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Change the Hall of Fame voting rules?

Morris for the Hall of FameThe teaser on ESPN‘s site reads, “When there’s no ballot room for players like Jack Morris, it’s time for the HOF to change the rules.” Since I’m not an Insider subscriber, I can’t read the rest of the article, but the inference is that Buster Olney supports Morris’ induction. I don’t argue on that point; Morris was one of the most dominant pitchers of his era, despite his ERA. In fact, two of his Tigers teammates should also have plaques in Cooperstown (Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker), but for whatever reason at least 25.1% of voters disagree on all three counts.

Olney’s insistence that the rules should be changed for players who could not get 75% of the voters to check their name in fifteen years is not new; many have been calling for an updated system for years. However, just because one writer (or 67.7% of the writers) think a guy should be in, that is no reason to change the rules.

Let me repeat: I think Morris should be a Hall of Famer, but I’m not stomping my feet and demanding the Hall of Fame change its rules based on my opinion. There is a reason for the 75% threshold. It is difficult to reach that degree of support, and it should be difficult to gain entrance into the most exclusive Hall in all of sports.

So I clicked on the “read more,” and ESPN delivers another tease before they make you pay for the full article. Olney lists sixteen players he would “definitely vote for” (including steroid poster boys Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens) and three others to “consider within the shifting landscape of who is already in the Hall of Fame” (Edgar Martinez, Lee Smith, and Trammell).

Do I agree with some of Olney’s choices? Of course. Holdovers Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Morris are on both of our lists. Newcomers that we agree on include Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, and Frank Thomas. But there are others that I see as poor choices, mostly because of the steroid connection. I’m not completely sold on Curt Schilling yet, but I don’t necessarily think his inclusion would hurt the integrity of the Hall.

Again, I’m not an Insider subscriber, so I don’t know what new rules Olney suggests (if any). But I doubt he believes those new rules should deal with the voters. His new rules probably want to either extend the life of a player on a ballot, or lower the percentage needed to be called one of baseball’s immortals, or—and this is the most likely suggestion—increase the number of players a writer can vote for. Any of those suggestions is misguided.

Extending the life of a player on the ballot really does little for guys like Morris. This is his fifteenth year on the ballot; he is getting more press because of that and will receive more votes than if he had another five years.
Hodges for the Hall of Fame
Lowering the percentage needed for induction does not really lower the integrity of the Hall itself, but it is unnecessary. Guess how many non-Hall of Famers (current nominees excluded) would have been included if the threshold was lowered to 65%: zero. Gil Hodges has the most support at 63.4%, and that came in his last year on the ballot in 1983. Everyone who has received at least 65% of the vote has eventually gotten into the Hall of Fame. In fact, Hodges is the only player to ever receive 60% and still be on the outside. That may change after this vote, but there is still the Veterans Committee to consider in a few years.

Increasing the number of players a writer can vote for is a non-issue most years. There are several newcomers this year that will eventually be inducted, even if they are passed over initially. Most writers do not vote for ten players most years; this year might be an exception, but exceptions to the rule do not necessitate changes to the rule.

The rules are fine, Mr. Olney. Jack Morris is not considered a Hall of Famer by at least 25.1%, as much as you and I would like him to be.

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