1/9/2014 10:00 A.M. ET
Hall of Fame is and should remain exclusive
Process isn't perfect, but 10-vote limit ensures only the best go to Cooperstown
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
This is not an under-7, age-group soccer league. This is the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
In the wake of a typically crowded, competitive Hall of Fame election, there were a lot of comments about the regrettable backlog that existed among candidates who seemed to be fully qualified for the Hall.
The backlog is not a particular problem. The notion that at a given moment there are more qualified candidates than there are elected candidates is a way of life in the Hall of Fame.
It beats the alternative. That would be a Hall of Fame in which there are not enough qualified candidates and standards have to be lowered just to keep inducting warm bodies. The National Baseball Hall of Fame has been, still is, and with any luck will continue to be, the most exclusive institution of its sort in North American professional sports.
Every year, players with credentials that seem to make them fully qualified for the Hall of Fame are disappointed in their quest for Cooperstown. This year, there were more disappointed Hall of Fame seekers than usual, because, in addition to the significant holdover candidates, there were three newcomers with extraordinary credentials.
|Player (Years on ballot)||Total Votes||Percentage|
|Greg Maddux (1)||555||97.2|
|Tom Glavine (1)||525||91.9|
|Frank Thomas (1)||478||83.7|
|Craig Biggio (2)||427||74.8|
|Mike Piazza (2)||355||62.2|
|Jack Morris (15)||351||61.5|
|Jeff Bagwell (4)||310||54.3|
|Tim Raines (7)||263||46.1|
|Roger Clemens (2)||202||35.4|
|Barry Bonds (2)||198||34.7|
|Lee Smith (12)||171||29.9|
|Curt Schilling (2)||167||29.2|
|Edgar Martinez (5)||144||25.2|
|Alan Trammell (13)||119||20.8|
|Mike Mussina (1)||116||20.3|
|Jeff Kent (1)||87||15.2|
|Fred McGriff (8)||67||11.7|
|Mark McGwire (8)||63||11.0|
|Larry Walker (4)||58||10.2|
|Don Mattingly (14)||47||8.2|
|Sammy Sosa (2)||41||7.2|
|Rafael Palmeiro (4)||25||4.4|
|Moises Alou (1)||6||1.1|
|Hideo Nomo (1)||6||1.1|
|Luis Gonzalez (1)||5||0.9|
|Eric Gagne (1)||2||0.4|
|J.T. Snow (1)||2||0.4|
|Armando Benitez (1)||1||0.2|
|Jacque Jones (1)||1||0.2|
|Kenny Rogers (1)||1||0.2|
|Sean Casey (1)||0||0.0|
|Ray Durham (1)||0||0.0|
|Todd Jones (1)||0||0.0|
|Paul Lo Duca (1)||0||0.0|
|Richie Sexson (1)||0||0.0|
|Mike Timlin (1)||0||0.0|
All three of those gentlemen -- Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas -- were duly elected in their first-ballot appearances. After that, there were disappointed candidates, disappointed fans of those candidates and disappointed writers who had championed the causes of unsuccessful candidates.
We can all empathize with the case of Craig Biggio, who received 74.8 percent of the vote, missing election by two votes. To me, Biggio should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Now, he'll have to be a third-ballot Hall of Famer. The rest of us can only imagine how a near-miss in a circumstance of this magnitude must feel.
With the addition of the new Big Three at the top of the ballot, other candidates suffered decreased voting percentages. This was unfortunate in the cases of the viable candidates. On the other hand, five candidates with connections to performance-enhancing drugs also suffered decreased voting percentages. This was not at all unfortunate.
The backlog is not going to disappear in the 2015 election, either. Arriving on the ballot will be three more strong candidates for first-ballot entry to Cooperstown -- Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz.
The path to induction will not be any easier next year, particularly since Biggio's election should be something like a certainty. We're probably looking at another backlog of candidates.
What to do? Well, here's what not to do: Don't liberalize the voting rules.
And liberalize is a polite term there. What some people have suggested is essentially a dilution of the entire process.
The rules for the Baseball Writers' Association of America election for the Hall of Fame limit each member with a ballot to vote for to a maximum of 10 players per year. This year, with a congested ballot, the average voter named slightly more than eight players on his or her ballot.
I had seven. And it seems reasonable that I will have at least seven again next year. But that doesn't mean that we need more than 10.
What would be the next step? A maximum of 12 votes? A baker's dozen? Fifteen? Aw, let's go for a nice, round 20.
Come on. Not everybody gets into this club. In fact, almost no one does. The underlying point of the Hall of Fame is not to make the most people happy. It is to recognize and honor true greatness.
The current process, like democracy itself, is not perfect, but it is still way ahead of the available alternatives. Eventually, the people who are supposed to be in the Hall of Fame almost invariably get elected to the Hall of Fame.
There can always be debate. There should always be debate. There is a broader exchange of ideas on these elections now than ever existed in the past. The writers may not have evolved into a higher form of existence, but we have been subjected to a vastly increased amount of information on the candidates.
This is a time-tested process. A surplus of legitimate candidates is not a new phenomenon. One thing the Hall of Fame election should not become is easier.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.