Hall revamps Vets Committee (again)

Big news, straight from Cooperstown:

    The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Board of Directors has restructured the procedures to consider managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players for election to the Hall of Fame.

    The changes, effective immediately, maintain the high standards for earning election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The voting process will now focus on three eras, as opposed to four categories, with three separate electorates to consider a single composite ballot of managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players.

Well, OK ... But you can't just say the changes will "maintain the high standards." I mean, you can say it. But saying it doesn't make it so.

    Eras: Candidates will be considered in three eras -- Pre-Integration (1871-1946), Golden (1947-1972) and Expansion (1973-1989 for players; 1973-present for managers, umpires and executives).

Two Obvious Questions:

1. Golden? Really? Could you possibly have come up with a more loaded proper adjective? Aren't there already enough people who think baseball was best when there were only 16 teams and the few games on TV were in black-and-white?

2. Expansion? Beginning in 1973? The first round of expansion happened in 1961 and '62. The next -- and it was a big one -- came in 1969. Then another in 1977. What on earth makes 1973 the beginning of anything? The only thing that happened in 1973 was the designated hitter in the American League, but I can't imagine what bearing that might have on the Hall of Fame.

I haven't figured out the math yet, but one can't help suspecting that drawing the line after 1972 is some sort of gerrymandering, designed to facilitate the election of a particular candidate, or candidates.

    Candidates: One composite ballot of managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players will be considered in each era. The Expansion Era ballot will feature 12 candidates, while the Golden and Pre-Integration era ballots will feature 10 candidates. Candidates will be classified by the eras in which their greatest contributions were recorded.

Why 12-10-10? Why not 12-12-12? Or 10-10-10? Or 14-12-10? I'm catching a faint whiff of more gerrymandering...

    Electorates: A Voting Committee of 16 members for each era will be appointed by the Board of Directors annually. Each committee will be comprised of Hall of Fame members, major league executives, and historians/veteran media members. Any candidate who receives at least 75% of ballots cast will earn election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Why 16? Doesn't a group that small result in lobbying and vote-trading and various other shenanigans? I mean, assuming that everyone's in a room together ...

    Frequency of Elections: An election will be held annually at the Winter Meetings. The Eras will rotate, with the Expansion Era Committee to vote on December 5, 2010 at the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla. The Golden Era committee will meet at the Winter Meetings in 2011 and the Pre-Integration Era Committee will vote on candidates at the 2012 Winter Meetings.

And there it is. Just like the bad old days. Everybody gets in a room and starts making deals. You vote for my guy this year, and next time I'll vote for your guy. Trust me, nobody really cares about the old-timers anyway.

    Screening Process: The BBWAA-appointed Historical Overview Committee will devise the ballots for each era. The Historical Overview Committee currently consists of 10 veteran members: Dave Van Dyck (Chicago Tribune); Bob Elliott (Toronto Sun); Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch); Steve Hirdt (Elias Sports Bureau); Bill Madden (New York Daily News); Ken Nigro (formerly Baltimore Sun); Jack O’Connell (BBWAA secretary/treasurer); Nick Peters (formerly Sacramento Bee); Tracy Ringolsby (FSN Rocky Mountain); and Mark Whicker (Orange County Register).

In fairness, it's pretty hard to mess up the ballots, which are big enough that most deserving candidates (Bobby Grich, anyone) will make the cut. But could this group be any more homogeneous. Almost without exception, it's (sorry about this) old white guys. Actually, now that I think about it, I don't know if Bobby Grich will make the cut. How many of those guys know how good Bobby Grich really was?

You know what strikes me as even more bizarre? You've got something called the "Historical Overview Committee" and there's apparently room for not a single actual historian (unless you count Steve Hirdt). Is there any particular reason why nine of the 10 members are newspaper men? I'll grant they've got a pretty good handle on the Golden Era and the Expansion Era ... but how many columns has Tracy Ringsolsby written about Bill Dahlen or Sherry Magee.

More to the point, I suppose: The Veterans Committee has always been intended -- ostensibly, anyway -- to consider players passed over by the first time around. But all of these guys on the Historical Overview Committee were the ones who already passed on Bobby Grich and Gil Hodges and Ron Santo. If the point is reconsideration, why not get somebody else involved? Somebody who hasn't already officially, and often with great gusto, passed judgment on Bobby Grich?

Someone once wrote that the Hall of Fame isn't in the business of not electing Hall of Famers. It was clear, some years ago when the Veterans Committee rules were revamped, that the result would be few new members. It's clear today, with the liberalization of the procedures, that more members will be elected. What's not clear is how many more members wil be elected. And that's what concerns me. As a sometime historian.