’t feel the need to pick up the pace. Of course, changing around when committees meet and what they are called guarantees nothing. The engine that drives all of this is the compositions of the screening committee and the electoral committees. There’s no guarantee that any of Grich, Whitaker, Tiant, Hernandez, Allen, or Brown even make it to the electoral committee. Or get a reasonable hearing from it.

MILLER: While you’re right that there’s no guarantee that the new committees really review Grich, for example, I’m happy that there’s more of a chance than there’s been in the past few years. With more times reviewing the era, there’s more of a chance for candidates from that era. Will we get some clunkers? Sure, we always do. But at the same time, I think we’ll also make up for some past mistakes.

But I disagree that the Hall is admitting anything here. And I’m nearly certain the Hall folks don’t think their job is what you and I think it is. They’re trying to make money. We want the best players in the Hall. It’s nice when those two desires overlap as they do now. Aside from Adam Darowski and readers of this blog, nobody’s going to rush to upstate New York to see the ghost of Bill Dahlen elected. But there are people who love Luis Tiant and Keith Hernandez. And those people have money. If their childhood favorites get elected, they’ll travel and spend some money in an otherwise pretty quiet little town.

The Hall of Fame has changed the way various incarnations of the Veterans Committee has operated on a bunch of occasions. They’re not saying anyone is failing. They’re trying to maximize the weekend.

ERIC: You’re right of course. The Hall doesn’t exactly care if it’s Steve Garvey or Bobby Grich, just as along as there’s someone on the rostrum. As if their mission was to elect the best players in big league history?! Still, I’m an idealist, and I’d like to think they are trying. But until we learn that the screening and electoral committees have actual baseball historians on them (and plenty), I’m skeptical. The old BBWAAs and grizzled Hall players on these committees have proven numerous times that they not only don’t elect the right people, they frequently don’t elect any players. That’s true whether it’s the old Joe Morgan Superfriends committee or the leaner committees of recent years. Makes me wonder if the Hall will gently nudge the old boys and say, “You know, guys, we really need you to pop out a player or two this year.”

MILLER: Why would they nudge now after not doing so in history (that we know of)? I’m not generally optimistic, but I do like to be hopeful that a change in the right direction increases the chances of positive results.

ERIC: I think they would nudge for the same reason you said: the money. Fannies in seats. Or on blankets in this case. Beyond the memberships of the committees, the ballots themselves suffer from poor construction. Ten names, you can vote for four, and 75% to get in. When all the names on the ballots are really good players PLUS managers and execs, it’s super difficult to elect anyone at all.

MILLER: Saying what you’re saying another way, it’s hard to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, the Hall itself makes it hard. I think that’s a good thing.

Yes this new system does increase the chances we get a 1980’s manager who we don’t need, but it doesn’t move the needle on Jack Morris much, at least not for you. You’ve thought he was going to get in the first time the Vets got him anyway. And there’s the huge positive of increasing the chances for an incredibly underrepresented era.

ERIC: Now back to Bill Dahlen’s ghost. Or perhaps it’s an apparition? We’ve now elected five 19th Century players they haven’t:

  • The aforementioned Dahlen
  • Ross Barnes
  • Charlie Bennett
  • Jack Glasscock
  • Paul Hines

Do we hold out any hope for any of them being elected ever? Or, speaking as the younger of us by four years, at least in our lifetimes?

MILLER: I think two or more of them will be elected within our lifetimes. Dahlen and Glasscock are such outstanding candidates.

Of course, they’ve been outstanding candidates for some time. But the times are changing. Old writers die. Younger writers take their place. We have guys like Brandon McCarthy and Dirk Hayhurst today. They didn’t exist 30 years ago. But my real argument is this: WAR is becoming mainstream. As it does, better selections will be made.

