When the Baseball Hall of Fame announced that there will not be a player inducted from this year’s ballot, it sent shockwaves through Major League Baseball. Some writers gloated. Others were embarrassed for their brethren. Hall of Famers seemed alright with the idea of not letting anyone this year. Of course, Hall of Famers never went to let anyone into the club as it does take away from the exclusivity. Commissioner Selig said what all commissioners would say in pointing to the fact that this had happened seven previous times.
Of course there is an element of sadness to it all. Some very deserving players were cast aside in the name of either taking a stand or putting off the decision for another year. That’s not to say that the Baseball Writers Association of America had an easy job. They’ll be punching bags for a while, but the truth is that this year’s ballot was difficult. If it were placed in any other organization’s care, the vote would likely be the same. Voting for the Hall of Fame has taken on a new level of being personal. Before the whole steroids era ballots, writers simply voted based on what they saw and statistics compiled. And, even that wasn’t simple. Add in morality clauses and the human quality to want to right the wrongs and you get a ballot like we got.
There shouldn’t be a problem with a conscious decision made by a voting body to put off the decision as to whether or not enshrining Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens is good for the Hall. Often, time can give perspective. While the voters have had five years to think about this and still failed to make a decision, it is not as if the cases of the two greatest players of their generation are forever shut out. There is still time. There is still time for them, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Curt Schilling, and all of the other qualified candidates. However flawed the voting system has been, it is rare that a player actually makes the Hall in his first season on the ballot.
The problem with the ballot isn’t even the misguided stance that many writers have taken. They ignored the legal system and voted based on innuendo and suspicion, the two qualities that journalism is supposed to fight. But, that seemed inevitable as principles of due process were long exchanged for the principles of public opinion. The industry that was built on facts went astray. But, that is to be expected. Humans tend to need time to gain perspective. As sports continues to sort out scientifically made performance enhancing drugs and find ways to deal with them, perspective is lost. It’ll get there one day. It always does. One day, there will be a Hall of Fame with Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling, and all of the deserving candidates to come.
The real problem with the this ballot is Kenny Lofton. The real problem with this ballot is Aaron Sele.
Kenny Lofton received just 18 votes, just 3.2 percent of the vote. He will no longer be on the ballot. His Hall of Fame candidacy is over. Lofton wasn’t going to be inducted this year because of the number of candidates on the ballot. But, he isn’t exactly a player who should’ve been so easily dismissed. Lofton’s 17 year career wasn’t as celebrated as it should’ve been, giving him a similar feeling as Tim Raines. But, Lofton maintained his excellence over the course of his career, much better than Craig Biggio, who hit just .254/.306/.425 during his final three seasons. In contrast, Lofton hit .308/.371/.412 during his final three seasons. Despite missing the 3,000 hit milestone, Lofton’s career is plenty worthy.
Over the 17 years, Lofton compiled a WAR of 64.9 by hitting .299/.372/.423 with 1,528 runs scored, 383 doubles, 116 triples, 130 home runs, 781 RBI (out of the leadoff spot), and 622 stolen bases. His prime seasons, 1992 through 1996, saw him produce at an elite level. During that snippet of his career, he hit .316/.382/.437 with an average of 26 doubles, 8 triples, 8 home runs, 52 RBI, 108 runs scored, and 62 stolen bases. Biggio likely gets in over Lofton, but that doesn’t take away from the fact the Lofton may have put together one of the more underappreciated careers in recent memory.
Again, Lofton wasn’t going to get in this year, but he was ignored by a voting body whose job it is to value above average careers. He was ignored despite having a more dominant career than this year’s vote leader.
And, then, of course, there is the writer who voted for Aaron Sele. Sele shouldn’t be disparaged in anyway. Anyone who pitches for 15 years and can post a near league average ERA should be celebrated for being able to pitch that long. But, there is no rational argument for him receiving a Hall of Fame vote. Just like there is no rational argument for Shawn Green, Steve Finley, David Wells, and Julio Franco receiving multiple votes. All five players had careers that each of us would trade for, but a voting body has to take a vote seriously and vote by the very standards that they regularly use to keep people out.
The real problem with the voting is the inconsistency of it all. The BBWAA gets painted as a group of lazy writers who don’t do enough research. That couldn’t be more wrong. Many of the BBWAA care about the sport, love the sport, and love their job. Most voters take the process seriously. Sure, there are voting members who no longer cover baseball and other voters who celebrate their blank ballots. And, there are those who vote for Aaron Sele.
But, those few shouldn’t make for large scale changes or even have the vote taken away from the writers. If not the writers, then who? Fans? Yeah, fans can’t even get an all-star game right. Hall of Famers? No, they don’t like admitting more to their club. A special committee? That sounds great, but that committee will be made up of primarily writers anyway. Simply, the BBWAA, an imperfect organization like every other organization, deserves to have the vote. But, that doesn’t mean the process can’t change.
Aside from having non-BBWAA writers have a vote, the Hall of Fame does have a very practical solution. Instead of mailing ballots, the Hall of Fame needs to host a voting week. For five days or so, the BBWAA gathers in Cooperstown or their fancy hotel of their choosing. During those days, the voting body will view presentations of each candidate on the ballot. The presenters should come from all areas of baseball and the SABR community. Baseball is a game that instills a sense of history in its fans and followers. The presentations should encompass all aspects of a candidacy. There should be a historical perspective, an “old school” presentation, a sabermetric presentation, and then some other judging systems like Jay Jaffe’s JAWS. Each voting member would be forced to at least be in the presence of a presentation on each candidate. Someone like Lofton would’ve received more votes had a voter been given all the information.
After the presentations, the voters can then receive their ballot and make an informed choice. That’s really the only fair way. Should it be incumbent on a voter to do the research on a player like Lofton or even Bernie Williams? Yes, but that isn’t reality. Reality is that voters will only vote for players they know or research. For voting that many deem this important, spoon feeding information every year based on additional perspective should be mandatory.
If a voter can’t come to the presentations? It’s simple: they lose the privilege of voting. If a writer truly cares about the Hall of Fame vote, he/she will show up to complete the process. Of course, there is some new fangled technology to allow voters to be in the room without really being in the room.
Getting them in a room would not only give each candidate a fair chance, but it would also allow a forum for them to commiserate about how to handle this era that has troubled them. It would be naive to think that there would be a resolution, but hearing Peter Gammons, Tom Verducci, Joe Posnanski, and others give their thoughts on the era is whole lot better than voters acting on their own, submitting blank or even more embarrassing ballots.
The idea is to make the Hall of Fame about the greatest players across the many eras of Major League Baseball history. It shouldn’t be about the voter. It shouldn’t be about safeguarding the sanctity of the institution. And, it should never be about a witch hunt that keeps deserving players out. The BBWAA isn’t the problem. The process is antiquated and doesn’t allow for a streamlined voting process based on objective evidence. The voters like to write about how much they care about the process, but that process has to fit their professed seriousness. Until that is done, Hall of Fame voting will continue to be about the voters and their various moral stands.
That will continue to result in days like today. What should’ve been a celebration for some and a building block for others turned into an event that wasn’t even remotely close to being about the game. And, that is never a good thing.
The only positive to come out of today is the negative reaction. It is obvious that fans, analysts, and writers care about the Hall of Fame. Perhaps this zero ballot can be the beginning of some long needed change. If so, maybe it was all worth it.