The Vote

It’s easy to see how unqualified players get voted into the Hall of Fame. Consider the 2007 regular ballot:

Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Dante Bichette, Bert Blyleven, Bobby Bonilla, Scott Brosius, Jay Buhner, Ken Caminiti, Jose Canseco, Dave Concepcion, Eric Davis, Andre Dawson, Tony Fernandez, Steve Garvey, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Tony Gwynn, Orel Hershiser, Tommy John, Wally Joyner, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Paul O’Neill, Dave Parker, Jim Rice, Cal Ripken Jr., Bret Saberhagen, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Devon White, Bobby Witt.

(The eventual 2007 winners are in italic.)

To be nominated, the Baseball Writer’s Association of America requires that players receive a vote on a minimum of 5% of the ballots cast in the preceding election, or be eligible for the first time and nominated by any two of the six members of the BBWAA Screening Committee.

Voters can cast ballots for up to 10 nominees, and anyone receiving votes on 75% of the ballots is elected. A vote for Jay Buhner carries the same weight as a vote for Tony Gwynn, and in theory up to 12 people can be elected in one shot.

This type of open-ended ballot would never be tolerated for say, a city council election. In most elections the number of winners is predetermined, and in any case most voters feel strongly about some but not all of their preferred candidates; there is always someone whom they would rather see win.

In many countries, such as Australia, preferential voting is used for public elections. Some American states also use this method. For example, each voter might be allowed to select up to five candidates. The voter’s favorite candidate is given 5 points, the next favorite is given 4 points and so on.

Don’t like any of the nominees? Give one or two points to a couple of marginal candidates. Feel very strongly about one person? Give five points to one candidate and withhold the rest (thereby effectively denying 10 points).

If five candidates can be selected and there are 200 ballots cast, the theoretical maximum vote would be 1,000 points. The Hall of Fame could establish a more definite criteria for election, such as a minimum number of points and a maximum number of winners. We suggest electing the top two vote-getters who have more than 80% of the maximum possible points.

This would have the effect of forcing the voters to prioritize their selections, and it would minimize the value of throwaway or sentimental votes for, say, Wally Joyner. It would also eliminate the embarrassment caused by the inability of anyone (even Cy Young or Henry Aaron) to get anywhere close to a unanimous vote; prioritizing means that getting the theoretical maximum number of points is all but impossible to achieve, even for a shoo-in candidate such as Babe Ruth.

Eliminate the separate veterans committee ballot, and instead hold a single election. The arbitrariness of defining differences between recent retirees and veterans makes no sense, especially given that the winners end up in the same Hall of Fame with the same plaques and the same induction ceremonies. One nomination process, one ballot and one voting body.


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