The Hall of Fame recently made a change to the voter eligibility rules. BBWAA members who have been away from the game for over ten years are no longer eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame. Before this rule change, anybody who was a member of the
evil empire BBWAA for ten consecutive years got a vote for life. Even if you’ve moved on to other sports or retired, you’d still get to vote, regardless of how long you’ve been away.
It was a strange practice, not just because it’s illogical, but because the BBWAA has much stricter rules when it comes to membership eligibility. To become a member, you must be affiliated with a BBWAA-approved outlet, and once approved, you cannot be away from an approved outlet for more than two years. They care about quality control in the present, but not for deciding the most prestigious, exclusive honor in baseball.
Whatever. Since when has the BBWAA ever made any sense? They’re an organization that’s always thought way too highly of itself and has always put itself above the game, the players, etc.. They’d rather do right by themselves then by the game. To quote Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports:
“No organization I know of outside of baseball — including historically-minded organizations — would continue to grant special and influential status to people who have no reason to keep up with advances in the field while eschewing fresher voices, yet the BBWAA does this with the Hall of Fame.”
To be fair, there are people who are currently covering the game who believe there is no reason to keep up with advances in their own field. Apparently they finished learning about baseball when they were 5 years old. In any other career that belief would get you fired.
The funny thing is that the BBWAA deserves little credit for this. Who is eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame is a decision that completely belongs to the Hall of Fame itself. MLB doesn’t even have a say in it. The Hall of Fame, BBWAA, and MLB are all separate entities1. There are some BBWAA members who advised the Hall to enact this rule change, but they never had any power to do this all by themselves. My guess is that if they did have this power and put it to a vote by its members, it would get defeated easily. The BBWAA has always been too self-important to do what’s right for the historical accuracy of the telling of the game. They’ve always been more interested in describing the game the way they want it to be instead of the way it is. The good news is that it’s getting better, but it has a long way to go.
Unlike the Hall’s last rule change, this one is actually logical and has been sorely needed. It doesn’t make any sense to allow people who haven’t covered the game in over ten years to vote. Besides the fact that it’s common sense, these people tend to be the voters who turn in the worst ballots. They eschew all the advancements that have been made in our understanding of the game in favor of archaic, valueless stats, narratives, and high amounts of subjectivity and intellectual dishonesty.
They also tend to be the strongest voice in the anti-steroids crowd, regardless of what the actual data says about their ineffectiveness with regards to baseball performance. Nowhere is this demonstrated better than in a recent article by Philip Hersh, a hack for the Chicago Tribune. It serves as an excellent example of why this rule change was necessary. Let’s take a look at some of what he said:
“That move will delight the anonymous Twitter trolls who have hectored me every year to give up my vote because they apparently are upset that I roundly dismiss the candidacies of players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, whose use of PEDs was apparent, admitted or both.”
While I don’t doubt that there were some, or even plenty of people who were overtly rude to Mr. Hersh on Twitter, calling them trolls is the pot calling the kettle black. When you tweet something like this…
…then you are a troll yourself. Hersh kept his vote just to troll the Hall of Fame and those with the intelligence and intellectual honesty to treat the honor correctly. He’s dismissing worthy Hall of Fame candidates because they used a substance that has never been scientifically proven to enhance baseball performance. That’s intellectually dishonest. The whole belief that steroids make baseball players better is a myth propagated by the media and is based solely on wild assumptions, misunderstandings, and anecdotal information. He also dismisses those with “apparent” use of steroids. That’s the epitome of intellectual dishonesty. It’s guessing at who used a substance that has never been scientifically proven to enhance baseball performance. What a brilliant man this Mr. Hersh is.
“My only regret in losing the vote now is not having a further voice in shutting that crowd out of Cooperstown until their 15 years of eligibility is over.
Mr. Hersh continues to show his genius by not knowing that, starting last year, a player can only be eligible for 10 years. He doesn’t know the rules, but wants to keep his vote.
“Truth be told, excluding those who are not covering Major League Baseball on a regular basis seems a reasonable move, even if many of us in that category devoted considerable time and thought to the task.
“To me, voting was a serious responsibility, often requiring double-digit hours of internal debate, statistical study and consultation with people whose knowledge of the game was peerless.”
That’s probably better than a lot of voters can say, but how much time you devote to the task is irrelevant if you’re not qualified for the task in the first place. Heaven forbid that a baseball writer learn how to get better at something he or she actually gets paid to do. If you’ve never learned how to properly and objectively evaluate players, then how much effort one puts forth in deciding for whom to vote is wasted.
