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It’s Time To Expand HOF Ballots

The BBWAA released the 2013 Hall of Fame ballots yesterday, and in a related story, writers from around the country made it clear that they weren’t going to vote for players that have been implicated in PED usage. Some even find it an annual tradition to be celebrated.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of PEDs and the Hall of Fame — and hopefully we can all agree that reasonable people can disagree on this — it should be pretty obvious that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are not getting inducted into Cooperstown this year. Jeff Bagwell probably won’t either. The contingent of voters who want to keep these guys out is large enough to block them from getting 75% of the vote this year, and probably for the foreseeable future.

However, the contingent who wants them to be voted in based on their on field accomplishments is large enough to keep them on the ballot. Even inferior performers with ties to PEDs — such as Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro — have a large enough base of support that they remain on the ballot. And so, as the Hall of Fame ballots go forward, they’re going to run into a significant overcrowding problem. They might be there already.

The official ballot mailed to voters lists spaces for 10 names. That is the maximum amount of numbers that any voter can support, regardless of how many players he thinks should be enshrined. And, it’s quite clear that for many voters, 10 spots are not enough.

For those who are in favor of voting for PED users, they’re going to want to cast ballots for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, and Jeff Bagwell, who are all obvious selections purely from a performance standpoint. That leaves only six spots left on the ballot for the non-PED newcomers and the holdovers from previous years. That means a voter could not support the PED group and also vote for all of Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling, Larry Walker, Alan Trammell, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines, and Kenny Lofton. They’re not allowed. They have to exclude someone from that group simply because of the size of the ballot. And if they support the candidacy of a guy like Jack Morris, they kicking two of that group off the ballot. If they support McGwire and Palmeiro, then they’re kicking out most of that group, even if they believe most of them belong.

Next year, this gets even worse. Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, and Tom Glavine all come up for induction for the first time. Any voter who rightfully acknowledges that they’re all deserving candidates is going to be left with six spots to fill, and nearly all of this year’s candidates will be on the ballot again next year. We’re heading towards a point where there are going to be 20 or more viable candidates on the ballot each year, and the BBWAA is simply not inducting candidates at a fast enough rate to stem the tide.

Alan Trammell and Kenny Lofton are classic bubble candidates. You can make an argument for them or against them and be on solid ground. But you can’t make a good argument that they should be less likely to make the Hall of Fame because they happen to be on the ballot at the same time the PED crowd has come up for induction. You can’t make a good argument that a player’s HOF worthiness should be decided because of the size of the piece of paper that is mailed to the voters. Lofton, Trammell, Raines, Martinez, Walker… these guys should be evaluated based on their own merits, their own accomplishments, and their own careers. And they shouldn’t be penalized because the ballot doesn’t contain enough empty spaces for voters to have their actual opinions registered.

Full ballots are going to be turned in this year, and those full ballots will be counted as no votes against every player who doesn’t appear in one of the 10 spots. Joe Posnanski is going to be forced to vote no on four players he wants to see in Cooperstown. He’s not the only one.

This is beyond silly. Give writers the ability to return a ballot with 15, 20, 25, even 50 names if they want. If they support a big Hall of Fame, that’s their right, and if they support PED candidates, that’s their right too. We shouldn’t take that right away from them simply because the PED issue is creating a logjam of viable candidates. We shouldn’t penalize players who have nothing to do with PEDs because they happen to be on the ballot at the same time as Bonds and Clemens.

Just make the ballot bigger. It’s an easy fix to a real problem.