Fixing the Hall of Fame

The Baseball Hall of Fame is the greatest Hall of Fame on Earth.  There’s no disputing this.  The NFL and its fans don’t care about its history; they care more about TV money, fantasy football and gambling than they care about the fact that O.J. Simpson is still in the Hall (he would’ve been banished from the Baseball Hall before the Bronco chase was over).  The Basketball Hall of Fame is an embarrassment.  If you played more than 10 years in the NBA or won an NCAA championship or an Olympic Gold Medal, you’re probably in the Basketball Hall of Fame.  There are people in the Basketball Hall who don’t know they’re in there.  The Hockey Hall of Fame is in a mall.  That’s not a joke.  There is a food court outside the Hockey Hall of Fame.  And I bet only die hard sports fans can tell you where all of the various Halls are.  Cooperstown is all there is to talk about.

But the Baseball Hall of Fame is broken.  Not irreparably so, but it’s in the middle of an identity crisis.  It doesn’t know if it’s a museum, chronicling both the good and bad about the game, or its conscience, acting as the final judgment as to who played the game “the right way”.  The Hall, and Cooperstown as a town, is a great tribute to the history of the game, but one must never forget that there’s no Hall of Fame without the Hall of Famers.

And last month, for the first time since 1996, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced that no one had been elected for induction.  This despite the fact that the class of eligible players included the all-time home run king and a 7-time MVP (Barry Bonds), a 350-game winner and 7-time Cy Young winner (Roger Clemens), the greatest offensive catcher in history (Mike Piazza), a 600-home run hitter (Sammy Sosa), a 500-home run hitter (Mark McGwire), a guy with 3000 hits (Craig Biggio), and just for good measure, a guy with both 3000 hits and 500 home runs (Rafael Palmeiro).

Yes, the majority of these players were not just a part of the steroids era in Major League Baseball, but they were the very face of it.  Nothing summarized the steroids crisis in the game greater than the day in March 2005 when McGwire decided not to talk about the past, the affable Sosa forgot how to speak English, and Palmeiro pointed at a panel of Congressmen and declared that he had never used steroids.  But that ignores the fact that a great deal of their less accomplished contemporaries were using the same drugs they were, without the same results.  That is, these guys were great before they started using steroids; the steroids didn’t make them great.

In order to be elected to the Hall of Fame, a player has to have been retired for 5 full seasons, and have played 10 years in the Major Leagues.  The Baseball Writers Association of America currently elects players based on pretty much everything about them, including their character.  For a player to gain election to the Hall of Fame, 75% of ballots cast (there’s an important distinction to make here, which I’ll discuss later) must have his name on it.  If he gets less than 75% than the vote, he gets carried forward to the following year, for a maximum of 15 years.  If a player can’t gain election after that, he’s moved to the Veterans Committee, where current Hall of Famers elect eligible players.  If a player can’t get 5% of the vote from the BBWAA, he’s not eligible again until his 15 years are up and he goes before the Veterans Committee.

OK, now that you’re familiar with the voting rules, I’m going to tear them down.

Voting Rights

Currently, writers who have been members of the BBWAA for at least 10 years elect players to the Hall of Fame.  It’s worth noting that these writers don’t need to currently write about baseball, and as far as I know, it’s a lifetime gig.  There are plenty of senile old bastards who know nothing about WAR or WHIP or OPS who are ranting and raving about those statistics while casting their Hall of Fame ballots.

The Veterans Committee is worse, because they’ll vote in guys who are totally undeserving or, worse, they have standards so high that they don’t let in deserving players who were screwed by the BBWAA.

The solution?  Three voting blocs: writers, fans and current and retired players.

Here’s the catch: every voter must pass a test about the game.  It will include questions about the history of the game, the current game and statistics (not the exact statistics, other than big ones like 60, 61, 56, .406, 755, etc., but rather the concepts behind current statistics and why wins suck as a legitimate measure of a pitcher).  It will not be overly difficult, but it will be timed (to lessen the ability of people to look up the answers on the Internet).  It will also be given only at specific times (much like Jeopardy currently does).

In order for a given bloc’s vote to count, their election will be based on a minimum of 100 members (that is, in order to gain election, a player must have at least 75 votes, whether there are 100 eligible voters or not).  This will not be an issue for the fans, but it may be for the writers and could be for the players.

To eliminate the possibility of fans stuffing the ballot box, each person who passes the test will be given an ID code, allowing them only one vote.

The Veterans’ Committee is disbanded (or, more accurately, they are now part of the player vote).

