The Hall of Fame: Nothing is Likely to Change

Many writers, including Dave Cameron, have expressed their disappointment that the voters of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America chose not to enshrine anyone on a loaded Hall of Fame ballot this year. Some have already called for a change in the process. Perhaps unfortunately, then, the signs seem point to stasis when it comes to the Hall of Fame voting. Nothing looks like it’s going to change, and Hall of Fame leadership if just fine with that.

On a conference call held after the announcement, Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson’s responses to most questions seemed to convey the general attitude that there was no problem here. “Every election year is different,” and every vote is a “snapshot in time,” he said, and this particular snapshot “lasts fifteen years.” He also added: “I wish we had an electee, I will say that, but I’m not surprised, given how volatile this era has been.”

How the Hall intends to address the steroid era was also a general line of questioning. Pointing out that the Hall is actually three entities — the physical museum, the educational organization, and the fraternity of former baseball players — Idelson laid out current efforts that are already underway. The museum has an exhibit, and it “presents facts,” although the specific exhibits weren’t elaborated upon. The educational organization emphasizes healthy living and tells children not to take steroids.

When asked about the records of Barry Bonds in particular, though, Idelson said those records “were in good standing” as far his organization was concerned. Perhaps there are some inconsistencies in their approach to the subject.

But what about the issue of the moment? What should the Hall do to instruct voters about the infamous character clause and how they should consider steroids in their vote? In response to Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post, who asked if the voter guidelines or instructions need to be revamped, Idelson said that he had personally has made himself available to the BBWAA repeatedly in case they wanted any elaboration on the voting instructions, and that he was told again and again that no help was needed and that those instructions were “self-explanatory” by different chapters of the voting organization.

Then again, Idelson also told Joe Posnanski, in an article posted today, that “Everyone should understand that ‘character’ is not to be used as a moral compass, but refers to how they respected the game, how they treated the game, how they used that character in the contributions they made to their teams.” This idea — that the character clause is more about morality as it applies to the game then the player’s morality in general — might be a clarification to some voters, even if it doesn’t do a great job of differentiating between the performance enhancing drugs and tactics of different generations.

Jack O’Connell, former president of the BBWAA, was also on the line, and he echoed the same belief that this was a personal process, and that nobody was elected because “75% is a hard thing to do.” The five blank ballots? They had nine blank ballots last year and the number of blank ballots “is fairly consistent year-to-year.” Why were the writers chosen to vote on this in the first place? “Our membership had the smallest axe to grind, and we were at the ballpark every day” he answered, without going into the spirit of the question, or the process which continues to award votes to writers that have long stopped covering the game.

Perhaps the most illuminating question was asked and answered quickly. One writer wanted to know what the BBWAA would say to those writers that were voting on suspicions. O’Connell said he wasn’t aware of any writers that were doing so and hadn’t seen anything on the subject.

That doesn’t seem to fit the reality on the ground. Suspicion without proof surrounds Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza. Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune said of Bagwell that he had “a difficult time believing he was clean.” He added that the first baseman’s “body type changed massively upon retirement.” Colleague Philip Hersh also did not vote for Bagwell and said, when contacted: “The numbers raise my suspicions.” Citing his six home runs in over 200 minor league games, and the timing of his rise to join the elite sluggers in the game, Hersh said that there were others he “favored over” Bagwell, “especially given the suspicions.” Hersh admitted that his experience covering Olympic sports might help him “see PEDs behind every door,” but also added that he may change his mind in the future.

Of course there are many more voters that saw things differently on Bagwell. BBWAA president Susan Slusser wrote on her blog that the people she voted for this time — Jeff Bagwell included — did not have “strong ties to steroids.” For Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register felt that performance-enhancing drugs were a “non-issue,” in large part because “it would be naive of me to get self-righteous and reject players with a steroids paper trail, while supporting other guys who must certainly have used but covered their tracks better.” He voted for Bagwell simply because his statistics stacked up well against his peers.

