I am pleased to present a first-ever point-counterpoint here. Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor, proposes a cap on Hall of Fame membership. I have other views. Thus, we are each taking a side.
Cap the Hall of Fame membership at a specific number—let’s say 300 players.
Once membership hits 300, the total becomes frozen by position. If there are 20 first basemen, then that’s the maximum.
When the upper limit of allowable players is met, every year the Baseball Writers’ Association of America votes to elect a player, another must be voted out, to make room for the new inductee.
Here’s the crux of my plan. If writers don’t agree on who exits, then no one enters Cooperstown! Thus the Hall remains only for the absolutely best players who ever took the field.
My variation also makes the annual selection process more interesting. Who gets in? Who goes out?
The debate surrounding the election becomes twice as intense since two questions would be considered.
Obviously, under the current system, each player added makes the Hall less exclusive. What began in 1936 as an elite club with five members is now a watered down mishmash.
All are great. But if elected, fans would agree that they represent second tier players by comparison, not worthy of mention in the same breath as Ruth, Williams or Mantle.
Don’t worry about what will become of those who have to step aside.
Their plaques would move to a Cooperstown wing constructed to honor their baseball contributions with a notation of their years as “active” HOF members.
It’s true that less-than-stellar players occasionally make it into Cooperstown. Frankie Frisch helped enshrine former teammates like Chick Hafey, Jesse Haines and Ross Youngs when he was head of the Veterans Committee. For reasons that still defy logic more than 50 years later, the Baseball Writers Association of America chose to induct Rabbit Maranville in 1954 and pass on Joe DiMaggio, who needed another year to earn a Cooperstown plaque. And it seems a little odd to me that Travis Jackson and Babe Ruth have busts hanging in the same Hall of Fame.
It’s an interesting idea to consider capping membership and removing marginal Hall of Famers like Hafey, Jackson, and Maranville as space is needed for new, better members. But I’m against it. It doesn’t seem fair to the players removed, and beyond this, I ask: What’s wrong with having a large Hall of Fame?
One of the few advantages baseball still has over other major sports is its history, which goes back in competitive form to at least the 19th century. Cooperstown is a testament to that long and gloried life. Almost everything good about baseball is in the Hall of Fame.
Even as there are just over 200 players enshrined now, I don’t see anything wrong with eventually having a 1,000-player Hall of Fame if necessary, provided these men meet the subjective (and admittedly varying) standards for induction. A larger Hall of Fame will tell me baseball has that many more solid — if not great — players. I think that’s something to celebrate, not bemoan.
There’s also the human element to consider with any argument that proposes stripping old players of their honors and saying they were Hall of Famers only for a set time, even if they’re still in a token part of the museum. Being enshrined in Cooperstown may be the highlight of a man’s life. In his induction speech on July 25, former manager Whitey Herzog called making the Hall of Fame, “Like going to heaven before you die.”
What would it be like to get kicked out of heaven?