Holding Writers More Accountable for Their HOF Vote

Barry Larkin was elected to the Hall of Fame earlier today with 86% of the vote. Although he had a tremendous career, I believe Larkin is a very good player that falls short of Hall credentials. It’s now time to put the Hall of Fame debate away for another year, but there is one last aspect of the process that should be discussed- writer accountability for their vote.

I find it odd that Larkin was only considered a Hall of Famer on 62% of the vote in 2011, yet collected 86% support this year. How did Larkin’s case change so drastically? For one, Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven dominated last year’s ballot versus this year’s weaker class. Once they were elected it allowed the voters to focus more intently on Larkin’s career. I also think voters tend to be capricious with their votes year to year. Look at how Alomar collected 90% of the vote his second year after falling short with 74% in 2010. Many believe the spitting incident with umpire John Hirschbeck was the driving force by some to punish him with a “no” vote in his inaugural year on the ballot. Alomar’s situation aside, how can these tallies change so drastically in a short span of time?

There are a few reasons. Many writers lean towards voting for the important names in a given year and ignore filling out a full ballot. Others just vote for their favorite player or hand in a blank ballot. Next, there are internet campaigns that crystalize some of the issues that sway “on the fence” voters. Larkin received much of the publicity that was previously reserved for Blyleven. Finally, and this is the most important, I think there is still a chunk of voters that do not take the responsibility of a Hall of Fame vote seriously. That’s why I am proposing that baseball raise the stakes and make BBWAA votes stand for five years. This, hopefully, would force some writers to put more thought into their selections and fill out a complete ballot.

A writer should be forced to fill out a ballot that is good for five years. The only changes would be for newcomers. For example, if someone didn’t vote for Jeff Bagwell in 2011 the next time they could add him to their ballot is 2016. They could add Mike Piazza or Barry Bonds in 2013, but anyone eligible and voted on in 2011 would be locked. Since players are only eligible for the Hall of Fame for 15 years that means a writer can only vote for them three times. The goal would be to prevent capricious ballots and unwritten rules like the “first year penalty.” Imagine you are given the right to vote in year ten of a player’s eligibility. In that scenario you would be deciding their ultimate Hall of Fame fate.

It also may be time to spread the voters more evenly. Has there ever been a study about the distribution of what part of the country the voters reside? This was posed by former Atlanta outfielder Dale Murphy when he appeared on my radio program this past Sunday. Murphy was told the BBWAA has a heavy Northeast contingency that may not have seen him play as much because he spent the majority of his career in Atlanta.

“There are a lot of writers from the Northeast that don’t see you play as much,” Murphy said. There are probably some regions of the country where I get more support. But there’s a possibility, again I’m saying this not necessarily knowing it’s true, there might be a bulk of those baseball writers that live in the Northeast that aren’t as familiar. Yeah, you could look at numbers, but it’s a different thing when you watch guys play a lot and then are more familiar with their statistics as well. ”

With the age of the internet and the MLB Network this might not be as much of an issue going forward. I am not saying the BBWAA goes to an “electoral college-style vote,” but it should balance out its voting membership in a way that gives the players the best shot of having their talents and statistics recognized. I am from the Northeast and I can attest to the bias’ we have for our stars.  There also should be a minimum amount of internet writers or sabermetricians added to the panel so you have a diverse thought process put into play.

No matter what system is implemented there will never be a perfect vote. One of the fun debates is the Hall of Fame as it’s great for radio, television, and internet page hits. I am not trying to take that away, rather I am trying to provide some ideas on how to update a process that clearly is full of capricious and poor decision making. The year to year swings in votes prove as much.

By Mike Silva
Monday, 9 Jan 2012

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