Either way, it’s clear that at least two voters connected their own dots on Bagwell and decided against a vote for the former Astros first baseman.

When asked for additional comment later, the leadership of both the Hall and the BBWAA were concise. “There are no changes planned in the Hall of Fame voting process,” said O’Connell. Idelson said that the leaders of the Hall of Fame “realize the challenges” voters face today, but “remain happy” with the role of the BBWAA and “have no plans to make any changes to the electorate or process, though we maintain an open dialog with the BBWAA on the subjects.”

What happens if next year brings another shutout? Idelson said “if that were ever the case, of course we would take a closer look at the electorate and rules, but added that he didn’t “expect that to ever happen.” He also told Posnanksi that this year was an “aberration.”

So there you have it. The processes in place for electing players to the Hall of Fame will not alter to fit the new (performance-enhanced) landscape. Maybe it shouldn’t. And maybe it’s fitting, considering how long baseball as a whole took to address the issue comprehensively.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


42 Responses to “The Hall of Fame: Nothing is Likely to Change”

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  1. Frank says:

    Pretty pious for not presenting a single reason for why the Hall of Fame voting process should be changed. And in failing to do so you fail to provide any goals for changing the system, which is rather central to figuring out “how” you change the system. Juicers aren’t getting in the Hall, this argument was already settled even if some remained blissfully ignorant of it until now.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      That’s a different article. This one just tackles asking the people in charge if there is going to be change.

      And I would also say that the disconnect between believing that nobody is voting on suspicion and the realities of the situations begs for some sort of change.

      Say what you want about Bonds, Clemens, Manny and Palmeiro, but keeping Jeff Bagwell out because of his quads seems like a shame.

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    • wobatus says:

      Given that most guys who get over 50% first ballot eventually get in, Piazza will likely eventually get in despite the unsubstantiated suspicions of a few (cough cough, Murray Chass et al). I think bags will too, but less sure.

      I’d like to think there are folks just punishing Bonds for now, that he’ll get in eventually. He was a great player for a long time before there were any suspicions at all. He had more than 100 WAR even before the turn of the century. More than Tony Perez before 1998. Pretty much the same with Clemens. He had somewhere in the 80s for WAR even before he became a Blue Jay, close to Sutton’s career. And I don’t hold the later juicing that much against them, but for their pre suspicion days alone (hell maybe they juiced then, but they don’t look it from their early baseball cards), they deserve in. Maybe they’ll move up a bit next year.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        Look, Bonds and Clemens are near locks to make it under the current rules, even if it’s not the BBWAA that pulls the lever. So long as their statistics stand, the veterans committee will vote them in.

        In the long term, the only way you can exclude players like Bonds or Clemens is to vacate their stats.

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      • Synovia says:

        “but they don’t look it from their early baseball cards”

        This is the exact problem here. What does “doesn’t look it” even mean? We’ve had numerous <180 lb players test positive. Being on steroids doesn't mean you look like Ahhhhnold, and looking like Ahhhnold doesn't mean you're on steroids.

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  2. sgardnerUSAT says:

    It’s probably more fair to say “no immediate changes are anticipated.” I think there will be change as the electorate changes. We began seeing some movement toward more sabermetrically friendly attitudes with some (but not all) of the postseason awards over the past few years.

    The 10-year waiting period before new members can vote for the Hall of Fame is something that won’t show any results for a while. But the BBWAA has begun allowing Internet writers into the membership. Perhaps the easiest change to make would be to reduce the wait to five years. That’s still a heck of a long time! (Right, Eno?)

    I’d expect the newer voters to take the responsibility much more seriously than some of the inactive writers do now. Yes, this year was unsatisfying, but I’d give it a bit more time before sounding the alarm bells.

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    • I Agree Guy says:

      They need to pair shorter waiting times along with killing permanent voting privileges. If you don’t continue to cover the game, or can’t pass some sort of minimum knowledge test, you lose voting rights.

