Baseball Hall of Fame: A crowded ballot and a shrinking electorate

Michael Hickey

On a slow day of baseball news, furor over Hall of Fame ballots has kicked up again. One problem, though, hasn't been discussed.

We all know about the crowded ballot. Because of stands against Steroid Era players the past three years, this year's Hall of Fame ballot featured 14 realistic candidates for future enshrinement in Cooperstown.

The problem is eligible voters, who have been members of the Baseball Writer's Association of America for 10 consecutive years, can only vote for 10 players on a ballot.

You can see the problem. Ten players will not be elected this time, even if every voter decided to fill out his ballot completely. With fourteen good candidates (plus homer-iffic picks), there are too many different combinations to guarantee 10 different names show up on at least 75 percent of the ballots.

The crowded ballot can easily be solved in two ways. One, the BBWAA and Baseball Hall of Fame can do away with the arbitrary limit next year. Let voters select all the players they feel are Hall-worthy and don't limit them. Thus, the best candidates will get voted for no matter what. Two, make a distinction on PED guys. Only one of those will actually happen, but the ballot should become less crowded as a result.

At the same time, will we see a reverse process in how many voters will get to vote?

You might have heard, starting around the millenium, newspapers started struggling. There were a variety of reasons for this, but the gist of the story is they lost money, started shrinking and, as such, let go of reporter after reporter. The Sporting News had to revamp its operations. In short, the industry drastically changed.

However, the coverage of baseball didn't change. It shifted. All those reporters didn't stop what they were doing, they shifted roles. Instead of covering the team for the Pioneer Press, they moved to Yahoo! Sports or ESPN.

This wouldn't normally be a problem, except the BBWAA has been very slow to let internet writers into its midst. Instead of shifting with the market changes, it shut out most internet writers for a while until very gradually adding them in recent years.

Now, writers for Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs and Yahoo all have votes. Rob Neyer still doesn't, which is a crying shame, but there's been incremental progress.

But, as the shift happened, there was a lull in membership. Maybe writers could get back into print and stay in the BBWAA, but the newspaper decline made that harder.

What we have, then, is a voting base which skews more to older voters who've had theirs for a while. instead of being a continuum of voters who have covered baseball for 10, 15, 20 years, we've got very tenured voters and some younger voters, but the former outweighs the latter pretty greatly.

We've seen it on the Houston beat. Brian McTaggart covered the Astros for a while before jumping to MLB.com when Alyson Footer joined the Astros as social media guru. Richard Justice soon followed him out the door. After that, a stream of beat writers have covered the team and then left, relatively quickly.

It's not a huge problem. In the next few years, more internet types will gain the vote, like Jeff Passan and Dave Brown (who already vote). But, this lull is hitting at the worst time. Without a consistent dose of new blood, the older, intractable types are just building the ballot logjam higher.

Think about it this way: If there are 600 Hall of Fame voters, 200 of them are old or golf writers or cover the Olympics now. They will take a "moral" stand against the PED Era, which the other 400 voters might not. Somewhere in the middle, probably 200 voters or so, are guys like Ken Rosenthal, who have been at it for a while and have sensible takes on the Hall. They're not perfect, but they are better than those 200 old-school voters.

To balance those old-school types, there should be 200 new blood types. Guys like JJO, who had an almost perfect ballot, would balance out the Chassites. Except, that number isn't close to 200. I don't know for sure, but I imagine it's closer to 100, which means the old-school types can still swing the election.

It's all about balance and I wonder if the fall of newspapers and the delay of the BBWAA to embrace online journalists is affecting the Hall vote.

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