Sunday, January 5, 2014

Raising HOF Voting Limit Is OK---But Not Necessity

    By Ross Newhan         

     Any analysis of the 71 years in which eligible members of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America have conducted voting for the Hall of Fame would conclude that the BBWAA has been a conscientious custodian, preserving Cooperstown from the over population of other Halls while constructing a consistent line between great and merely good (always, of course, in the eye of the beholder).

     The 2014 results will be revealed Wednesday.

     No other ballot, perhaps, has created a wider array of opinions or generated a more difficult selection process, stemming from a large and intriguingly worthy group of first time eligible players, a much smaller group of repeaters who had been building towards the 75% necessary for election and the holdover refuse of familiar names from the Steroid Era.

     One result is already known.

     A BBWAA committee has been formed to study possible changes in the election process, possibly increasing the number of players a voter can select from 10 to 12 or more.

     There has also been a call by some for the Hall to broaden the "character and integrity" instructions sent to voters to include a definitive policy on players tied substantively to the use of performance enhancing drugs or to the Steroid Era in general.

    I have voted since 1971, when I first met the requirement of having been a traveling baseball writer for 10 years, but am neither tied to the past nor a traditionalist.

   If the majority of eligible voters believe that a small increase in the 10 player rule would be beneficial I would not object, although I am not sure it would make a significant difference in the number of players who attain 75% and are inducted each year.

   The complexity of this year's ballot wasn't created so much by the ongoing presence of a group rigidly associated with the Steroid Era (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire) but the 19 first time eligible players. That group included Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina. A Hall of Fame case can be made for each, and any voter putting an X by their name on the ballot might then have trouble maintaining support, under the 10 player limit, for candidates the voter has supported in the past and who remain on the ballot. The steroid group, as mentioned, played into the complexity, but more daunting was the group of quality first timers in association with holdovers such as Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling, Lee Smith, Larry Walker, Tim Raines and Alan Trammell, among others.

     Thus, in the opinion of many, the need to increase the 10 vote limit. Again, I don't object, but I also firmly believe that the vast majority of  voters will select 10 only on an infrequent basis (this was the first time in 43 years that I can recall voting for 10) and surpass 10 even more infrequently. Last year, when Biggio, Piazza and Schilling highlighted the first time list, and those steroid names were also on the ballot, no one was elected, the eighth time that has happened and a measure--in my mind--of the conscientious approach of the BBWAA's eligible members. In addition, while an increase to 12 or more but might keep more candidates within site of 75% (next year Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez are among arrivals compounding the process), the most players inducted through BBWAA voting in any single year at Cooperstown was five--and that was in the first year of 1936 with the golden names of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner.

    If being elected is an honor, having the vote is a privilege, and I am convinced that the BBWAA membership has regarded it as such in each of the 71 elections, and which is why I believe there is no need for a policy statement by Hall officials governing the Steroid Era. I will not vote for any candidate where there is substantive evidence of PED use, but again I believe that any voter who believes otherwise is letting his conscience be his guide. I don't expect a policy statement from the Hall on this or any other aspect of the voting process.

    Hall President Jeff Idelson said as much in a response to a query from this writer.

    Idelson said: "The BBWAA has done an excellent job reviewing candidates, utilizing the rules provided by the Hall of Fame, which we consistently review internally...(and) have always maintained an open dialog with the BBWAA and its voting members... Having the responsibility of placing the ultimate 'seal of approval' on someone's career is never easy."

    My ballot: Biggio, Maddux, Glavine, Morris, Kent, Piazza, Thomas, Martinez, Schilling, Smith. At 12: Add Bagwell and Mussina.              


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