Election

Players are elected if they receive any of the following:

   – 75% from any 1 of the 3 voting blocs
   – 67% (2/3) from any 2 of the 3 voting blocs
   – 60% from all 3 of the voting blocs

Voters can vote for as many players as they choose (as opposed to the current 10 player limit).  Voters (i.e., writers) may no longer submit symbolic ballots with no players listed; such ballots will be thrown out and considered not cast and not included in the voting percentage calculation.

Additionally, players can gain automatic election based on their output (we’ll call this the Clemens/Bonds Don’t Make the Hall a Farce rule).  We’ll discuss this in a bit more detail below.

All ballots are public (the writers have been warned).

Eligibility

The eligibility rules remain the same.  Players must have played 10 years in the Major Leagues and be retired for 5 full seasons.  The one difference: any retired player is eligible for election.  That includes players permanently banished (primarily Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose) and players who have fallen off the ballot, either because their 15 years on the ballot have expired or they never garnered the 5% required to stay on the ballot.  In a nutshell, if you’re not in the Hall of Fame, you are eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Voters can vote (or not vote) on players for any reason they choose, including steroid accusations, gambling confessions, murdering their girlfriend (I’m looking at you Cesar Cedeno) or generally being an asshole (pretty much every player who’s ever played).

So now that we’ve fixed how players got elected, what about the Hall as it currently stands?

Current Hall of Famers

Generally speaking I’m a firm believer that once you’re in the Hall of Fame you’re in for life.  However, there are some anomalies, players who just don’t belong.  Since we’re overhauling the voting system, we’re also doing a one-time review of the players currently in the Hall.  The same voting standards apply as listed above.  A player will be “removed” from the Hall of Fame if any of the following apply:

   – 75% from any 1 of the 3 voting blocs
   – 67% (2/3) from any 2 of the 3 voting blocs
   – 60% from all 3 of the voting blocs

Hall of Famers will be organized into “tiers”.  This will be an objective ranking based upon “career normalized WAR”; a player’s career WAR will be calculated based on his career plate appearances or innings pitched, and normalized to 3000 plate appearances or 1000 innings pitched.

(Note: I realize that WAR has its flaws and is far from standardized, but at this point, it’s the best way to objectively measure a given player against someone else, with all facets of their game included.  If anyone has other suggestions, I’m all ears.)

Additionally, these tiers will consist of those players whose careers took place primarily (more than 50%) after 1900.  Major League Baseball as it currently exists began in 1901, and players before that time were subjected to a game that is vastly different from what we know today.  Members whose careers took place primarily in the 19th century will be members in the Hall, but will be recognized as players from a different game.

(Note: Incidentally, I broke the Hall of Famers up by the number of seasons played in the 19th century; more than 50% of your seasons played before 1901 and you’re in the 19th century wing.  Only one player had exactly 50% of his seasons played pre-1901: Cy Young.  More than half of his innings pitched were prior to 1901, but considering the award for best pitcher in the game is named after him, I kept him in the “primary” Hall.)

And without further ado, I present you with the Sports Czar’s updated Baseball Hall of Fame (players are listed alphabetically within their tier):

Tier 1 (10 hitters, 5 pitchers)

   – Pete Alexander
   – Barry Bonds (automatic induction)
   – Roger Clemens (automatic induction)
   – Ty Cobb
   – Lou Gehrig
   – Lefty Grove
   – Rogers Hornsby
   – Walter Johnson
   – Mickey Mantle
   – Willie Mays
   – Babe Ruth
   – Tris Speaker
   – Honus Wagner
   – Ted Williams
   – Cy Young

Tier 2 (15 hitters, 10 pitchers)

   – Hank Aaron
   – Home Run Baker
   – Roberto Clemente
   – Eddie Collins
   – Stan Coveleski
   – Dizzy Dean
   – Joe DiMaggio
   – Jimmie Foxx
   – Bob Gibson
   – Hank Greenberg
   – Addie Joss
   – Sandy Koufax
   – Nap Lajoie
   – Eddie Mathews
   – Christy Mathewson
   – Johnny Mize
   – Stan Musial
   – Mel Ott
   – Jackie Robinson
   – Mike Schmidt
   – Tom Seaver
   – Dazzy Vance
   – Arky Vaughan
   – Rube Waddell
   – Ed Walsh

Tier 3 (25 hitters, 15 pitchers)