ERIC: Poor Charlie Bennett and his wrecked hands and knees are waiting, waiting so patiently. And there’s a jillion guys from the deadball era and the prewar era that we’ve elected that they won’t. Stupid Frankie Frisch! But here’s an interesting question: Who will be on the first Today’s Game ballot later this year? I’m damn sure that these four names will appear:

  • Davey Johnson
  • Jim Leyland
  • John Schuerholz
  • Bud Selig

But after that, I’m not certain at all. Alan Trammell played 63% of his games before 1988, and Today’s Game is banded 1988–2016. Similar numbers of his hits and his WAR came before 1988. He’s a Modern Baseball guy, I think. And so is Lou Whitaker with percentages just under 60%. Jack Morris threw 62% of his innings prior to 1988, and he was, of course, THE PITCHER OF THE 80s. On the other hand, the Hall stipulates that players must be retired 15 years and to have played for 10 to be eligible for the VC. That means you have to have packed it in by 2002 and have started your career no later than 1993. That means guys like Mark McGwire, Albert Belle, Devon White, Jose Canseco, Paul O’Neill, Harold Baines, Bret Saberhagen, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Dwight Gooden, Tony Phillips, Willie McGee, Mark Langston, Joe Carter, Randy Myers, and Frank Viola will be eligible this first time out.

Six of those guys will get a look. I think. Mac, Baines, Hershiser, Carter, McGee, and Clark? You know Selig will get 16 votes, and I think Schuerholz makes it easily. And that’s that.

Unless, of course, the screening committee plays willy-nilly with selective endpoints and sticks the three Tigers on this ballot. Or any one of them. If it’s Morris, we might get three VC picks.

MILLER: How about HoMErs like Kenny Lofton, Bret Saberhagen, Chuck Finley, David Cone, Kevin Appier, Rafael Palmeiro, Kevin Brown, or Jim Edmonds? Or maybe Bernie Williams, or Brian Giles?

ERIC: They’re not eligible yet. They haven’t been retired for fifteen years. Of course, there’s no real criteria for where a player is bucketed. Maybe someone like Don Mattingly or Harold Baines will appear in two different buckets? I’m getting a headache.

MILLER: Whoa! That’s pretty awful. That waiting period means one of three things. First, the Hall could put the wrong players on the ballot. Second, they could elect no players. Or third, they could elect nobody!

You know that I’d like to see HoMErs Bret Saberhagen, Orel Hershiser, and Tony Phillips on the ballot. Phillips won’t make it. I agree with you on Hershiser, McGwire, Carter, and Clark. I’ll replace Baines and McGee with Saberhagen and Gooden. So my guess at the player ballot would be:

  • Joe Carter
  • Will Clark
  • Dwight Gooden
  • Orel Hershiser
  • Mark McGwire
  • Brett Saberhagen

ERIC: We’ll learn very soon who the finalists are. Looking ahead another year to the Modern Baseball category, and assuming the trio of Bengals correctly goes into the Modern Baseball category, we’ll probably see a ballot with 10 of the following on it. The logic being that the same screening committee putting this ballot together is ultimately the same guys who put the BBWAA ballot and the previous Era Committee ballots together or who voted them:

  • Dave Concepcion
  • Steve Garvey
  • Tommy John
  • Jim Kaat
  • Billy Martin
  • Don Mattingly
  • Marvin Miller
  • Jack Morris
  • Dale Murphy
  • Dave Parker
  • Dan Quisenberry
  • Luis Tiant
  • Alan Trammell
  • Lou Whitaker

It’s entirely possible that Lou Whitaker never makes this ballot. After all, he got less than 5% from the BBWAA, while all the others hung on a while or have since appeared on a Vets ballot. This is where I get really queasy….

MILLER: I’m staying positive. The ten from your group will be:

  • Dave Concepcion
  • Steve Garvey
  • Tommy John
  • Jim Kaat
  • Billy Martin
  • Don Mattingly
  • Jack Morris
  • Dale Murphy
  • Alan Trammell
  • Lou Whitaker

Yes, I’ve dumped HoMErs Marvin Miller and Luis Tiant from the list, but I’m going to hold out hope for that Tiger keystone.

ERIC: Including Jack Morris is optimistic in some way. 😉

MILER: I know what you mean. Still, maybe I’m being foolishly optimistic here?

ERIC: Who’s more foolish: the fool or the fool who follows him? Ultimately, the biggest issue with all this stuff remains the screeners and the electorate. The Hall wants to fix the problem of not electing anyone but is wiling to use the same old people to do it who have gotten them into this mess. We want them to elect the best candidates, not just pretty good candidates. And so the last word from me is that until we see some ballots and plaques with names like Bobby Grich, Keith Hernandez, Brett Saberhagen, and David Cone on them, I’m going to be cynical that this reform will do what we hope it does—which as it turns out is what it should do based on its mission. No wait, the closest thing I could find to its mission statement (second paragraph here) says nothing about electing the best players! Now my head reallllly hurts.

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