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      • Delmon Young says:

        This. The voters should be able to vote until either 5 years after they stop covering baseball. That is more than fair, in my opinion. It’s not like there is some huge scarcity of guys who cover baseball teams. It shouldn’t be hard to find 100 who have a solid track record of covering teams and have actually covered one in the last say… decade?

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Yes that’s a good distinction to make. Change is inevitable, but it will probably be organic and voter-based, and if it is procedural, it’ll take some time.

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  3. Hank says:

    “What happens if next year brings another shutout?”

    Putting aside the chances of Biggio getting the tiny bump he needs (and possibly Piazza), do you realize who is on the ballot next year? Chances of another shutout = 0.00%

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  4. pft says:

    Just get rid of the writers and let the veterans committee vote.

    For me, I have just tuned out the HOF. It is irrelevant. On the one hand you have a bunch of racists who played in all white leagues against inferior competition, and now the best players of a generation are excluded if they hit too many HR despite all the variables that favored increased HR’s like weight training, smaller parks, livelier balls, harder/lighter bats and smaller strike zones. Guys presumed clean like Tony Gwynn hit career high HR’s at age 37-38 for this reason. Yet we presume it was steroids when Bonds hit career highs in HR’s at a similar age.

    Bonds did use steroids, but correlation is not causation. Maybe Bonds hit 73 HR because he was in a contract year and spending more time in the gym and switching to a maple bat, not to mention all the other reasons for increased HR’s and being an incredible hitter like Hank Aaron who also hit a ton of HR from age 36-42 in an offensive era not as favorable to hitters.

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    • Nitram Odarp says:

      You do realize steroids specifically let you workout harder, more often, and more efficiently, right? People Barry’s age couldn’t workout as much as he did without juicing.

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      • Synovia says:

        “? People Barry’s age couldn’t workout as much as he did without juicing.”

        Can you please explain exactly what Barry’s workout regime was at each specific age, and what specifically is impossible for an athlete of his caliber (top 5 in the world).

        Please show your research. I’m sure your sample sizes are adequate.

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    • That Guy says:

      It’s weird. I keep reading where people want to tell me that they’re tuned out the HOF. In articles and in the comments sections of those articles regarding the HOF.

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  5. Scott G says:

    I’m curious how the electorate feels about those with votes who no longer cover the game? That has to defy someones sense of logic.

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  6. fromthemachine says:

    It’s easy to forget these people are journalists. They have a strange sense of ethics that is beaten into them from day one of college. Plagiarize once? Career over. That’s it. No second chance. Misrepresent someone in a quote? You get sued the next day. And probably fired the day after that.

    These are people who don’t get to make mistakes. Ever. It’s difficult for them to sympathize or let people off the hook, even in light of an otherwise brilliant career, because they know nobody would do that for them.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is the veterans committee exists for a reason.

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    • AJS says:

      I’m unclear why you’re saying this like it’s a bad thing.

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      • dafuq says:

        Because they don’t understand what rules exist and why they exist. They don’t even understanding the criteria they’re suppose to be voting on.

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  7. vilhelm says:

    Exhibiting a roider in a sports museum is like exhibiting a pedestrian in an auto show. It’s called “different” or “one is not the same as the other.” If anything put the pedestrian in the sports museum and the roider in the auto show. At least not AS “different”.

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    • Ty says:

      But letting in other performance enhancers from the 1950-70s is ok? Does that even make sense?

      The BBWAA is basically saying, “That group is ok because the way they cheated is MUCH better than the way this group cheated.” Cheating is cheating.

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    • dafuq says:

      There are numerous cheaters in the hall. Including noted PED user Hank Aaron.

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  8. Ender says:

    Well if at least 3 people don’t go in next year they probably need to change something. One year isn’t worth getting in a huff about though, especially the first year for a lot of these names.

