Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Changes for Next Veterans Elections

No one should dispute the qualifications of our newest Hall of Fame members – Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. However, I believe others also ought to receive the call soon.

The Hall of Fame would benefit from more consensus regarding minimum membership qualifications. In time, such consensus probably will develop. Also, several procedural changes would assure more institutional consistency.

For example, the 75 percent voting requirement for admission serves an appropriate purpose by preventing mass inductions in any one election. However, the level is too high in determining whether anyone should be inducted. A small but determined minority can thwart the judgment of the majority and shut down the process.

The Writers
"Zero election" years by the Writers wastes time, disappoints the public and delays honors for well-deserving heroes. In every election, the ballots always have included at least one (and more) worthy candidate. Every first ranked candidate falling short eventually gained induction, either through the Writers or by a committee. Almost every candidate receiving at least 50 percent of the votes from the Writers has been inducted. (Gil Hodges is the most prominent exception.)

From election to election, the credentials of retired players don’t change. Shouldn’t emphasis be on the qualifications of the players rather than on the mindsets of the voters? The game needs and deserves its glorious Cooperstown week-ends - every year.

If no candidate receives the necessary 75 percent from the Writers, the candidate with the most votes should be inducted. It would be helpful, but not necessary, to give additional weight to first-place votes.

I can see a deluge of strong candidates becoming eligible in the next few years. The Writers also should reconsider the rule, which excludes candidates receiving a low percentage of votes. Some potentially worthy players have been excluded prematurely because they had the misfortune of appearing on the ballot when there were more than 10 superior candidates.

Disappointingly, no Veteran candidate will be inducted along with Gwynn and Ripken, Jr. this weekend. No Veteran has gained induction in the three elections under the new procedures which began in 2003. The committee consists of living HOF members, mainly players. Will or can any Veteran ever be inducted under the present format? What good is a process that produces no inductions?

Of course, no one should be inducted just to prove that the Committee serves a useful function. Significantly, a majority of voters - in Ron Santo’s case, a high majority - favor induction of some candidates. Four received more than 50 percent of the votes, headed by Santo with almost 70 percent.

Among others, I suggest the following measures:
· If no Veteran receives 75 percent, one candidate with at least two-thirds support should be inducted. (Under this scenario, Santo would have been inducted in 2007.) (A reasonable minimum threshold could be as low as 55 percent.)
· Two years between elections is too long if there are no inductions. After zero election years, the Hall should conduct special elections for Veterans.
· Players, even HOF players, have no special expertise regarding managers, executives, umpires and other non-players. The non-players should be assigned to another committee.

HOF players are heroes of the game. If the process doesn’t operate well, HOF players may be subject to criticisms tarnishing their heroic images and damaging the institution.

The real challenge is to accord respect to all voters without having the institution unduly dominated by the minority.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Another Zero Election

The recent 2007 HOF election for Veterans again disappointed because no one gained induction. No candidate has been elected in any of the three elections under the new procedures. What good is a process which produces no inductions? Will it ever?

Two points require initial discussion. I agree with observers who note that most of these candidates were eligible for 15 years without being inducted by the Writers or receiving substantial support from them. As a general principle, there is no compulsion to elect any Veterans – unless they are highly qualified. I don’t want anyone elected just for the sake of proving that the committee serves a useful purpose.

My own review indicates that several candidates are or may be “highly qualified.” Some of my opinions seem to enjoy support and some are consistent with the voting results. Because of our long look back, we now can identify credentials which may not have been as apparent when these candidates were first eligible. Also, if we arrive at more consensus regarding HOF standards, leading candidates deserve review in light of such standards.

Second, before we criticize the voters, we should note that a majority – in Santo’s case, a high majority – favored induction of some of these candidates. Four received more than 50%, headed by Santo at almost 70%. This discussion ensues largely because the procedures permit a relatively small minority to block the decision-making of the majority. Is that appropriate and, if so, to what extent?

I believe there are weaknesses in the process and they involve three factors. First, most problems would be eliminated if there was more institutional consensus regarding HOF standards. Second, the 75% rule gives too much power to the minority of voters. A small but determined group can virtually shut down the process. Finally, I don’t believe the committee is well constituted. The Hall should belong to the baseball community. All power should not be vested in its living members.

Changes are being considered. Perhaps the following suggestions will be useful.
-The 75% voting requirement can be retained with modifications. If no Veteran receives 75%, one candidate with at least two-thirds support should be inducted. Under this scenario, Santo would have been inducted in 2007. If two-thirds works out to be too high a threshold, the level could be reduced in stages to as low as 51%.

-Two years between elections is too long if there are no inductions. The Hall should conduct special elections in off-years limited to the voting leaders in the most recent election. Special elections would be held only if no new members gained induction in the regular election.

-If a committee consisting mostly of former players cannot produce enough votes for Marvin Miller, a giant in the cause of players, how can managers, executives, umpires and other non-players expect favorable consideration? Players, even HOF players, have no special expertise regarding such non-player candidates. That category should be assigned to another committee.

