It’s a relatively safe assumption that nobody else on our tiny staff cares about the Baseball Hall of Fame as much as I do. It’s a much broader leap, but still a reasonable hypothesis, that I care about it more than most of our (hopefully somewhat more than) tiny readership. Therefore, when news governing the actual Hall of Fame rears its head, I stand at attention, ready to pounce upon their latest justice/injustice rendered upon innocent/guilty players.
This time around, it’s a little more complicated than that.
News broke over the weekend that the Baseball Hall of Fame, that venerable and most hallowed of institutions, would be changing a few things in time for this year’s election cycle. One change will be that baseball writers will be prohibited from selling their vote and must sign a waiver of sorts agreeing to a “code of conduct”, a reaction to some of the fuss that sprang up during voting last year. While one might argue over precisely how impactful this measure will be, there’s certainly no harm in it; the Hall simply wants to make sure that there are no further embarrassments to its “hallowed process”.
The other measure is the one that’s going to cause some ripple effects to take place. In olden days (i.e. last year and every year before that), players on the ballot falling short of election were allowed to remain on next years ballot if they received more than 5% of the vote. This courtesy would last for fifteen years. Over the weekend, the Hall reduced the time allowed on the ballot to ten years, cutting the amount of time a player could linger on the ballot by 33%.
There are three players whom this rule change won’t affect, those being Don Mattingly (in his 15th year anyway, and not getting in), Alan Trammell (in his 14th year, and also not getting in), and Lee Smith (in his 13th year, and an interesting case study for writers getting their shit together…but we’ll get to that). Every other player on the ballot will now be governed by this rule change, including two players whom we’ll get to in a moment’s time.
Now, there are two big questions I’ve been debating all weekend regarding this rule change:
This is a question that has multiple answers, none of which are more than theories, as the Hall isn’t exactly forthcoming about these kinds of things. Certainly the growing number of players associated with the Steroid Era lounging around on the ballot affected the Board’s thinking. I think that a certain element of the Board also felt guilty about watching players in recent years suffer through long, protracted waits on the ballot (of which Bert Blyleven and Jim Rice made it in, while Jack Morris did not, a fact that sits ill with many people associated with the Hall itself). In theory, such an action might be an effort to force writers to get their shit together and stop with the slow build-ups toward election. It’s always better to elect living Hall of Famers, ex-players who will draw fans to Cooperstown every summer and provide better revenue for the museum. I’m sure there’s lingering after-effects from the 2013 Vote as well, where no players were elected. As far as black eyes in sports go, it’s somewhere between the NFL lying about concussions for years and the NFL fining Brian Urlacher for wearing a VitaminWater hat during Super Bowl promotion week. Both stink, but at the end of the day, who actually remembers Urlacher’s hat? (*looks around* Just me? Huh.)
This past weekend’s induction of six (six!) Hall of Famers provided a big boost in the right direction; the more Hall of Famers elected, the better. We might, in fact, be seeing classes of three or more players to the Hall for several years to come now, so perhaps the Board wanted to further encourage the writers to elect multiple members. Inducting five to seven people every year certainly hasn’t hurt Canton, although I’m sure the Baseball Hall would like to maintain an air of exclusivity that has made it the most highly regarded of American sporting memorials.
So, to sum up a long story, the Board sees that there’s more eligible and qualified Hall of Famers than ever before, and they want to push things along. The writer’s aren’t exactly the quickest group when it comes to elections, and a kick in the pants might be what they need.
That being said…
2. What does this change mean for future ballots?
It means several things:
A. Mark McGwire and Tim Raines might be screwed.
McGwire was screwed already (for the record, taking steroids = no Hall of Fame for you, or so the writers would have us think), and he’s in his 9th year now. He may well fall off the ballot if enough writers abandon him as a lost cause; his voting percentage sits at a lowly 11%. Meanwhile, Tim Raines will be in his 8th year of eligibility, and has a LOT of ground to make up in three years. At 46%, he needs to gather an additional 30% very quickly, or at least 10% a year. He might very well fall short and have to wait on the Veteran’s Committee, along with Jack Morris. Sammy Sosa will also probably fall off the ballot, due to his association with steroids.
B. Classes of three players will become the norm de rigueur in years to come.
Next year brings Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and John Smoltz to the ballot. I don’t think Smoltz gets in right away (although he should), but Craig Biggio should pick up 2 votes (not percentage points, votes) to join Martinez and Johnson, first ballot locks. Gary Sheffield will also appear, but I doubt he’ll make much noise. The big movers will probably be Raines, Mike Piazza, and Jeff Bagwell, in part because…
C. With less time for a player to remain on a ballot, writers will have to move quicker on candidates to elect them.
The exact opposite might prove true – writers could drag their feet even more, withholding votes from players they’re on the fence about for even longer, all in the “interest” of preserving the “sanctity” of the Hall. However, I honestly think that we’ll see larger increases in voting percentages for the fringe candidates like Bagwell, Piazza, and Raines. Further on down, I think this boosts the chances for Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, and maaaaaybe Jeff Kent. As it stands, I’m predicting the following results:
2014/15 – Pedro, Randy Johnson, and Biggio are elected – Piazza falls short.
2015/16 – Ken Griffey Jr. sails in, along with John Smoltz and either Mike Piazza or Jeff Bagwell (probably Piazza)
2016/17 – Bagwell gets in, possibly along with Pudge Rodriguez…and hopefully Tim Raines. Vlad Guerrero (sadly) falls short.
2017/18 – Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, and Sc0tt Rolen appear on the ballot. All bets are off.
So, there you have it. Hall of Fame classes are about to get a little more larger. Granted, three candidates getting elected in a given year is relatively unusual, to say nothing of whatever the Veteran’s Committee will do. Nevertheless, the Hall of Fame voting process just got a little bit more interesting.
To me, at least.