   – Johnny Bench
   – Bert Blyleven
   – Wade Boggs
   – Lou Boudreau
   – Roger Bresnahan
   – George Brett
   – Mordecai Brown
   – Rod Carew
   – Gary Carter
   – Frank Chance
   – Mickey Cochrane
   – Bill Dickey
   – Larry Doby
   – Don Drysdale
   – Elmer Flick
   – Whitey Ford
   – Charlie Gehringer
   – Joe Gordon
   – Harry Heilmann
   – Rickey Henderson
   – Carl Hubbell
   – Fergie Jenkins
   – Al Kaline
   – Ralph Kiner
   – Barry Larkin
   – Juan Marichal
   – Joe McGinnity
   – Joe Morgan
   – Hal Newhouser
   – Phil Niekro
   – Jim Palmer
   – Gaylord Perry
   – Eddie Plank
   – Cal Ripken
   – Robin Roberts
   – Frank Robinson
   – Ron Santo
   – Duke Snider
   – Warren Spahn
   – Bill Terry

Tier 4 (50 hitters, 15 pitchers)

   – Roberto Alomar
   – Luke Appling
   – Richie Ashburn
   – Earl Averill
   – Ernie Banks
   – Chief Bender
   – Yogi Berra
   – Jim Bunning
   – Roy Campanella
   – Steve Carlton
   – Jack Chesbro
   – Fred Clarke
   – Jimmy Collins
   – Earle Combs
   – Sam Crawford
   – Joe Cronin
   – Bobby Doerr
   – Johnny Evers
   – Red Faber
   – Bob Feller
   – Carlton Fisk
   – Frankie Frisch
   – Lefty Gomez
   – Goose Goslin
   – Tony Gwynn
   – Gabby Hartnett
   – Billy Herman
   – Waite Hoyt
   – Monte Irvin
   – Reggie Jackson
   – Travis Jackson
   – Harmon Killebrew
   – Chuck Klein
   – Tony Lazzeri
   – Bob Lemon
   – Ernie Lombardi
   – Ted Lyons
   – Willie McCovey
   – Joe Medwick
   – Paul Molitor
   – Kirby Puckett
   – Pee Wee Reese
   – Eppa Rixey
   – Phil Rizzuto
   – Brooks Robinson
   – Nolan Ryan
   – Ryne Sandberg
   – Joe Sewell
   – Al Simmons
   – George Sisler
   – Enos Slaughter
   – Ozzie Smith
   – Willie Stargell
   – Don Sutton
   – Joe Tinker
   – Bobby Wallace
   – Paul Waner
   – Zack Wheat
   – Billy Williams
   – Vic Willis
   – Hack Wilson
   – Carl Yastrzemski
   – Ross Youngs
   – Robin Yount

(Babe Ruth would’ve been a Tier 4 Hall of Famer based on his pitching stats alone.)

Tier 5 (everyone else and relievers)

   – Luis Aparicio
   – Dave Bancroft
   – Jim Bottomley
   – Lou Brock
   – Max Carey
   – Orlando Cepeda
   – Kiki Cuyler
   – Andre Dawson
   – Dennis Eckersley
   – Rick Ferrell
   – Rollie Fingers
   – Nellie Fox
   – Goose Gossage
   – Burleigh Grimes
   – Chick Hafey
   – Jesse Haines
   – Harry Hooper
   – Catfish Hunter
   – Willie Keeler
   – George Kell
   – High Pockets Kelly
   – Freddie Lindstrom
   – Heinie Manush
   – Rabbit Maranville
   – Rube Marquart
   – Bill Mazeroski
   – Eddie Murray
   – Satchel Paige
   – Herb Pennock
   – Tony Perez
   – Jim Rice
   – Sam Rice
   – Edd Roush
   – Red Ruffing
   – Ray Schalk
   – Red Schoendienst
   – Bruce Sutter
   – Pie Traynor
   – Lloyd Waner
   – Hoyt Wilhelm
   – Dave Winfield
   – Early Wynn

19th Cenury Tier

   – Cap Anson
   – Jake Beckley
   – Dan Brouthers
   – Jesse Burkett
   – John Clarkson
   – Roger Connor
   – George Davis
   – Ed Delhanty
   – Hugh Duffy
   – Buck Ewing
   – Pud Galvin
   – Billy Hamilton
   – Hughie Jennings
   – Tim Keefe
   – Joe Kelley
   – King Kelly
   – Tommy McCarthy
   – Bid McPhee
   – Kid Nichols
   – Jim O’Rourke
   – Old Hoss Radbourn
   – Amos Rusie
   – Sam Thompson
   – Monte Ward
   – Mickey Welch
   – Deacon White

By minimizing the role of the writers and their bloated sense of self importance in terms of serving as the keepers of the Hall, baseball’s Hall will become more fan friendly and Cooperstown won’t likely see an induction-free summer for years to come.

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