Voting is underway for the 2021 Baseball Hall of Fame (BBHoF) ballot. Results will be announced on January 26, with the 2021 class induction to take place on July 25, 2021 in Cooperstown, New York, covid permitting. As many fans are aware, the BBHoF has placed the election of recently retired players under the charge of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA). According to the BBHoF, “The BBWAA has elected at least two Hall of Fame candidates in seven straight years and a total of 22 candidates during that time. No similar period in history has resulted in as many BBWAA electees.” But just what type of candidates are being elected to the Hall?
I recently came across an interesting discussion on Twitter about how baseball writers’ use of WAR (wins above replacement) to assess candidates’ careers neglects short-term dominance and exciting play in favor of long-term consistency.
hard agree. A sports Hall of Fame should not be evaluating players via measured value accrued relative to a theoretical player defined by replaceability.
sorry for red-pilling on WAR but I think we're losing the plot. https://t.co/cf4gcxpkSf
— Bradford William Davis (@_beewilly) December 5, 2020
I would also argue it neglects historic single-season accomplishments, such as Randy Arozarena‘s 2020 postseason, and players’ involvement in attracting new fans. Compared to the average Hall of Famer at their respective positions, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire fall short in their JAWS score, a Hall of Fame analytical system utilizing WAR. However, their 1998 home run record chase revived interest in MLB and brought new fans into the game.
I grew up in a Chicago baseball household but didn’t become an active Cubs fan until Sosa led the Northsiders to the postseason that year behind a MVP campaign. I continued following the Cubs as Sosa recorded over 60 bombs in three out of four seasons between 1998 and 2001. Sosa printed money for the Cubs during his prime but has yet to be honored either by the Cubs organization or the BBHoF.
While the exclusion of McGwire and Sosa from the Hall owes mainly to PED usage during the “Steroid Era”, the role of a museum is to commemorate historic achievements and players who entertained the fans. Arozarena, McGwire and Sosa each deserve to have their specific accomplishments celebrated on this basis. The Hall already recognizes historic milestones and special moments in today’s game by displaying game-used gear. Perhaps they could expand this recognition by creating a special single-season and postseason category for players like Arozarena, McGwire and Sosa.
Even if the BBHoF were to expand, this still brings us back to the issue of who selects BBHoF inductees in the first place – the BBWAA. When baseball writers are allowed to vote on annual awards and Hall of Fame inductees, they take themselves out of the role of reporting the stories and put themselves into the role of creating stories, which is an inherent conflict of interest. This becomes especially damaging to the BBWAA’s reputation in today’s engagement-driven media environment which promotes “rage clicking” in order to drive up pageviews. It seems like every year there is at least one media member who decides to abuse their voting privileges by playing contrarian with their ballot as a means of getting fans to read a hot take. This ultimately results in distrust of BBWAA members and the motivations behind their votes.
An election mechanism that does not involve the BBWAA, the Eras Committees, formerly known as the Veterans Committee, already exists. The Eras Committees “consider retired Major League Baseball players no longer eligible for election by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), along with managers, umpires and executives, whose greatest contributions to the game were realized in one of four eras.” The selection process takes place on a rotating basis during the MLB Winter Meetings. Eras Committee membership consists of BBHoF members, executives and veteran media members.
The former Veterans Committee previously had a reputation as being a forum for ex-players to elect their friends to the Hall. Cubs legend Ron Santo was left out of the Hall after 15 appearances on the BBWAA ballot in order to then be infamously shut out by the Veterans Committee on three separate occasions. The BBHoF finally changed the committee election rules in 2010 to create the Eras Committees after the Veterans Committee failed to elect a new BBHoF member for eight consecutive years. These changes led to Santo’s posthumous election by the Golden Era Committee in 2011.
While the election of players like Santo thanks to the changed committee selection process has been a positive development, the Eras Committees still suffer from a conflict of interest by including media members. The BBHoF would be best served by excluding media members and giving their committee positions to baseball historians who are are experts on the various eras in question but are not involved in reporting on the game. This would help balance out any favoritism on the part of executives and former players while also eliminating the aforementioned conflict of interest.
My suggestions for changes to the Hall’s selection process will allow the BBHoF to remain relevant to today’s fans, attract visitors and improve confidence in the process for voting in new members. The BBWAA is independent from the BBHoF, and their voting privileges can be removed by the Hall. BBHoF members should take the initiative to make immediate changes.
Featured Image: COOPERSTOWN, NEW YORK – SEPT 27, 2018: Hall of Fame Gallery at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum by LunaseeStudios / Shutterstock.com.