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    • That Guy says:

      Exactly. It’s one year, and it’s happened before. Frankly, I find it somewhat refreshing that there are organizations that aren’t trying to stomp all over their own standards based on a single instance of disagreement or apparent disagreement.

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  9. David says:

    I am so in love with the fact that Clemens and Bonds didn’t get in.

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    • pft says:

      I am sure both are heartbroken. Lucky for them they have the comfort of looking at their investment portfolios balance which is probably over 100 million.

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  10. Pseudoscience says:

    I like the aspect of this article that fills us in on the bbwaa conference call. Must have been an interesting one to prepare for.

    Didn’t like so much the aspect that seemed to suggest things should be changed because of an unusual result. There’s a lot of stuff in the soup this year, and it’s refreshing to not see an overreaction.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Personally, I would say that it’s not so much the unusual result that bothers me — more the apparent thinking behind the reticence to change. There are some parts of the process that could be clarified.

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      • HuskerDru says:

        I’m unsure what the apparent thinking you question is? Aside from the oft talked about issues with long-time BBWAA card-holders who are out of touch and shouldn’t vote and such, one empty ballot amidst what ALL consider a hugely chaotic and confusing context is certainly no reason, itself, to institute change. We’re accustomed to larger classes of inductees, but strikeout years are not rare, and the past 30-40 years have seen very high averages. Your tone betrays indignance regarding inaction, or reasons for it, but I’m not seeing the reasoning.

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      • Synovia says:

        “We’re accustomed to larger classes of inductees, but strikeout years are not rare”

        Strikeout years shouldn’t happen when you’ve got a handful of the best 25 players in the game on the ballot.

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  11. pft says:

    With so many bona fide HOF’ers on the ballot already, and more being added next year, there is a real possibility the vote will be so divided even those not tainted by steroids can’t get in.

    HOF like MLB is a monopoly so no amount of public pressure aside from just not buying tickets will make them take notice.

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  12. Jay C says:

    It’s nice to see cheaters like Bonds and Clemons not get in the hall but it’s very sad that players like Piazza and Biggio that both belong are kept out by suspicion. The BBWAA did right on the cheaters but at the same time turned that right into a wrong. Sad but true. I really lost faith in the BBWAA.

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  13. ElJimador says:

    I grew up a huge Astros fan and after some disappointment initially I think it was a good thing that Biggio didn’t get voted in this year. Not as the only entry when Bonds and Clemens didn’t make it. I’m afraid that some of the scorn and ridicule that’s rightly being directed against Hall voters right now would have landed on Biggio too and diminished what should be a celebration of his career when he is voted in. It would have been a lot of weight on any player to put him in that position alone. Better that it’s next year when he’ll at least have Maddux along with him to shoulder it.

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  14. iallm says:

    Let me know when they kick gaylord perry out.

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    • snack man says:

      I don’t think there’s anything substantiated against him. His book was written while he was still pitching and pretty obviously put out there for the same reason he kept touching whatever the rules let him touch at the time–to get inside of guys heads. He got the mental game and milked it for all it was worth.

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    • Synovia says:

      Let me know when they kick known PED users Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron out.

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  15. wavy gravy says:

    Noboday for president! Nobody keeps every promise, nobody doesn’t cheat, nobody is universally admired, and nobody deserves scrutiny by biased and retired baseball writers.

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  16. snack man says:

    I was hoping for something about age distribution and voting patterns. Do they release individual ballots or just the totals?

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  17. Synovia says:

    ” and that he was told again and again that no help was needed and that those instructions were “self-explanatory” by different chapters of the voting organization.”

    Everyone thinking the instructions are clear, and then doing completely different things usually means the instructions are unclear.

    I doubt most of the old-guard writers are the type willing to admit they don’t understand something.

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  18. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Journalists are skilled at creating controversy. Is there any surprise that the process they vote on is chaotic??

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