-These controversies have harmful side effects. HOF players are heroes of the game. I am concerned about subjecting them to criticisms, which could tarnish them as heroes and damage the institution. I believe it is time to expand the voting population to include broader representation from the baseball community.

These suggestions are in line with views expressed in my book regarding first stage voting by the Writers. One difference is that I believe the Writers always should induct at least one candidate every year. Historically, all the voting leaders eventually gained induction anyway. I don’t believe it is appropriate to induct a Veteran if the voting leader receives only moderate support, but highly supported Veterans have much more substantial entitlements. These modifications would have the effect implementing the decisions of strong majorities. It would not make sense to lower the voting requirements for Veterans without also reducing them for first stage candidates.

As I point out regarding the Writers, all knowledge is not limited to the print media. The Hall would be stronger as an institution if voting populations were expanded at all stages. Of course, we always should respect conscientious decisions by individual voters, whether they support or oppose certain candidates. Often enough, voters in a minority may reach better reasoned conclusions than those in the majority. The real challenge is to accord such respect without having the institution dominated by the minority. I believe my suggestions accomplish that.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Blank Ballots/Blank Values

Originally, my monthly message was intended as a tribute to the two most recent inductees: Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn. Although my work focuses on the upcoming Veterans inductees, I am sure that everyone in the baseball community salutes the careers of these gigantic achievers, and, perhaps more so, the dignity with which they have conducted themselves during and after their active careers.

However, once again a glorious baseball moment has been tarnished by the actions of a minority among the voting Writers. This comment does not refer at all to the McGwire situation. I have no problem supporting Mark McGwire, but I can understand that some voters could have reasonable policy concerns which will be resolved in time. It also will remain in due course to consider the quality of process accorded to McGwire, whose credentials are now questioned mainly because of suspicion and innuendo. But these are matters for later discussion. Not today.

At least one voter submitted a blank ballot and a few others simply declined to vote for Ripken and Gwynn. A blank ballot adversely affects every candidate, because candidates require 75 percent of all votes cast to gain induction. This is not the first event involving blank ballots. Years ago, some voters cast blank ballots to protest the ineligibility of Pete Rose. In effect, every eligible candidate, no matter how qualified, received negative votes, only because Pete Rose wasn’t on the ballot.

In the merits, how could any conscientious voter fail to support Ripken and/or Gwynn?
Not only the majority of evaluators rank Ripken and Gwynn among the top 100 players of the past century, both present specific classic features leaving no room to doubt their elite achievements.

Some rationalize that these players don’t deserve to be the first inducted by unanimous vote, because more achieving players fell short in the past. Voters are not asked who deserves unanimity; they are asked to determine whether particular candidates deserve induction now. If so, vote “yes,” non inclusion means “no.”

What if so many voters felt that unanimity should be denied and these abundantly qualified players would fall short of 75 percent? What if these candidates fell short of enough votes to remain on the ballot in future years? Yes, neither such result is likely, but some candidates have missed induction by a few votes. (See Nellie Fox – 2 votes, Frank Chance, Jim Bunning) Numerous inductees barely received enough with little or no room to spare.

Worse yet is the explanation of the voter who wouldn’t vote for anyone until he had more information about steroid usage. Based on the present state of tenuous evidence, that position is bad enough regarding players widely suspected of using steroids, but is totally horrible regarding candidates so highly esteemed for their contributions to the game, on and off the field.

How would we feel about a juror who refused to find according to the law and the evidence merely to make a point extraneous to the merits of the parties in the case?

The Writers’ induction process generally has yielded high quality members. I have some issues, mainly about the conduct of voting minorities. One of those issues concerns the failure of the Writers to provide unanimous support to anyone, even those regarded as “clearly supreme.” Because of the 75 percent rule, minorities can exert decisive influence on the process. Much of the suspicion about the way the Hall does business relates to the fact that some voters pursue special personal agendas and then write about them. Perhaps that is inherent in having news writers involved in news making.

The institution needs voters who act with the objectivity of judges. The candidates deserve at least that much. Aside from the honor, personal and financial interests are at stake. Voters have one job – to determine whether or not particular candidates deserve admission. That is a solemn enough responsibility. When utilized to “send messages” or to implement personal agendas, that power is abused.

No voters should be inhibited in reaching independent judgments regarding the qualifications of eligible candidates. However, a dubious voting history should provide a basis for decertifying voters. When a writer submits a blank ballot, it almost always indicates a lack of qualification. (I would not reach the same conclusion regarding elections of Veterans.) In my opinion, there has been at least one clearly qualified candidate in every election the Writers conducted.

Decertification of demonstrably unqualified voters and expansion of the voting population to include a broader scope of representation from the baseball community are measures worthy of consideration. Time and again, a handful of voters act and speak to remind us of the need to improve the process.