Editor’s note: Please welcome Daniel Greenia to the site. Daniel is a longtime reader and first-time author here. Today, Daniel weighs in on a subject he’s well-versed in, the Hall of Fame. He’s voted multiple years in my project on the 50 best players not in Cooperstown and authored a “Fixing the Hall of Fame” series for Dugout Central. It’s my pleasure to present Daniel’s debut effort here.
Some of Graham Womack’s recent articles motivated me to put down some ideas I’ve had percolating in my mind regarding the election procedures for the Veterans Committee (VC). The primary aim is to have the VC elect players every year, to start cleaning up the backlog created from 14 years of neglect.
The first necessity is to separate the player from the non-players. On this point, the old VC (1953-2001) got it right. Cramming them together on the same ballot creates a nightmare for comparative analysis of the candidates.
We start by adapting the three existing committees, making them for players only, while clarifying and equalizing the time periods covered by each one. In addition, the Hall should establish four committees for other candidates. That would give the HOF eight committees, the old BBWAA electorate along with seven specialized Veterans committees:
- BBWAA: considers players retiring from 6-15 seasons ago. For 2016 that’s guys last playing 2001-2010. [Also Trammell and Lee Smith.]
Tweak the eras for the existing committees and make them for players only:
- Expansion Era: considers player retiring from 16-50 seasons ago. For the election in late 2016 that’s guys last playing 1966-2000. Also considers any living players retiring more than 50 years ago. Elects one player every two years.
- Golden Era: considers deceased players retiring 51-100 seasons ago. For the election in late 2017 that’s guys last playing 1917-1966. Elects one player every four years.
- Early Era: considers players retiring over 100 seasons ago. For the election in late 2015 that’s guys last playing 1871-1914. Elects one player every four years.
Create four committees for others, voting on a four-year rotating basis:
- Managers & Coaches Committee
- Black Baseball Players Committee: considers players from the pre- and early-integration era.
- Executives & Umpires Committee
- Pioneers & Contributors Committee
I’ll discuss more about each of these in turn, but start with a few general comments.
Historically, the BBWAA has enshrined about two players on average for every election it has held since 1936. The BBWAA has held close to this average over the past 14 years, voting in 24 players. Meanwhile, the VC elected just three MLB players: Joe Gordon, Ron Santo, and Deacon White. This stands in stark contrast to the previous 14 years, 1988-2001, when the VC elected 13 MLB players; or the 14 years prior, 1974-87, when the VC elected 20 MLB players. This dysfunction has created a swelling backlog of players who are fully deserving and qualified for the Hall. Most voters sense this, so they keep showing up and voting for players, but the results keep coming up short of electing anyone. The system has failed the voters– and not the other way around. There is no shortage of deserving candidates to elect and it is incumbent upon the HOF to create a system that elects someone.
This can’t be stressed enough: the various HOF committees exist to elect someone. They do not exist to “maintain high standards” or whatever BS rationale is employed– that is the job of the Nominating Committee. The people who decide who gets on the ballot– they have the most important job in the election process. This is where the HOF needs to recruit the top talent, the expert researchers and historians. If they include only the ten most deserving candidates on the ballot, players like Jack Morris and Steve Garvey will not make the Hall any time soon. So the HOF must present the VC voters with a 10-man ballot having only the best candidates on it. Then they must devise a system that ensures that someone is elected every time.
Of course, baseball has long employed a system ideal for the task: the MVP voting system. In those elections, every voter ranks ten players, sifting through every player in the league. We’ll make it even easier for the Veterans Committee: give them a 10-man ballot to rank. The winner gets inducted to the Hall. It should not be hard for the experts that comprise the HOF electorates to perform this task.
As mentioned earlier, this idea of mixing players and non-players on the same ballot is wrong and results have proven it a failure. Players are rarely elected; even worse, men deserving of a place in the Hall are getting old and dying before the Hall bothers to fix the system. The problem is, the expertise required of the voters is quite different for judging players and non-players, so the Hall should create focused electorates most suitable to one task or the other.
