This time of the year always brings about the same discussion pointing out the inconsistencies in the process by which players are voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF). Here’s one way to ensure it won’t happen again next year.
According to Baseball Reference, this is the ballot issued to members of the BBWAA (Baseball Writers of America) for voting in the election to the HOF completed and announced on Wednesday. As you can see, it includes all the numbers imaginable for writers to use in making their selection of up to ten players who, in their minds, qualify for entry into baseball’s equivalent of a shrine.
What I’m aiming at is the 12 writers (422 votes were cast) who did not vote for Chipper Jones and the 125 who did not see fit to vote for Edgar Martinez. And next year, I’ll be equally incensed with any writer who can’t see fit to vote for Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter the following year.
The format of the balloting needs to be altered to force these 12 writers, plus those who return a blank ballot, or one that includes David Eckstein, who received a vote from Chaz Scoggins in 2016 because he says (from the Lowell Sun):
“Do I believe Eckstein belongs in Cooperstown? No, and having known Eckstein, I’m confident he doesn’t think so either.
But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t worthy of a little recognition. For if he wasn’t, the screening committee that decides which players with at least 10 years in the majors deserve to be on the ballot never would have nominated him. Not every Jesus, Hideki and Harry with 10 years of service automatically makes the cut. So if the screening committee respected Eckstein enough to place him on the ballot, why should someone who respected and admired his style of play and his accomplishments as a self-made player be castigated for voting for him?”
Whoa, stop right there, Mr. Scoggins and anyone like you. David Eckstein received nearly $20 million worth of “recognition” over the course of his playing career. And the question before any writer should be a simple yes or no. Does Player X belong in the HOF? Scoggins admits that in the case of Eckstein, the answer is no. And that should be the end of story.
So next year, to make things crystal clear, the ballot should look something like this. Down the left column, the names of all eligible players appear. Next to each name are two checkboxes. One says yes, and the other means no, giving writers no choice in the matter, except to look foolish by saying Eckstein and hundreds of others who receive votes at the expense of a Martinez or Mike Mussina, or maybe a Scott Rolen merit inclusion in the Hall.
Other misdemeanors of the same kind are committed when a writer sends in a ballot without, for example, the name Omar Vizquel listed. Which is fine if that writer believes Vizquel does not qualify as a HOF player – ever. Except he is then heard on some radio talk show explaining that next year he fully intends to vote for Vizquel. Why not this year if you are going to vote for him next year? Where’s the common sense in that? Again, the only question that needs to be answered is, does he belong or doesn’t he? Yes or no, and we don’t need all the ifs, and, and buts about it.
With that type of a ballot, we could see 10, 15, or even as many as 20 voted in on the first go-around. Naysayers will point out their exasperation with the length of the ceremony. But that would only be for the first year and come on, no one can figure out a way to accommodate that development – one time?
Except that maybe MLB and the HOF itself relish the controversy and the “talk” about who’s in and who’s out that lights up the airwaves and articles like the one you are reading now. Heaven forbids I should be so cynical, but why else do the suits at MLB permit the Baseball Hall of Fame to operate as the sole proprietor of an institution that belongs to all of us as fans of the game?
The HOF balloting as we know it today closely resembles the conclave in the Catholic church that elects a pope. Ballots are secret unless a cardinal wishes his ballot to be made public. And in the same way, I want to know how my U.S. Senator votes on immigration (and can know with a ten-second search on Google), I demand to see how each of these writers exercises the privilege they’ve been handed.
It’s time as fans of baseball that we crack open the veneer of the Baseball Hall of Fame. For a non-profit organization, the folks in Cooperstown are an enterprising organization. Here, for instance, is a breakdown of their revenues from 2015 as compiled by Nonprofit Explorer.
Some might ask, what does that have to do with anything? It has everything to do with everything because it demonstrates that the HOF operates as a viable (and profitable) non-profit organization. And as such, the HOF does not hold the same rights granted to a corporation that works with a higher level of autonomy, even though they operate as if they do.
Jane Forbes Clark, Chairman of the HOF since 2000, is a philanthropic woman who has given her time and energy as the caretaker of the museum. But the things spoken of here are beyond her expertise. The HOF needs someone who knows and understands the game of baseball at the helm and with the power to make changes as they become necessary. For all that she is, Ms. Forbes Clark is not that person.
We can keep stumbling along as we are now, or we can advocate for changes in the process that are long overdue and a benefit to the game we love. The problem is, of course, we are now in the heat of the moment, and everyone is interested. But if past years are an indicator, the HOF will disappear from the baseball scene until July 29 when the ceremonies are held with an overflow crowd attending to induct the six players ascending to this level in 2018.
And that’s the problem. The story doesn’t have what are called “legs.” But unless a force comes forth (thank you, Joe Morgan, for making your thoughts known), we’ll be back here next year trying to track down the idiot or two who don’t think Mariano Rivera belongs in the HOF.