Earlier this week, Tom Glavine was on the radio talking about the Hall of Fame -- he'll debut on next year's ballot, you know -- and Talking Chop's gondeee did some good transcribing. Here's a snippet from Glavine:
Yeah, well, it feels good but, look, if they can keep a guy with 3,000 hits out of the Hall of Fame for a year just because they want to there's no saying that they can't with me or. I think Greg [Maddux] is pretty much a lock, I don't think there's any question about that.
But you don't ever know. This whole notion that, well, we're going to keep a guy out for a year and then he'll get in eventually, that's one thing I have a little bit of a problem with. I know there's been a lot of talk this last week or so about the voting procedures and whether or not it needs to be changed and how it could be changed and all that stuff, and people having problems with writers who didn't vote for anybody.
I get all that stuff, but at the end of the day I don't understand this notion that maybe we shouldn't let this guy in on the first ballot, and maybe make him wait a little. What are you making him wait for? Either he has Hall of Fame stats or he doesn't. So that's why I think I look at my situation next year and whenever anybody says anything to me my standard answer is, ‘Well, I hope so.'
Yeah, I hope so too. Glavine's combination of wins and winning percentage is really hard to beat. That said, Don Sutton was roughly as good as Glavine and didn't get elected until his fifth year on the ballot. Gaylord Perry was probably better than Glavine, and needed three years. Both of those guys won more games than Glavine. The voters in recent decades have just been incredibly tough on starting pitchers, at least the first few times around. So nobody should be shocked if Glavine doesn't make it next year. Annoyed, yes. Shocked, no.
Anyway, gondeee closes with this: "If Glavine doesn't make it in next year, there will be some serious conversations about the validity of the process."
Well, yes. But I think there's a "more" missing from that sentence, because I don't know if the conversations will ever be more serious than they've been this year. And I'm not at all sure that Glavine not making it would come anywhere near to being the BBWAA voters' worst crime against the institution. I mean, this is a group of voters, broadly speaking, that ... Well, let me tell you a little story.
In 1980, Ron Santo appeared on the BBWAA ballot for the first time. Santo got 15 votes. Among the 23 players ahead of him: Roy Face, Elston Howard, Don Larsen, Alvin Dark, Ted Kluszewski, Don Newcombe, Lew Burdette, Harvey Kuenn, Mickey Vernon, Roger Maris, Maury Wills, and Gil Hodges. All those guys have something in common: since then, none have been elected to the Hall of Fame. They have something else in common: None of them should be in the Hall of Fame.
Somehow, the BBWAA convinced the Hall of Fame to restore three candidates -- Santo, Ken Boyer, and Curt Flood -- to the ballot in 1985. Fat lot of good it did any of them. Boyer topped out at 26 percent in 1988, Flood at 15 percent in '96, and Santo at 43 percent in 1998. Santo finally got elected by the Veterans Committee last year, not long after he died. It seems highly possible that if the BBWAA had just left him alone, hadn't strung him along for almost 20 years, the Veterans Committee would have gotten around to electing Santo before he passed on. So good job, BBWAA, good effort.
You know, I hate to keep beating up on the BBWAA -- after all, just a few weeks ago I would have been beating up on myself! -- but there are just so many things ... Like, many of the voters who can't bring themselves to vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens -- not to mention Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa -- just love to lean on the voting rules, which include that amorphous and little-used-until-now "integrity clause". It's a funny thing, though ... There's absolutely nothing in the rules about some bifurcation between first-ballot guys and everyone else. There's nothing in the rules that says you can't vote for anybody the first year unless they were Mickey Mantle, or played in a dozen All-Star Games or something. I'm pretty sure the rules just say you're supposed to vote for a guy if you think he belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Anyway, my point is that there have been, over the years, many serious conversations about the validity, or perhaps the efficacy, of the process. The rules governing the BBWAA's election were changed a number of times through the 1960s, and of course the Veterans Committee procedures have been changed five or six times in the last decade or so. If the process doesn't deliver the desired result, eventually it will be changed. Which is why I do think the BBWAA procedures will be changed within the next few years.