Second, the process would benefit from transparency. Voting in a Black Box leads to distrust of the process, giving an air of illegitimacy to the players elected. The HOF should not allow these issues to persist. Ballots should not only be made public, but voters should be required to explain their process. “The unjustified ballot is not worth casting”, to paraphrase Socrates.
Third, fixed eras are currently used by the veterans committees, meaning they have the same pool of candidates every election. A change to shifting eras allows for a gentle churning of candidates, creating public anticipation for each election as new candidates enter the purview of each electorate.
Let’s take a closer look at the player committees:
BBWAA: Leave them alone for now. The 75 percent requirement will not be easily struck down, given it’s been in place for nearly 80 years. When they revert back to a poor rate of elections [seven players elected 2008-13; five players elected 1993-98] there may be impetus for reform.
Their new 10-year eligibility rule is good, especially with the new VC setup proposed here. The reason it was put in is that it gets the unelectable steroid crowd off the ballot sooner. However, there are other benefits. It has been the case throughout the Hall’s history that the BBWAA’s main purpose is to wave all the no-brainers into the Hall. The harder task has been left to the various VC’s, to draw the HOF in/out line. So limiting candidates’ time on the BBWAA ballot, and getting them under the consideration of a carefully made VC election process is all to the good. As for Tim Raines, and many other less obvious candidates, the 10-year limit may actually get them in the Hall sooner, when the VC gets to make the call.
Expansion Era [retiring 16-50 years ago, or 1966-2000 for the election in December 2016]: This is the most overlooked era by the Hall of fame. The BBWAA elected 56 players retiring in those years. Likewise, in the 35 elections 1977-2011, when the BBWAA was considering mainly players from this era, they elected 56 players total.
How many “should” they have elected? Well, there are 158 HOF players born 1880-1940 [including Negro leaguers], an average of 2.6 per year. By that standard, in 35 years the HOF should elect 91 players. So we can say that the BBWAA left it up to the VC to elect 35 more players retiring 1966-2000 [91 minus 56.] So far they have elected four [Bunning, Mazeroski, Cepeda and Santo.] One could spin the numbers differently, but it should be clear that if the HOF is going to be fair to this era there is A LOT of work to be done. We need this committee to vote every other year, with the other two players committees voting once every four years.
This committee will also be tasked to consider the oldest living candidates, even players retiring more than 50 years ago. They will be reminded that this may be the final chance for induction while alive for players like Minnie Minoso and Billy Pierce, to name two popular candidates who’ve died in the past year. Of course, voters will be left to determine how much weight to give to that fact.
Another thing we should strive to do is to place players in the era with their peers, by ignoring brief comeback appearances made after age 40. [This was seen much more often a hundred years ago.] It should be obvious that Minoso belongs with the Golden Age candidates, given his retirement in 1964. It only makes sense to ignore his play in 1976 and ‘80 for purposes of HOF eligibility.
Possible 2016 ballot: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Dwight Evans, Bobby Grich, Keith Hernandez, Tommy John, Billy Pierce, Ted Simmons, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker.
Golden Era [deceased players retiring 51-100 years ago, or 1917-66 for the election in December 2017]: While this era is well-represented in the HOF, we can still find ten candidates who would not lower the standards of the Hall. Consideration of players whose careers were stunted by military service is especially in order.
Possible 2017 ballot: Wes Ferrell, Heinie Groh, Stan Hack, Gil Hodges, Bob Johnson, Charlie Keller, Sherry Magee, Minnie Minoso, Urban Shocker, Bucky Walters.
Early Era [retiring more than 100 years ago, or 1871-1914 for the election in December 2015]: For this committee a name change from Pre-Integration Era is clearly in order. The HOF has only recently begun, for the first time, a systematic study of 19th-century players. Indeed, there are many overlooked early greats deserving of a plaque in Cooperstown. Deacon White is just the first drop in this wave, hopefully.
