As we reflect back on Mike Mussina going 0-for-2 in his Hall of Fame quest, it’s natural to start wondering if the system is broken. It’s not that we like pointing fingers but, after reading so many “I would vote for Mussina in 2014 but…”, it’s clear the system has issues. So how would I fix it?
1) Abolish the 10-vote limit: I’ve written on the issues of the 10-vote limit, but the bottom line is, the backlog of candidates due to the steroid mess as well as the non-election of any players in 2013 has caused too many candidates to be crowded on a ballot. We need to start clearing them off, and this is one way to do it.
2) Raise the minimum percentage needed to stay on the ballot, and increase it for players who have been on the ballot a long time. I’m calling this the “Don Mattingly Rule.” Look, I know not every elected player had a great opener (Bert Blyleven), and I know candidacies sometimes require us to understand things we didn’t two decades ago like positional value, walks, baserunning, and defense (Tim Raines). But there are far too many candidates that are not going anywhere, and their presence just clogs up the ballot.
Don Mattingly was a great player for a short period in the 1980’s. Injuries unfortunately ended his career much sooner than it should have, and killed his Hall chances. His first year on the ballot, he earned 28.8% of the vote. The next year, that dropped to 20.3%. In the next 11 elections, his percentage remained between 9.9% and 17.8%. Sometimes, it went up, sometimes it went down, but it never moved beyond those numbers.
At what point do we simply admit, “He’s not getting elected”? How many more times does he need to appear on 75 or so ballots before we realize this isn’t a Blyleven or Raines situation? Donnie Baseball, one of my favorite players of all time, is not going to the Hall of Fame.
If it were me, I’d institute the following:
—A player must appear on 10% of the ballots his first year (up from 5%)
—After five years, a player must appear on 25% of ballots
—After 10 years, a player must appear on 40% of ballots
This would allow for changing opinions, increased understanding, even a new crop of voters. But it also acknowledges when those attitudes *aren’t* changing, and frees up spots on the ballot for more deserving candidates.
3) Make ballots public and make a writer defend both their choices and omissions. This one is controversial, and sort of goes against our system of allowing people to cast a vote without fear of backlash. But the bottom line is, there’s absolutely no way you could look at the criteria for induction and say certain players do not deserve it. Yet every year, writers come up with excuses not to vote for certain players
Seriously, 23 writers did not vote for Willie Mays.
Usually, the reasons given are some variation of “If Babe Ruth didn’t get 100% of the vote the first year it was held, we can’t give [insert player] 100%, so I didn’t vote for him to make sure.”
This is a logical fallacy known as “An Argument from Tradition.” Just because we’ve always (or never) done something, is not a reason to keep doing (or not) doing it. It was stupid that Babe Ruth wasn’t elected unanimously, and all we’re doing is continuing the stupidity.
A related problem, I believe, is that there’s a school of thought that if we give Player A a higher percentage of votes than Player B, we’re automatically passing judgment on which player we think is better. This is ridiculous. As far as I know, there’s not a single person who thinks Tom Seaver is the best player of all-time, even though he had the highest percentage of votes ever. We are not disrespecting the Say Hey Kid if we give Greg Maddux 100% of the vote.
But there’s a flip side to this Ruth/Mays issue. I’m sure Hal Morris was a very nice man. He was a first baseman/outfielder who played from 1988-2000, and these were his career numbers
1,246 G, .304/.361/.433, 1,214 H, 535 R, 76 HR, 513 RBI, 45 SB
This is a fine career. Morris was a solid player for a decade or so and helped the Reds win the 1990 World Series. But there is absolutely zero way to make an evidence-based argument for his induction into the Hall. Which means the only logical way to explain how he received five votes on the 2006 ballot is that five writers didn’t look at the evidence. They decided on some variation of, “Well, I always liked Morris, and thought he was a good guy, and I don’t have 10 other guys I’d vote for anyway, so what’s the harm in giving him a courtesy vote?”
The harm with this doesn’t lie in Morris getting five votes or Mays not getting 23. The harm is that the things which drive that to happen. Namely, ignoring evidence and allowing for personal biases. Because if you allow people to do it for Morris and Mays, you’re opening the door for them to do it for players who are borderline cases, where a couple of votes might actually make the difference one way or the other.
Disclaimer: Normally, I don’t like to accuse people of such things. But, since there’s no “Anti-Mays/Pro-Morris” logic that I can see, that’s the conclusion I draw. If you’re reading for that and voted for Hal Morris and I’ve mis-characterized your stance, please feel free to defend it here.
Writers should, as much as possible, remain unbiased about the subjects they cover. As a writer, I know this is not always easy. But the minute you allow people to ignore facts and evidence, problems abound.
So I believe the solution is this: Writers should have to defend every choice they make, publicly. And if they show evidence of bias by being unable to make a compelling argument, they should lose their vote.
This is not an easy task. How do we determine if a player is an “obvious” Hall of Famer or an “obvious” non-Hall of Famer? Most players fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Also, what constitutes a “compelling argument”?
It’s a big gray area, and maybe we’d have some controversial calls. But I think it’s a move worth making