How To Fix The Flawed Cooperstown Vote

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How can we improve the process of selecting who ends up with a MLB Hall of Fame plaque?Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

By Dan Schlossberg

At least there’s no electoral college involved.

That’s the best thing about the voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame, which has more flaws than a 600-page bill from a Congressional committee.

In the last two years, the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) picked exactly one candidate – Big Papi – and came this close to striking out for the second year in a row.

Requiring electees to receive 75 percent of the vote but not requiring voters to fill out all 10 spaces on their ballot skews the vote.

Compounding the felony is the fact that the writers’ ballot had 30 names on it.

When any of the four rotating “eras” committees votes, ballots have only 10 spaces.

That means the Four Horsemen of Suspicion – Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Curt Schilling – will be eligible for the Today’s Game ballot but will have to compete with more than 20 other candidates with impressive resumes.

To even the playing field, why not restrict the writers ballot to 20 names and increase the eras ballot to the same number?

In addition, why not apply the same logic to the Hall of Fame ballot that the BBWAA uses in its voting for Most Valuable Player? Simply require writers to fill out their Top 10 preferences, in order, when voting for Cooperstown. That would square with the MVP voting when incomplete ballots are discarded as ineligible.

Consider the carnage caused by the vote for the Class of 2022.

Six returned ballots were totally blank. Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe voted for just one candidate, inexplicably choosing Jeff Kent as if he reached into a hat filled with 30 names and happened to pick one out.

“I stopped participating in the Baseball Hall of Fame vote in 2016,” wrote Jeff Schulz in The Athletic. “I had problems with the process, the volume of voters and a lack of clarity about what our mission was. The Hall entrusts members of the baseball writers association with the vote, but there was zero guidance about how, if at all, voters should factor in whether a player used performance-enhancing drugs. I asked a Hall representative whether we should consider evidence, either real or circumstantial. I asked whether we should ignore everything but the numbers. I was told there would be no guidance. So I stopped voting.”

All 10 BBWAA voters from The New York Post voted for both Bonds and Clemens, with Ken Davidoff penning a post-election column lamenting their twin rejections. He even referred to Bonds twice this week as the “undisputed” home run king even though the Hall of Fame already houses that man, somebody named Henry Louis Aaron.

Aaron, by the way, always insisted that the Hall of Fame should have no room for cheaters – from men who bet on baseball to those who inflated their records late in their careers by using performance-enhancing substances.

While Bonds and Clemens were cinch Hall of Famers before the 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, their numbers got better as they got older. And not just a little better.

Both were suspected (though not suspended) but had trainers testify against them. Sosa, on the other hand, was suspended for using corked bats – cheating of another sort. And Schilling was chilling with his social media tirades against liberals and journalists.

With incumbent Hall of Famers on the panel of the Today’s Game committee, which represents the era 1998-2007, it’s possible they won’t even make the next ballot. The committee meets again in 2024, when the ballot should double to accommodate all the worthy candidates.

As in the “general” election, individuals need 75 percent of the vote (12 of the 16 panelists). It’s not impossible, since two veterans committees meeting last month named Bud Fowler, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, and Buck O’Neil.

The election of Ortiz swells the Class of 2020 to seven and the Cooperstown roster to 340. But it’s a shame that such deserving candidates as Andruw Jones are still playing the waiting game.

Voters who say Bonds and Clemens deserve enshrinement because of their exploits before steroids should also discard the steep decline Jones suffered after age 30. A World Series star at 19, he won 10 straight Gold Gloves – a rare feat achieved by a handful of Hall of Famers – and provided plenty of power too. Analytics, historians, and colleagues consider him the best defensive center-fielder of all time.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is the author of 40 baseball books, including The New Baseball Bible, The 300 Club, Making Airwaves, and When the Braves Ruled the Diamond. His e-mail is ballauthor@gmail.com.

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