Possible 2015 ballot: Ross Barnes, Pete Browning, Bob Caruthers, Bill Dahlen, Jack Glasscock, Paul Hines, Jim McCormick, Tony Mullane, Jimmy Sheckard, Harry Stovey.
My attitude towards non-players is very liberal: since standards are mainly subjective there are hundreds of people whom I would have no problem welcoming into the Hall.
Managers & Coaches Committee: Why just elect managers? There should also be consideration given to the unsung coaches who have greatly influenced the game.
Possible ballot: Dusty Baker, Ralph Houk, Davey Johnson, Jim Leyland, Billy Martin, Gene Mauch, Leo Mazzone, Danny Murtaugh, Lou Piniella, Johnny Sain.
Black Baseball Players Committee: considers players from the pre- and early-integration era. Research into this area continues to lead to new discoveries. Despite the stampede a decade ago, that tried to induct every overlooked person from black baseball, we can see a few guys who got left behind.
There also needs to be focus towards black players from the 50’s and 60’s. It should be realized that it took until a generation after Jackie Robinson’s 1947 debut for black players to have similar opportunities as white Americans. Even into the 1970’s some teams imposed quotas and restrictions on black players.
Most black players born in the 20’s and 30’s had stunted careers due to their color. Look at Elston Howard, born in 1929. If he had been born 15 years later he would not have begun his career with three years in the Negro Leagues. He likely would not have lost his age 22-23 seasons to military service. He likely would not have had to wait until age 28 to play 100 games in a MLB season.
Possible ballot: John Beckwith, Elston Howard, Home Run Johnson, Dick Lundy, Dobie Moore, Don Newcombe, Alejandro Oms, Buck O’Neil, Dick Redding, Quincy Trouppe.
Executives & Umpires Committee: The game has honored its own more than it has honored managers. Umpires are combined with executives here because they are part of the executive branch. Frankly, the HOF goofed when it started giving plaques to umpires. Umpires have no fans; nobody argues for their election. The best ones are invisible; while their presence enhances the show, they never become the show. It’s too late now, but umpires should have been treated like the writers and broadcasters, with place in a Cooperstown exhibit, but no induction or plaque. [Editor’s note: It’s a common misconception, regularly repeated in the media, but writers and broadcasters do not have a special wing in Cooperstown.]
Pioneers & Contributors Committee: This is the fun, wildcard category. It considers any persons who made meritorious contributions to our game. This can be hard to define, but the general idea is the HOF has been too limiting in who is considered for immortality. So we look for groundbreakers from every era, from Doc Adams to Bill James; multiple contributors such as Bob Ferguson, Lefty O’Doul and Bill White; player+ump combos like Bill Dinneen and Eddie Rommell; memorable characters who have enriched the game’s tapestry such as Chris von der Ahe and Max Patkin; lyricist Jack Norworth and poet Ernest Thayer; authors, scouts, college managers, and a hundred others who helped build the game we love.
Summarizing some of the many benefits brought by these reforms:
- It restores the traditional role of the Veterans Committee by ensuring they elect a player every year.
- It enhances the legitimacy of the elections through greater transparency.
- Makes the electors more accountable to their main constituency, the fans of the game.
- By using more unique classifications for candidates, electorates can be created with voters that have specialized knowledge of that particular area.
- Recognizes a broader spectrum of meritorious contributors to the game.
- Brings equitable treatment to the stars of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, whose numbers in the HOF are far below those of players from earlier eras.
- Promotes the election of living honorees by giving priority to Expansion Era stars.
- Brings more focus to electing stars from the game’s antiquity.
Naturally, none of the foregoing is meant to represent the best and only way to bring about a better system. Everything here is offered in the hopes of stimulating creativity and discussion, not defining it. This, it bears noting, is in sharp contrast to the Veterans Committee, which has met privately and operated with impunity since its founding. Such tenets have led to the present mess the Veterans Committee finds itself in. Summarily, we reject them.