I heard a clip of an interview with Mike Schmidt on MLB Network Radio on Monday in which the Hall of Famer suggested a new voting process is necessary for the Hall of Fame. His idea was to have the writers vote for 10 finalists and then have some sort of committee select the inductees from that list of 10.
I missed the whole interview, so I'm not sure if Schmidt thinks too few players are getting elected or too many, but I doubt it would be the latter considering the Baseball Writers Association has been electing just one or two players per year.
Schmidt is on to something, especially as players from the so-called steroids era enter the ballot. With the writers split on what to do about those players, it's slowly creating a backlog of qualified candidates. The trend has been established, however. Marginal candidates such as Goose Gossage and Jim Rice have been elected in recent years, while inner-circle superstars like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds -- who join the ballot this year -- will not.
It's a mess. You could hardly devise a worse system, one in which 500-plus voters with varying degrees of knowledge assess the pool of candidates with few guidelines.
You have voters who won't vote for players who used performance-enhancing drugs.
You have voters who won't vote for players they suspect used performance-enhancing drugs.
You have voters who won't vote for players who had big muscles.
You have voters who want to vote for more than 10 players but can't, because you're allowed a maximum of 10 players per ballot.
You have voters who refuse to vote for a player in his first year on the ballot.
You have columnists voting who mostly covered the NFL or NBA and saw maybe three baseball games a year and can't tell Edgar Martinez from Carmelo Martinez.
You have a pool of voters that doesn't include Vin Scully, Bill James, Bob Costas, John Thorn, Joe Torre or anybody else who isn't a 10-year member of the BBWAA.
You have voters with little or no sense of history of the Hall of Fame.
You have voters who simply vote for their favorite players.
You have a voting system where a player can somehow climb from 30 percent of the vote his first year on the ballot to the required 75 percent by his 15th and final year (Rice) or from 18 percent in his first year to 80 percent in his 14th (Bert Blyleven).
You have voters who believe the Hall of Fame should only include the likes of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Mike Schmidt -- the cream of the cream, so to speak -- when it clearly doesn't.
The steroid era players cloud things even more. This year, Bonds, Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza join the ballot, one that already includes Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Jeff Bagwell, all with varying degrees of PED innuendo. As Buster Olney wrote the other day:
- As far as Major League Baseball is concerned, McGwire and the other Hall of Fame candidates are all merely former players in good standing. ...
- As far as the Baseball Hall of Fame is concerned, McGwire and the others are candidates in good standing. They'll be listed on the forthcoming ballot, eligible to receive votes -- and if they get enough votes, they'll be inducted. ...
- It's the writers, and the writers alone, who are the bottleneck.
- In the past, baseball writers have sought clarification from the Hall of Fame on how they should handle the steroid era candidates. If they are looking for guidance, maybe they should take a cue from Major League Baseball. Commissioner Bud Selig hasn't stripped any records or accomplishments -- with the one exception being Melky Cabrera's voluntary withdrawal from the 2012 batting title race -- and he hasn't banned Clemens or Bonds or Sosa. Before Game 1 of the World Series, Bonds walked into the Giants' clubhouse without being stopped by security, and that will continue to be the case.
Last year, 573 ballots were cast for the Hall of Fame. Unlike what the BBWAA did with its awards this year, the votes aren't made public (although many voters do reveal their selections). There's no reason why the Hall of Fame has to continue using the BBWAA as its voting contingent. That made sense in 1936, when there were no TV broadcasters and maybe one radio announcer per club. But it's an outdated process that excludes too many potential smart and passionate voters.
So it is time for the Hall of Fame itself to change the process. My suggestions:
1. Set guidelines on the steroids guys. In or out. It's not the Baseball Writers Hall of Fame, so remove their ability to set the agenda.
2. Five years on the ballot. Force voters to make up their minds. Look, I like that Blyleven finally made the Hall of Fame; he was well beyond the line of qualification. But this slow build-up to election is unnecessary. Why Rice and not Dale Murphy? Why Andre Dawson and not Tim Raines?
3. Make voters accountable. The BBWAA took the right step with its season awards. Now take this step and let the public know exactly who is voting.
4. Allow voters to vote for more than 10 players.
5. Finally, let's go with Schmidt's idea. The BBWAA votes on the 10 finalists. A committee -- similar to the Veterans Committee -- selects the final inductees, with a minimum of three per year. The Pro Football Hall of Fame elects at least four members per year and usually six or seven. The Hockey Hall of Fame usually elected two to four players per year. The Baseball Hall of Fame is much stingier, in part because it's difficult to get nearly 600 voters to agree on something. But we're soon going to have a Hall of Fame that includes Rice and Jack Morris, but not Clemens and Bonds. At that point, the Hall of Fame becomes irrelevant.
That committee would have a lot of responsibility. But put those most passionate about the game and the Hall of Fame on it, those without an agenda -- writers such as our own Jayson Stark and Tim Kurkjian, ex-players who still follow the game like Schmidt and Cal Ripken, executives like Pat Gillick and John Schuerholz, former managers like Torre and Bobby Cox. And, yes, put James, Costas and Scully on it. Put a fan on it. It's not that difficult to make it a representative group of those who love the game.