A lot has been made in recent years about the rule that limits members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to voting for no more than 10 players for the Hall of Fame each year. Many people would like this rule changed including Buster Olney of ESPN, who’s refusing to vote this year in protest. His colleague Jayson Stark wrote a fine piece today about having to leave players off the ballot he’d vote for with no restriction, lamenting:
All the Hall should want me to do, as a voter who takes this responsibility as seriously as every player on this ballot took his career, is to answer one question:
Was this player a Hall of Famer or not?
Philosophically, I agree with Jayson, though I don’t see a major change in the voting limit happening anytime soon beyond the BBWAA’s recommendation in December to raise the limit to 12 players. The current HOF voting system still gets players in, even with Steroid Era candidates glutting the ballot. Tomorrow, results of the BBWAA’s 2015 voting for Cooperstown will be announced, with anywhere from 3-5 players expected to go in. It will be similar to last year when Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas were voted in.
If anything, rates of induction are trending up historically. Consider that in the 70 years the BBWAA voted between 1936 and 2014, it enshrined 113 players at an average of 1.61 players per year. It’s rare that even three players are enshrined through the writers vote in one year. Checking Baseball-Reference.com, I determined the following:
- Number of times the BBWAA has enshrined five players in one year: Once, 1936
- Four players: Twice, 1947 and 1955
- Three players: Eight times, most recently in 2014
- Two players: 25 times, most recently in 2011
- One player: 26 times, most recently in 2012
- No players: Eight times, most recently in 2013
The writers are notoriously stingy with the vote, and I’m actually more okay with that now than I’ve been in past years at this time. For one thing, the writers aren’t the last line of voters. Other committees have enshrined 193 people in Cooperstown and will probably continue to outflank the BBWAA. Also, while I favor a large Hall of Fame, honoring and acknowledging all of baseball’s history, I generally am against mass inductions. To me, they cheapen the honor. And some of the worst players in Cooperstown have gotten in en masse, via committee in the 1940s and 1970s.
I don’t see pandemonium ensuing if the 10-player voting limit were adjusted or removed altogether, as I think people would still take voting for Cooperstown seriously. That said, the rate of inductions would likely rise. For the past few years, I’ve run a regular project having people vote on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. The last two times I’ve done this project, I’ve had voters signify whether each player they voted for belongs in Cooperstown. Using my system, voters would have enshrined seven players last year and three in 2013. Perhaps seven BBWAA inductions last year would have been too many.
But as I said, I agree with Jayson Stark that I’d like Hall of Fame voters to be able to select as many players as they’d like. It seems less ethically murky for voters than forcing some to strategically omit players from their ballots. It’d keep players like Kenny Lofton on the ballot longer, too, allowing them to receive the consideration they deserve instead of being shunted off the ballot in impacted years.
In addition, the number of votes a player receives from the BBWAA also matters for when they eventually get considered by the Veterans Committee. I looked at it a few years ago, and of the 104 players who received at least 30 percent of the BBWAA vote between 1936 and 1980, 97 are now enshrined. [The seven who aren’t: Phil Cavarretta, Gil Hodges, Marty Marion, Hank Gowdy, Allie Reynolds, Johnny Sain, and Maury Wills.]
So I’m for removing the voting limit, but against mass inductions. To me, a good compromise would be allowing Hall of Fame voters to select as many players as they’d like on their ballots but capping the number of inductions from the BBWAA each year. Judging by historical standards, this cap could be 3-5 players, and I doubt it’d often be a significant issue. Of course, a player would still need to receive 75 percent of the vote to get in through the writers, and that remains a far greater barrier to induction than any voting limit that could be proposed.