02/27/07 2:00 PM ET
Cooperstown remains closely guarded
Hall of Famers themselves prove no more lenient than writers
Elections are generally less satisfying when no one actually wins, although when you think about it, in the 2004 presidential election between George W. Bush and John Kerry, "neither of the above" should have been on the ballot somewhere.
But back at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, let us try to look reasonably at the work of the Veterans Committee. The makeup of the Veterans Committee was changed, before the 2003 election, because it was thought that the previous committee had become too liberal in its approach and that the standards for Hall of Fame induction were thus slipping.
By the numbers, no North American professional sports Hall of Fame is harder to get into than the baseball Hall of Fame. And that is the way it should be. For a game whose history and tradition are prized, preserved and cherished, the game's highest individual reward, induction at Cooperstown, should be reserved for only those who are almost unanimously agreed upon as being truly great.
This is why Hall candidates must receive 75 percent of the votes, either in the conventional writers' balloting or here in the Veterans voting.
And this is why the composition of the Veterans Committee was changed to include the living Hall of Famers. The last two times this election was held, and no one won, there was a lot of carping in the vein of "oh, these guys don't want to let anybody else into their precious little club."
Oh, garbage. When you look at it from a slightly larger perspective, the Hall of Famers are merely agreeing with the previous voting done by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The reason that the various player candidates are on the Veterans ballot is that they never received the necessary 75 percent of the vote from the writers. The notion that the greatest living players in the game would be more tolerant in judging baseball greatness than the writers is somewhere between nonsensical and dead wrong. These people would be even more likely as keepers of the flame than the writers.
If anyone is going to have exacting Hall of Fame standards, you might expect that it would be the Hall of Famers themselves. Based on the results of the work of this Veterans Committee -- three elections, no inductions -- you might be right.
The goal in changing the composition of the Veterans Committee was not to have more people inducted into the Hall. It was more nearly the opposite. Perhaps few fully expected the living Hall of Famers to keep pitching shutouts at the field of candidates, but the more you contemplate these elections, the more understandable these results become.
It would be fine with me if Ron Santo and Gil Hodges (you can insert your own favorite candidate(s) anywhere in this argument) won election to the Hall of Fame. That may even be a majority view in those two cases. But it was never previously a 75 percent majority view and apparently it isn't one now, either.
As a voter in the Hall of Fame voting done by the writers, I can say that one of the shared precepts in this balloting is that if there is any doubt about a candidate's merit, that candidate doesn't get the vote. If there is going to be an error made, it will be made on the side of exclusion. And as much as that may anger fans of particular players, that approach is the only way in which the lofty standards of baseball's Hall of Fame are going to be upheld.
If the writers approach the Hall of Fame election that way, the living Hall of Famers certainly can't be expected to cast their votes on the basis of sentiment, or friendship, or "he was a good guy, let's let him in."
The fans of the individuals who once again did not receive enough votes for induction will be understandably upset. But they can keep holding the Veterans Committee voting every two years for the rest of this millennium, and the results, based on what has happened so far, probably won't change much.
The gates of Cooperstown have always been closely guarded. And these fellows currently on the Veterans Committee are definitely not going to be the ones letting down the barriers, or easing the standards.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.