Part 4c – Removing Barriers to Consensus

The Hall of Fame should communicate to the BBWAA voters that they must stop denying election to so many deserving players; that the voters have a mandate to comprehend and acquiesce to the standards established over 75 years of electing players to the Hall. So the Hall of Fame and the BBWAA should be looking for ways to promote consensus. This is not to say they should strong-arm the voters and coerce them to fall in line with how everyone else is voting. This would undermine their authority and produce results of questionable validity. Back in Part 1, we said that the Hall wants to rely on their voters’ expertise and to trust that they are interested and knowledgeable. How do we reconcile this with the fact that they are missing so many deserving players? Through oversight, education and recruitment.

The Hall needs to institute a program of development to increase the quality of the voters. The aim must be towards developing an expert electorate to replace the present default electorate. We want voters who merit and who seek the privilege of electing players to the Hall, not voters who fell into the job through tradition.

There are several simple fixes to encourage consensus, beginning with a couple of structural improvements to the voting process.

1. Eliminate the 10-vote limit. This rule was established to prevent too many players from being elected too soon. This is no longer an issue. Since we want to assure the electorate that we are confident in their judgment, we’ll raise the limit to 20. This allows voters greater freedom to vote for everyone they see as qualified, while still keeping in check those rogue voters who might check off every name on the ballot.
2. Eliminate blank ballots. In nearly every election a few voters cast a blank ballot. Given the definition of “Hall of Famer” from Part 1 this is unreasonable (actually, it’s flippin’ crazy!). Every hall of fame ballot has many candidates who are arguably among the top 232. I count at least nine on the 2011 BBWAA ballot.
3. Continually drive home to the voters the definition of Hall of Famer: one of the top 232 players retiring in 2004 or before (not including banned players such as Pete Rose and Joe Jackson). We want voters to set aside their personal ideal of a Small Hall and deal with the reality of what the Hall has become.
4. Make our intent clear to the Voters. Tell them: We want the primary electorate to come closer to electing players at the Hall’s historic rate of 2.43 per year. (Achieving this would make a secondary review by a veterans committee unnecessary.) In simple terms, this means increasing the average votes per ballot from the 5-6 range to the 8-9 range. If many voters refuse to take the suggestion to adjust their standards to include more players, other reforms may be necessary.
5. Start the Discussion! The Hall of fame should have its own blog, or discussion board, where fans and voters can come together and discuss the issues surrounding the elections. Fostering engagement between the HOF, the voters, the fans, and the researchers will energize and inform the debate, leading to better results.
6. Make every ballot public. This is a first step towards weeding out obstructionist voters. It makes voters more accountable to the fans, the Hall’s true constituents. Some of the writers will find this intolerable and will drop out of the electorate. I think that these will tend to be voters who were never especially conscientious, never dedicated to creating a well-reasoned ballot. Other writers will be compelled to respond to criticism of their ballot, leading to more careful consideration of who they are voting for. It’s a win-win-win: accountability for the electorate, energizing the fans, publicity for the Hall.
7. Grade every ballot with a consensus score. This is another way to encourage conscientious ballots. Giving publicity to the most nonconformist ballots will stimulate The Discussion. In most cases these voters will be exposed as having no valid reasoning for the ballot they cast. Others will offer an informative defense, thereby adding to the public body of knowledge for players’ HOF cases.

Part 4d – Improving the Electorate

Getting more players on the ballot is only a first step towards fixing the Hall. Efforts aimed solely at devising a fool-proof system ultimately breed a more resistant strain of fools.

Becoming a voter for the hall of fame is a privilege granted to a very few persons. (The last four elections have seen an average of 542 ballots cast.) There is no test that anyone can take before joining the electorate. There is no application. Spending a lifetime studying baseball history or winning prestigious awards for authoring books on baseball do not qualify a person to even be considered to be allowed to vote. The game’s most astute GM’s and scouts can’t vote.

So who are these guys? Basically, college journalism majors who were fortunate enough to be hired to write about baseball for a living. Doing this for ten years earns one the privilege of deciding who gets to be in the Hall of fame. What?!? Clearly, these criteria for enfranchising voters are anachronistic and no longer serve any useful purpose. The task of correctly identifying worthy player for the hall of fame requires specialized knowledge that few among the current electorate possess: A strong knowledge of 142 years of professional baseball history; statistical acumen to interpret the findings from studies of the last 30 years; and a thorough knowledge of the players who are already in the Hall - who are the average hall of famers? Who are the mistakes?

We’re looking to cultivate an electorate of great baseball minds. And because great minds think alike, consensus will converge around the best choices for the Hall.

Where to start?

1. Invite more voters from outside of the BBWAA to join in with the writers’ vote: authors, bloggers and others with the requisite expertise.
2. Devise a simple survey for the current voters, to gauge which ones are truly interested in, and qualified for, electing players to the HOF.
3. Limit the electorate size, reserving 400 ballots each year for the best of the “BBWAA” voters.
4. Weed out voters with consistently low consensus score ballots.
5. Make a test: The BAT – Baseball Aptitude Test. Decide in what areas you’d like your voters to possess expert understanding and test for it. Put it online. Make it a really long, really tough, timed test. Two hundred questions, randomly distributed, pulled from a database containing thousands of questions: 50 history related, 50 stats related, 50 hall of fame related, 50 miscellaneous. Include a short essay: Why I’m qualified to be an elector for the HOF. You can take the test only one time each year. The top 200 scores each year get to be HOF voters for two years, together with the 400 established voters. Each year add another 200 voters. After their two-year term, voters may reapply by testing again.

In summary, I acknowledge that many people do not see the Hall of Fame’s procedures as in need of any reform. They see the number of mistakes as tolerable, and that “the system ain’t broke and don’t need fixin’”. It is not a main purpose of this series to convince these people otherwise.

This series is for those who already discern flaws in the Hall’s procedures; who do not want to settle for an adequate system but would like to help move towards making an excellent system; and who are interested in brainstorming ideas to achieve this end.

Part 5 will propose a new ballot for the BBWAA. Also, the candidates for the Hall will be prioritized.