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A Suggestion for the BBWAA: Eliminate the Ballot Cap for Hall-of-Fame Voting

Much has been written about the fact that the BBWAA failed to elect anybody to the Hall of Fame in 2013 and much has been (and will be) written about how much more clogged the Hall of Fame ballot is likely to become in 2014 and beyond and how much more difficult this is likely to make it for the BBWAA to elect many, if any, players in the coming years. To help alleviate this situation and, I hope, to foster more conversation about the Hall-of-Fame candidacy of very deserving players, I have a simple suggestion for the BBWAA: allow voters to vote for as many players as a voter wants to with no limit.

I have been a baseball fan for nearly 40 years. I love baseball history (moreso now that I can actually remember much of it); I love baseball statistics: quantifying and comparing players. And I love the Hall of Fame. I love a good Hall-of-Fame debate: who was better, was this player good enough? Each year, I enjoy looking over the Hall-of-Fame ballot, celebrating the all-time greats, remembering (mostly fondly) the players for whom the culmination of their career is merely appearing on a Hall-of-Fame ballot, but mostly evaluating and debating the borderline cases: were they or weren't they Hall-of-Famers?

Voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame is the most open and talked about voting for any Hall of Fame in America. Voters write about their votes, fans debate those votes and make their cases for their favorites, and the result is a national conversation about baseball and great baseball players that continues from year to year.

But I fear that this conversation is losing something. BBWAA member Joe Posnanski recently wrote a column titled "The Joy is Gone from Hall of Fame Debates". He definitely has a point.

After last year, when nobody won election to the Hall of Fame from the BBWAA, there was a lot of talk about how baseball writers didn't want to elect anybody or how they had suddenly gotten stricter in their entrance requirements. But the average BBWAA voter listed 6.6 names on his or her Hall-of-Fame ballot last year. The overwhelming majority of the voters found several players worthy of induction. They just couldn't agree on which ones to induct.

Different voters have, of course, always had different opinions. Historically, supporters for a player - say, Jim Rice or Bert Blyleven - make their case, and other voters listen to that case. Some are persuaded; some push back and make their counter-arguments against the player. These arguments are evaluated, responded to, and many, sometimes most, Hall-of-Fame voters change their minds over time. At its best, the voting process for the Baseball Hall-of-Fame is thoughtful and positive: a productive debate in which people listen thoughtfully to arguments and are open to changing their minds.

It appears, however, that if something isn't changed, this process may not work in the future: not because BBWAA voters are becoming more intransigent but because there are too many people having too many conversations about too many different players and, under current rules, Hall-of-Fame voters simply aren't allowed to consider all of these arguments.

On its website, the BBWAA revealed the ballots of 125 voters in the 2013 election (out of 569 ballots total). Almost half of those ballots (61) included at least 8 players who will be on the 2014 ballot as well. This means that these voters couldn't add all of 4-time Cy Young and 355-game winner Greg Maddux, 2-time Cy Young and 305-game winner Tom Glavine, and 2-time MVP and 521-HR hitter Frank Thomas to their ballot without removing somebody they voted for in 2013.

Nearly 70% of the 2013 ballots revealed by the BBWAA (86 of 125) included at least 6 players who will return for the 2014 ballot. These voters could fill their ballots simply by adding Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, and 270-game winner Mike Mussina.

Voters may well be open to persuasion or interested in having conversations about the Hall-of-Fame cases for Mike Piazza or Craig Biggio or Jeff Bagwell or Jeff Kent. But with the 10-man ballot limit, the majority of Hall-of-Fame voters are simply unable to have those conversations. Or, at the very least, the question becomes not simply, "Does Jeff Kent deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?" but "Does Jeff Kent deserve to be in the Hall of Fame more than somebody that I voted for last year?" That becomes a much more difficult and much less "joyful" conversation.

And it's a problem that's only likely to get worse. If there's no room for voters to add Tim Raines to their ballots, then Tim Raines can't gain any upward momentum toward 75%. But meanwhile, Tim Raines is likely to stay on many of the ballots of the 52% of voters who have already decided he's a worthy Hall-of-Famer. Which, in turn, clogs those ballots up from considering other worthy candidates.

If the 10-man limit on the ballot is removed, though, now, the voters are free to engage in those conversations again. Voters who are not already voting for Tim Raines are now free to at least consider him without having to re-consider all of the other players the voter has already decided are deserving Hall-of-Fame candidates. And those voters are, in turn, free to converse with Raines voters and try to persuade them to support other worthy candidates: Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Curt Schilling, et al. And the new candidates, such as Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent, can be given a full and fair evaluation based purely on their own merits, rather than as part of a complicated strategical evaluation of what subset of deserving players to include on one's size-limited ballot.

More talking about great baseball players. More celebration of baseball history. More joy in Hall-of-Fame debates. What's not to love?




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