A few weeks back, Bill caught some attention when he revisited Bill James' 25-year Hall of Fame projections from James' excellent book, “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?” to see how the sensei did with his predictions. The results were interesting and, in Ruben Sierra's case, deeply funny. In the wake of Bill's project, at the suggestion of a commenter, we decided to undertake the challenge ourselves. Our first installment is already up, and we'll continue picking five years at a time for the rest of the week.
The truth is that the exercise is darn close to impossible due to the number of variables involved. We don't know how the electorate will change, or how attitudes about PED use (or suspected PED use) are going to change in the coming years. We don't know if voters will become more rational or not. But with so many deserving candidates on the ballot, it's clear that some players are going to slip through the cracks, especially at the rate that the BBWAA elects candidates (exactly 1.5 per year from 1966-2011). This is unacceptable.
Jayson Stark wrote about this problem in January, saying:
For two decades, that instructional line on the ballot informing me not to vote for more than 10 candidates has never been a problem. But it is now.
For the first time ever, 10 slots weren't enough for me to vote for all the players who fit my definition of a Hall of Famer. For the first time ever, I had to leave off the names of players I've voted for in the past -- not because I'd changed my mind, but because that 10-player limit got in the way.
And Jayson's not alone in pointing this out, either. Think about it: We're asking a disparate group of voters to reach not just a super-majority, but a super-super majority. So, to combat the problem, we propose a simple solution: The Hall of Fame should lower the voting threshold needed to elect a candidate from three-fourths of BBWAA voters to two-thirds.
But wait, some of you are going to say, the Hall of Fame is for the best players ever and lowering the voting threshold would allow unworthy players a way in. Not true! Since 1980, only three players (Orlando Cepeda, Jim Bunning and Nellie Fox) have garnered more than two-thirds of the vote and still fallen short of election by the BBWAA, and no player has had more than two-thirds of the vote and not eventually been elected since 1994. However, you probably aren't shocked to know that all three were elected by the Veterans Committee shortly thereafter. All have plaques resting comfortably in Cooperstown.
Rather than throwing the doors wide, then, what this proposal will do is speed up the process by which worthy players are voted in. It will allow the voting to more closely reflect the era in which they are voting, when suddenly a few writers and editors who are rabidly and proudly irrational and unfair about their choices, or have given up following the game closely are given less sway in the overall process. And if the players in question are going to get in eventually anyway, what's the problem?
With just one year left before the mega-cohort of Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling and Kenny Lofton all hit the ballot at once, it is imperative that the Hall of Fame act on this now. Do not wait. Do not form a committee (good lord, does baseball not need another committee!). The backlog Stark identifies is only going to get worse.
The Hall of Fame may be a private institution, but it exists because baseball fans pay a great deal of money to go there and honor the game's history and their favorite players. And for every worthy player that is excluded, the Hall will grow less and less legitimate as the keeper of the game's past, and lose more and more of its appeal to the people who support it.