Friday, January 8, 2010
Hall voters call for change
Honestly, I can't remember seeing the baseball writers as worked up about anything as they are about Roberto Alomar. Here's Ken Rosenthal with a fairly representative opinion:
Our membership is too bloated, too riddled with voters who do not take the process seriously enough to educate themselves properly.
Oh, we usually get it right, and we’ll surely get it right next year with Alomar, who fell short by only eight votes. But the eligibility requirements for voters need to be tightened before worse mistakes are made.
To vote for the Hall, a writer must be a 10-year member of the BBWAA. But one sports editor from each outlet also is eligible, and so are feature writers and current or former columnists who rarely attend games.
The sports editors should be eliminated immediately; they simply do not develop the same feel for the game as writers who cover the sport regularly. Drawing the line on feature writers and columnists would be more difficult; many columnists, in particular, are astute observers of the game. But somehow, the local chapters need to police their memberships more diligently. There has to be a better way.
Virtually every voter I know is honored to participate in the process. Virtually every voter I know considers the ballot a tremendous responsibility. It’s the voters I don’t know — the ones I never see at ballparks — who worry me. I fear that some do not give the candidates the consideration they deserve.
The BBWAA has done a fine job in recent years of adding Web-based writers, including several whose work is strongly influenced by sabermetrics. The next step is to go the other way, trim the fat from the membership, purge those who do not study the game closely enough to warrant Hall of Fame votes.
The Alomar snub is an embarrassment.
If people’s feelings get hurt, too bad.
Rosenthal isn't the only prominent BBWAA member calling for change. Shoot, Buster Olney believes the writers shouldn't be involved at all (Jeff Pearlman agrees, snarkily).
Rather than editorialize -- Rosenthal and Olney have beaten me to the punch, with style -- I'll simply offer a bit of knowledge and a humble prediction.
First, Rosenthal is absolutely right about the voting population. I've written about this at some length, and if the die-hard baseball fans knew who's being sent Hall of Fame ballots every year, it would be a major scandal.
Or a minor kerfuffle, at least.
But my prediction is that little will come of this. Sure, it would be a neat story if the snubbing of Alomar wound up as the tipping point for real reform. But the BBWAA is a big ship that takes a great deal of time and effort to change directions. I suspect that if a candidate like Alomar was repeatedly snubbed, something might actually change after a few years. But it takes time, and any real movement toward change will likely be forgotten a year from now, when Alomar is elected. The next controversy will come in a few years if Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds aren't elected. That will result in a great deal of hand-wringing and self-reflection, and might eventually lead to something.
I take it back. I will editorialize. I agree with Rosenthal the system is flawed. I don't necessarily agree that the writers shouldn't be involved, but I believe they (we) should be somewhat less involved. But be careful what you wish for. If the BBWAA culls all the current voters who don't really pay any attention to baseball -- and there are many dozens of them -- we'll have more candidates elected. How many more, I don't know. But more, for sure.
More isn't necessarily bad. But more wouldn't mean Tim Raines and Alan Trammell. It would mean Jack Morris and Lee Smith. The standards for election would inevitably be lowered. Not maintained. Lowered.
The system that's in place, however flawed, usually arrives at a good result, eventually. It took too long, but eventually Ryne Sandberg and Gary Carter were elected. It's taking too long, but eventually Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar will be elected. Raines and Trammell? Sure, they've been terribly jobbed. But the Hall of Fame would never endorse any reform that would get either of them elected.
Be careful what you wish for.