Every Hall of Fame voting season, a few narratives get beaten into the ground. What to do about steroids. What to do about the 10-year rule designed to screw over steroid guys. What about the war over WAR? But here’s one argument that still deserves to be used as a bludgeon against the BBWAA: The 10-vote limit per ballot is deranged and needs to be scrapped like, yesterday.
This year’s ballot—the Cooperstown Class of 2018 will be announced on Wednesday—is maybe the consummate argument for letting voters vote for guys solely on their statistics and contributions to the sport, rather than making them jockey against each other in a manufactured exercise of choosing the right guys for the right time and letting genuine arguments about the values of their candidacies take a back seat to the artificial scarcity of Hall of Fame slots.
This year’s ballot is stacked. I count nine to 11 guys I’d probably vote for if I had a ballot (including Sammy Sosa, thanks). That means I might not be allowed to vote for everyone I think deserves to be in Cooperstown, and leaves essentially no flexibility to vote guys whose candidacies will need several years of picking up steam to reach induction.
As of this writing, Ryan Thibodaux has tracked 225 ballots. A full 131 of them have reached the 10-vote capacity.
Jon Heyman wrote a bit about this over the weekend. He’s hardly the first influential writer to tackle the subject; Buster Olney abstains from voting entirely and cites the 10-vote limit as a major factor in his decision. He told Deadspin that his thinking on the process changed when he submitted a ballot in 2014 that excluded guys he absolutely believed were Hall of Famers, including Jeff Kent, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, and Tim Raines.
“I think those guys are Hall of Famers, and I just turned in a ballot that reduces their chances of getting in,” he said.
Heyman also cited the fairly new situation where a big chunk of ballots are publicized and cataloged before the deadline for votes to be submitted, thanks to Thibodeaux’s constantly updating BBHOF Tracker spreadsheet.
I know some voters who have purposely voted for players who are in danger of falling below the requisite five percent (which I can’t blame them for, I might have done that myself). And I know of some voters who are voting for players who are gaining momentum (one very smart writer I know suggested he may have been influenced to vote for Larry Walker instead of Fred McGriff because Walker was trending positively and McGriff flatlining, and he saw McGriff as a wasted vote.)
So much for the marginal pursuit of purity in the voting process. I know this is a naïve thing to say, but: this is not how this should work. If some writer wants to vote for Fred McGriff and Larry Walker, they should be free to vote for both, and not have to select one based on how the players’ vote projections appear to be trending—something that has zero to do with those players’ accomplishments on the field.
This is how we’ve gotten into The Edgar Martinez Problem. Martinez is on his ninth year on the ballot, and if he doesn’t go in tomorrow, he will probably get in in 2019 after a number of writers have undertaken a long, hard process to convince other voters to advocate for his case. But here’s the thing about Edgar, who currently appears on a borderline 77.3 percent of ballots on the most recent Tracker: Enough writers are convinced of his case now that he would likely be in if not for the congested ballot around him. But instead he may have to wait, and we’ll get to go through this again next year, when writers include Martinez at the expense of some other candidate.
In fact, three voters so far have dropped Martinez from their ballots of previous years. All three have voted for the maximum 10 players. What is a writer supposed to do when they’d like to vote for Edgar, but they can assume he’ll be inducted in the future and there’s a more tenuous candidate who desperately needs that vote now?
Olney told Deadspin that a fundamental unfairness with the process is that once Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are off the ballot one way or another, the guys who come after them will have a better shot at induction than Martinez has had simply because the “logjam is relieved to a degree.” Clemens and Bonds are basically fixtures on the ballot at this point. If they don’t get in by the end of their tenure in 2022, other fringe candidates will have lost 10 years of potential additional votes for nothing. (And Bonds and Clemens now appear on a majority of ballots.)
“Everyone has a different thought process on applying those 10 votes. It becomes so serendipitous,” Olney said.
The calculus of who is most deserving and in need of a vote on a year-by-year basis requires worthy candidates to rely on something like a herd immunity from BBWAA voters. It’s really a goofy process that Olney says is a function of the Hall being passive-aggressive and “hiding behind the writers” to advance their agenda of keeping out guys like Bonds and Clemens.
“If the Hall of Fame doesn’t want Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds in there then they should just stand up on a podium and say ‘OK, we’re not gonna let those guys in.’”
For now, other players will continue to suffer because the Hall is being a pissypants baby in an attempt to edge out suspected PED users. The limit turns the entire thing into a big political wankfest that becomes needlessly dramatic in a distraction from where the real debate and controversy should be—on the value of closers, and whether or not a DH is a real player.