The Hall of Fame Ballot is About to Get Very Crowded

The 2013 Hall of Fame ballot has officially been released. Joe Posnanski said in a tweet, “There are at least 14 players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot I would love to see in the Hall.”

Those players? By my guess: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Mark McGwire, Jeff Bagwell, Kenny Lofton, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa and Edgar Martinez. And that’s not to mention the lingering presence of undeserveds like Jack Morris, Don Mattingly, Lee Smith, Fred McGriff, Bernie Williams, etc.

Basically, the ballot is jammed. The steroids era has prompted many voters to start moralizing about cheating in baseball, and many guys just aren’t clearing the three-quarters of voters threshold to reach the Hall of Fame. A critical mass of voters rejected Jeff Bagwell last year because his biceps looked too muscular. Even more refuse to vote for Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire, despite undeniably qualifications and historical precedent. They remain on the ballot.

More problematic is the traditional problem of voters relying too much on tired hits, home runs, and wins benchmarks in order to decide who gets in. Guys like Kenny Lofton and Tim Raines were undeniably great players in their eras, but haven’t come close to making the cut. They remain on the ballot, and likely will have to wait out a decade of votes before gaining entrance.

This problem isn’t going to go away. As retiring players consist more of the offensive surge 90s-era cohort of hitters and pitchers, the old benchmarks are going to get even more confusing. Sammy Sosa may have been a member of the 600 home run club, but he’s a pretty borderline Hall of Famer. Curt Schilling may only have 216 wins, but he’s one of the most dominant pitchers of his era. These problems are going to take a lot of ballot years to sort out.

The result? The HOF ballots are only going to get more crowded. I predict that we’ll only see Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, and Mike Piazza’s names pass the post this year, and may lose Bernie Williams on the down end. The 2014 ballot will bring us Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent and Moises Alou, among others. And then 2015 becomes a monster year, with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield, Brian Giles, Nomah, Carlos Delgado, Tom Gordon, and others join the ballot.

Voters can only cast 10 votes per year. My sense is that a lot of voters are averse to naming a ton of players on the same ballot. They’ll vote for 4 or 5 max. This is going to make clearing the ballot out very difficult in the coming years. I doubt that most of these Hall-worthy guys (My count is at 23 through 2015, plus 5 or 6 more that will definitely linger on the ballot, at least) are going to garner few enough votes to drop off the ballot entirely. But as long as voters remain averse to naming 10 names on a ballot at once, it will get harder and harder for the non-obvious guys to get the critical number of votes. David Cameron of Fangraphs wrote today a fairly simple solution for this: just expand the ballot, and let people vote for more players.

A small tweak like that is fine, but this seems like a perfect situation to change the voting system more broadly. Form a committee of baseball historians, writers, ex-players, and statisticians, and write them clear standards. As far as I know, the Baseball Hall of Fame is not contractually obligated to do what the BBWAA tells it to. They should step up and take their balloting system away from the 90 year old retired BBWAA writers who have no idea what they are doing anymore.

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

3 thoughts on “The Hall of Fame Ballot is About to Get Very Crowded

  1. hawaii dave

    After reading this blog, I’m curious what your qualifications would be for induction, if you were in charge? Secondly, what do you think is the purpose of a HOF is anyway? To honor whom? Great players? The greatest of the great? Only the legends?
    Just curious as to how the minds of the writers on this site work.

    • That’s a good question. The way that I think it should be defined is as the top X% players in the league over a given time span. What is X? I’d probably use whatever the current number of Hall of Famers is compared with the total number of baseball players ever. That’s probably the top 1 or 2 percent.

      Which actually creates a very interesting point. The current crop of HOFers aren’t just the first steroids era ones, but also the first 30-team era ones. With more players in the game, you’d expect more Hall of Famers. More the reason to expand the ballot.

      The next question is, “How do you measure how good a player was?” This is definitely a difficult question to answer today, and even more difficult before the UZR/DRS statistics came into being around 2002. Conceptually, its also difficult for pitchers.

  2. KB

    Um…how can you claim Edgar Martinez and a laundry list of cheaters (Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, etc.) deserve enshrinement into the HOF while Fred McGriff is an “undeserved”. That’s a ridiculous statement. Go take a look at the numbers. See baseball historian’s Tom Verducci and Jayson Stark’s comments on McGriff’s candidacy before you publish ridiculous statements about McGriff.

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