The National Baseball Hall of Fame and museum is seen during induction weekend in Cooperstown, New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The Hall of Fame voting process is almost irretrievably broken. Here's one way to fix it.
SI.com's Joe Posnanski, a thoughtful and thorough writer, has written 4,160 words on the future of the Hall of Fame, focusing on the players who are going to be on the ballot in the next two or three years. It's a large group of great players, some whom have been accused of steroid use. Posnanski:
It certainly is a deep run of great players, and a few of them -- especially Bonds and Clemens -- are connected to PEDs in a way that unquestionably will affect the way the voters judge their careers. I have written before that in many ways the voters -- and I am one of them -- will be trying to determine the soul of the Hall of Fame.
But I realize now that I fell victim to one of the classic blunders. I overlooked history.
Posnanski goes on to describe in great detail the history of BBWAA voting for the Hall of Fame; to boil it down to a few words, there appears to have been a dichotomy in the voting over the years between writers who only wanted "the best of the best" in the Hall, and those who want it more inclusive. He details the era in which the writers literally elected no one while the backroom Veterans Committee was electing its buddies, whether qualified or not. He goes on to confront the proverbial elephant in the room, the question of steroid use, and what should be done, if anything, about voting for players like that.
That led me to Craig Calcaterra's post yesterday about some Chicago writers who refused to vote for Jeff Bagwell for the Hall because of some sort of tenuous connection of Bagwell to steroid use which has never been proven. (Rob Neyer summed this issue up well here yesterday.)
But what caught my eye in Craig's piece was his mention of "Chicago writers." I'm from Chicago and so I had a look.
One of the writers mentioned was Philip Hersh.
Philip Hersh? Really? He gets a Hall of Fame vote? Hersh doesn't write about baseball any more -- he's the Chicago Tribune's Olympics writer, as you can see in this list of his recent columns. Teddy Greenstein, who also gets a Hall vote, doesn't write about baseball either -- college sports and golf are his gigs, and before that he wrote about sports media. But since they have active BBWAA memberships and meet the minimum requirements for Hall voting, they still get a vote.
If this is the case for a couple of Chicago writers, I imagine it must be true for many writers in other cities, too. Which means we've got a system where a large number of the arbiters of who's in or out of the Hall are people who have no idea what they're talking about, people who don't follow or write about baseball on a regular basis.
And so I believe the system of who votes for Hall induction is almost completely broken and must be repaired.
It's as simple as the Hall of Fame itself deciding to change its rules. They've done so numerous times in the last 10 years alone for the Veterans Committee. The BBWAA has been voting for the Hall for more than 70 years, but that doesn't mean they deserve this right in perpetuity.
Here, then, is a modest proposal to "fix" the Hall of Fame. While it might not be perfect, it would at least give the vote to people who are more fully invested in baseball and care more about who is honored. Further, it would generate more interest in the Hall, which, as Craig pointed out on Tuesday, has suffered a severe attendance decline in recent years.
I propose a five-tiered system for voting, with more weight given to some tiers than others.
Tier 1: Team and national broadcasters. No one sees more games than the broadcasters who are literally at every game. Some beat writers don't cover all of their team's games; some newspapers split beat writing between two people. In order to qualify for the vote here, you would have to be a current broadcaster with at least 15 years experience doing baseball games, or have retired within the previous five years. The votes of this tier would count for 35% of the total.
Tier 2: Newspaper beat writers and columnists. In order to qualify, you would have to be a current baseball writer or have retired within the last five years. For a columnist who doesn't write about baseball on a daily basis, you'd have to have at least 50% of your writing be about baseball. The votes of this tier would count for 30% of the total.
Tier 3: Players, coaches and managers retired for at least five years who played, coached, or managed with or against the individuals they cast ballots on, for at least five years. In other words, in order to be able to vote for (or not, as the case might be) Barry Bonds, you'd have had to have been a contemporary of his for at least five seasons. The player vote would count for 20% of the total.
Tier 4: A representative vote of baseball analysts and bloggers from sites including (but not limited to) Hardball Times, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Think Factory, Hardball Talk, SABR and Baseball Nation. In order to qualify for this, a voter would have to demonstrate a large body of writing about baseball for at least five years and be currently covering the sport. This vote would count for 10% of the total.
Tier 5: Fan voting. I'm not sure how you'd do this to prevent the sorts of weird things you get with fan All-Star voting, but without fans buying tickets and memberships to the Hall of Fame and making trips there for induction weekend... well, there wouldn't even be a Hall of Fame. Give fans some input into the process and you'd likely see a sharp uptick in Hall attendance. Five percent of the total vote would go to fans.
Just like the current process, this one has flaws; no such process can be perfect. If you've got a better one, post it in the comments.