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I Was Wrong About the Ten-Man Ballot

edgar-martinez-baseball-digest

If writers could vote for more than ten candidates, he’d be doing even better.

I’m a logician by nature and a speech communication professor by trade. Double whammy, I know. My wife loves my spontaneity. Much more than my sarcasm. Anyway, what being logical means is that I need evidence to make decisions, and when the evidence doesn’t sufficiently rid us of the problem, or if it causes new and equal or larger problems, I basically reject the plan.

To make a change to the ten-man voting maximum, like many BBWAA members and most of the smart baseball folks I know want, I look to some very basic debate principles. If there’s something you want to do, you need, basically, to (1) identify that there’s a problem, (2) show that the system in place isn’t able to solve the problem, which is called inherency, (3) offer a solution to the problem, and (4) show your solution will work without causing other large problems, which is called solvency.

There are two sides in a debate. There’s the affirmative, which is the side that advocates change. And there’s the negative, which is the side that wants the status quo. In order for the affirmative to win, it needs to win all four parts, that is, they must show that there’s a problem, that it’s inherent in the system, that there’s a way to solve it, and that the solution won’t cause other big problems. If they lose any part of the argument, the affirmative loses the debate.

We can probably agree that we shouldn’t make changes to important things willy nilly. And we can also agree, I’m sure, that election to the Hall of Fame is an important thing. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this blog. So let’s go through this argument piece by piece.

The Affirmative

Problem: The BBWAA ballot backlog is keeping players from attaining the 75% needed to get elected. Because there are more than ten deserving candidates, some voters cannot have ballots with all of the candidates who they believe deserve induction.

Inherency: This problem isn’t going away. Sure, the Hall tried to improve things by cutting the time on the ballot from 15 years to 10, and while that might clean up the backlog, it certainly won’t help to get the deserving guys into the Hall. Here’s an example of the backlog not going away.

       Deserving      Deserving              Deserving
Year   Held Over      Entering               Exiting
==========================================================
2017      11          Vladimir Guerrero      Jeff Bagwell
                      Manny Ramirez          Tim Raines
                      Ivan Rodriguez
2018      12          Andruw Jones           Ivan Rodriguez
                      Chipper Jones          Chipper Jones
                      Scott Rolen            Jim Thome
                      Jim Thome
2019      13          Roy Halladay           Mariano Rivera
                      Todd Helton            Edgar Martinez
                      Mariano Rivera

Solution: The BBWAA should be able to vote for all players they believe are worthy of Hall induction.

Solvency: This plan will decrease the backlog and help get deserving players in the Hall by eliminating the artificial and arbitrary ten-man limit. With the limit gone, writers will be able to help bring about consensus around candidates like Edgar Martinez. And writers can certainly support a worthy candidate like Jim Edmonds, even if he’s not among their ten favorite on the ballot. The bad things coming with this plan might be more votes for clearly undeserving players like Melvin Mora or Tim Wakefield, but such courtesy votes are nowhere near as problematic as deserving players remaining outside the Hall.

My Objection

Remember that the affirmative must win all points in order to win the debate. And for me, they never get past the problem phase with the above argument.

See, I simply don’t consider it a problem if a player I support doesn’t get in this year. Or next. Or the one after that. Jeff Bagwell has had to wait, but he’s going to get in this year. Bert Blyleven had to wait, but he’s got in eventually. Ron Santo died before he got in, which is terrible, but he’s in. I think Lou Whitaker and Kenny Lofton and Jim Edmonds will get in one day. And what’s barely debatable is that they will get another look by Hall voters.

And if the deserving guys I want in don’t ever get there, it’s not because of a backlog. There’s already a mechanism to elect guys overlooked by the BBWAA.

However…

There’s one argument I had never considered. There’s one that I hadn’t heard that really does matter.

No, I don’t care that ten is an arbitrary number. But I do care that the Hall believed the number was a wise one at one time. We have to assume that, right? The Hall wouldn’t choose a number they considered to be a poor idea. And there’s the kicker. There are more players today than there were when the Hall decided on ten as the appropriate number.

My view is the Hall should contain the top X percent of players, not the top X number of players. In other words, there shouldn’t be an equivalent number of players in each era; there should be an equal representation of players from each era. And what that means is there should be more from today’s game than from 1890, 1930, or even 1970.

Problem: The Hall allows voters to support too small a percentage of players relative to earlier eras. Near as I can tell, the limit has always been ten players.

Years       Players (approximate) 
================================================= 
1903-1960    400 
1961         450 
1962-1968    500 
1969-1977    600 
1978-1992    650 
1993-1997    700 
1998-present 750

So basically, there are 87% more players, but the writers can vote for 0% more.

Inherency: This problem persists because MLB isn’t contracting teams. In fact, with the ten-man ballot, the problem has gotten worse and worse since 1961.

Solution: Allow writers to vote for up to 18 men per ballot.

Solvency: This change will work. It will help writers understand that there are more players in the game today who belong in the Hall than there were in 1940. Thus, players will begin to get into the Hall more quickly, so voters can better concentrate on more difficult cases.

What Would Change

If we allowed writers to vote for up to 18 players, I think a few things would happen. First, clearly deserving players who would otherwise get in on their third or sixth ballot would get in more quickly. Second, more players would get the votes to see a second ballot. And if they get a second ballot, they could be set up better for future election. Third, with fewer clearly deserving players on the ballot, the writers could focus more on and begin to coalesce around deserving guys who seem flawed to them, guys like Mike Mussina and Edgar Martinez.

And for me, I’d add Vladimir Guerrero, Jeff Kent, Sammy Sosa, and Gary Sheffield to my ten-man ballot.

I think we need reasons for the positions we support. I didn’t previously think we needed to allow voters to support more than ten guys. The argument, as far as I could see, wasn’t there. Now I see it.

Miller

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  1. Pingback: Larry Walker and Tim Raines | the Hall of Miller and Eric - January 27, 2017

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