Covering baseball as a reporter does not qualify you to vote for the Hall of Fame, or even on awards. There are reporters who cover other subjects such as economics and science, but would you want them to participate in the peer-review process? No, of course not. The skills involved in reporting are completely different from the ones involved in conducting and understanding good science, for example. It’s no different in baseball. Covering the game doesn’t mean that you understand it, despite what the BBWAA would have you believe. Those who have dedicated themselves to understanding modern baseball analysis are the ones who should be voting on awards and the Hal of Fame, regardless of how long they’ve covered the game, or whether they’ve covered the game at all.
“That one can make a more knowledgeable decision while watching a player regularly affected my consideration of the late Mark Belanger, whom I covered for four years with the Baltimore Evening Sun.”
Of course, I completely agree that you actually need to watch the games. However, when you’re a beat writer you see the players that you cover way more than any other players, and that can cause biases. It’s a much bigger problem with award voting2 than the Hall of Fame, though.
Hersh’s reasoning for voting for Belanger is terrible. Yes, he was a fantastic shortstop who combined with Brooks Robinson to from the greatest defensive left side of the infield the game has ever seen3. I’d even go as far as saying that Belanger was very underrated, but he was absolutely, positively, not a Hall of Famer. A career 71 wRC+ is too much for even Belanger’s elite defense to overcome, and he didn’t provide any baserunning value. Ozzie Smith was better defensively and on the basepaths, not to mention that his 90 wRC+ was way better than Belanger’s. Luis Aparicio was not quite the defender that Belanger was, but he was still excellent. He was better offensively with an 83 wRC+ and was an outstanding baserunner4.
As good as Belanger’s glove was, Hersh saying that he was the best defensive shortstop that he had ever seen is embarrassing. Even if he isn’t watching enough baseball nowadays to see that Andrelton Simmons is clearly better, what’s his excuse for not knowing that Ozzie was better5?
“Looking only at his numbers was uninformative but undoubtedly the reason why Belanger got just 3.7 percent of the vote during his one year on the ballot. That low total means even writers actively covering the game find it hard to assess players they see infrequently.”
To be fair, that was probably true back then. It’s not like we had easily accessible databases back then that could be used to evaluate players whom we’ve never seen. Obviously, in the age of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs, that’s no longer true. We’re also increasingly getting more access to footage of players.
“And there is a delightful irony in my losing the chance to vote on who makes baseball’s Valhalla.”
Therein lies the biggest problem with voters of Hersh’s ilk. The Hall of Fame is not Valhalla, the Elysian Fields, or Heaven. It’s a frickin’ museum. Yes, it’s the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon a player, but a museum is all that it is. The hagiographical context that older writers put on the Hall of Fame tends to inhibit objective, intellectually honest evaluations of its candidates. They ignore what the facts say if it disagrees with their biased, subjective, pre-drawn conclusions of a player. In their eyes, nobody will rival the legends of players such as Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron, not because of how good those players were, but because of how they’re perceived. Regardless of talent, it’s incredibly difficult for a player to compete with that.
That perception is what drives the anti-steroids agenda of these writers, which is why I’m strongly in favor of the rule change. I can’t say for sure what percentage of the anti-steroids voters come from the crowd that just lost its vote, but I’m sure they consisted of a big chunk of it. I will be eager to see how much better the candidates affected by their association with steroids do on the next ballot. I’ll also be interested to see how Tim Raines, Edgar Martínez, and Mike Mussina do on the next ballot. I suspect that they were getting undervalued by the older crowd.
Another benefit of this rule change is simply that it reduces the number of voters. Without it, we’d have ~650 voters in the upcoming election. Now it’s cut down to ~520. That’s still way, way, way too much, but it’s an improvement. If it were up to me, I’d probably go with 10-20% of that number. When there are that many voters, it barely matters that you have a vote.
I was at my first ever Hall of Fame induction this year, and I had an amazing time. It made it very easy for me to forget all the problems with the Hall. If this rule change is a sign for things to come, and it improves the results next year, it’ll do wonders in improving my perception of the Hall. It can do the same for others, too.
I will be at the Saberseminar in Boston this weekend. It’s really easy for me to get to since I live in the area, and I can park at my place of employment which is a short walk away from the location. Feel free to say hi! I love talking baseball. We all have name tags at the event, but I’ll be the big Puerto Rican guy so I may stand out!