It's not that nobody will be elected in upcoming elections. There are too many incredible pitchers and Ken Griffeys for that. But the enshrinees won't keep pace with the arrival of outstanding candidates, and it won't be long before almost everyone -- the Hall of Fame's board of directors for sure, and maybe even some of the voters -- realize that it's patently ridiculous for the ballot to contain 15 or 20 qualified candidates every year.
So if and when changes are made, what might they be?
I've seen a couple of suggestions lately. One -- and I mentioned this yesterday -- is to expand the number of candidates the BBWAA voters may support. Right now the number is 10; some want to push that to 12, and some want to just let them vote for as many candidates as they like. It's the Wild West! Anything goes! But as we've already seen, that probably wouldn't make a significant difference in the results, giving candidates just a small bump. That almost certainly would have gotten Roberto Alomar in, his first year on the ballot; but not Craig Biggio, this year.
Another is to strip voting privileges from voters who fail to vote for certain candidates. Last week on MLB Network, the subject of Greg Maddux's impending candidacy came up, and Jon Heyman said anybody who doesn't vote for Maddux should have his vote taken away. And I saw another pundit -- I'm sorry that I can't remember who -- suggest something similar: If you don't vote for a candidate who receives at least 95-percent support, you lose your vote. Presumably, this would go a long way toward weeding out a) cranks like Howard Bryant, b) voters who don't think anybody should get in the first year, and c) voters who really, really just don't give enough of a tinker's damn to notice that Greg Maddux was Greg Maddux.
Would any of this really improve the process measurably, though? And that's assuming that it would work. Which it wouldn't. Most Hall of Fame voters treasure the privilege dearly; I'm fairly certain that if they were being judged in this way, nearly every voter would do whatever it took to retain that privilege. Maybe I'm wrong, but I suspect that Howard Bryant would have voted for Greg Maddux, had he been on the ballot this year and had the 95-percent Rule been in effect.
Also, shouldn't voters be allowed to vote their conscience? If you suspected that a superstar had actually lost a game on purpose, wouldn't you want the freedom to withhold your Hall of Fame vote, even if you didn't have enough evidence to actually make a public accusation? I would.
That said, here are three reforms that might help some:
1. Rewrite, slightly, the voting rules.
No, I wouldn't remove the so-called "integrity clause". What I would do is expressly discourage this ridiculous distinction between first-ballot and non-first-ballot Hall of Famers. Maybe then voters like Heyman wouldn't use the current semi-ambiguity to justify leaving off guys like Biggio.
2. Cut the period of eligibility from 15 years to 10.
Really, 15 years is just a ridiculously long time. As Joe Sheehan pointed out last week, since 1980 only three players have been elected after their 10th year on the ballot: Bruce Sutter, Jim Rice, and Bert Blyleven. A .333 batting average in the majors is pretty good; .333 for the BBWAA is really lousy. Frankly, the Hall of Fame would have been better served if all these guys were cut loose after 10 seasons; eventually, Blyleven would have been elected by someone. Yes, maybe the other guys too, but we're talking about the BBWAA now. If the ballots were smaller, it would be easier to elect the most deserving players, and they would be smaller if so many hopeless candidates weren't kept on the ballot for so many years.
3. Replace unqualified voters with qualified voters.
If you're not a full-time baseball writer, or weren't a full-time baseball writer for 25 years, you don't get to vote. I mean, that's really easy; I would certainly allow longtime broadcasters to vote, and we could come up with some other obvious groups as well. But at a bare minimum, regularly covering baseball should be your job, or have been your job for a long time. Things like this just shouldn't happen, and wouldn't if the people who run the BBWAA had their act together.
Which they don't. Or maybe do have their act together, but that doesn't include maintaining a basic level of competence and integrity with regard to the Hall of Fame balloting. The BBWAA exists to serve the interests of a majority of its members, just like any other good union or trade organization. Fortunately, the BBWAA doesn't control the process; the Hall of Fame itself does (with some input/pressure from Major League Baseball). We really should stop tweeting and message-boarding BBWAA members, and start writing letters to Cooperstown. If there are changes, for better or worse, that's where they'll come from.