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Rosenthal: BBWAA membership is too bloated

Jan 8, 2010, 11:30 AM EDT

Ken Rosenthal doesn’t mince any words when it comes to the Hall of Fame electorate:

Our membership is too bloated, too riddled with voters who do not take
the process seriously enough to educate themselves properly . . . Virtually every voter I know is honored to participate in the process.
Virtually every voter I know considers the ballot a tremendous
responsibility. It’s the voters I don’t know — the ones I never see at
ballparks — who worry me. I fear that some do not give the candidates
the consideration they deserve.

The BBWAA has done a fine job in
recent years of adding Web-based writers, including several whose work
is strongly influenced by sabermetrics. The next step is to go the
other way, trim the fat from the membership, purge those who do not
study the game closely enough to warrant Hall of Fame votes.

The other day I was talking to someone about my “the BBWAA should be ashamed of itself” talk. His response was that it was a bit harsh for me to paint with such a wide bush because, after all, most writers did vote for Blyleven and most did vote for Alomar.  My response: you’re right, you can’t tar all the writers. But you can do is tar the organization collectively due to the fact that the electorate is simply too bloated and way too many votes are cast by people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing.

I’m glad to see that Ken Rosenthal (and Pete Abraham and other working baseball writers) feels the same way.  As Rosenthal notes, you have a lot of editors and assistant editors who get a vote, most of whom don’t have watching, researching and/or writing about baseball anywhere in their job description.  There is at least one political cartoonist in there.  It’s a cast of hundreds too many.

The BBWAA has managed to get the postseason awards pretty close to perfect the past couple of years using an electorate of people who actually watch and write a lot about baseball. That’s probably too small a pool to handle something as large as Hall of Fame voting, but I’m thinking that the ideal voting group should be a lot closer in size and expertise to the awards voters than it is to the current anyone-who-once-arguably-wrote-about-baseball-and-is-not-yet-dead crowd.

UPDATEBuster goes one better: After noting that there’s an inherent conflict of interest involved in writers voting in the first place, he argues the writers shouldn’t vote at all. Make the Hall of Fame come up with their own committee since it’s their thing anyway.

  1. Jason @ IIATMS - Jan 8, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    That they allow editors and non-baseball writers to vote, but withhold some of the best non-traditional media types is absurd.
    Letting in Law, Neyer and others from the online world is a good but late step in the right direction. Trimming the fat from the voting pool is essential.
    Since when is a BBWAA membership akin to a Supreme Court nomination anyways?

  2. Old Gator - Jan 8, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    But even a handful of idiots is too many, Craig.

  3. Ron - Jan 8, 2010 at 11:41 AM

    There are as many voters in the BBWAA as there are in the House of Representatives. In my book, that’s guilt by association.
    Because if that “esteeme, august body of voters” can’t get anything right, how the hell do we expect a bunch of dumbass baseball writers to do it.

  4. Moses Green - Jan 8, 2010 at 11:45 AM

    Actually, a handful is just perfect, anything more than that constitutes idiot wastage.

  5. Charles Gates - Jan 8, 2010 at 11:53 AM

    Reducing the number of voters may also cause the remaining voters to approach their job more seriously. With such a large number of votes, people like Mariotti can use their vote politically while saying, “With so many voters, how much difference can I really make?”
    I’m not saying that’s what he did, or that a denominator reduction would change his mindset, but I generally believe that most voters try to do the right thing. Giving more weight to each vote would increase scrutiny should they pull a Mariotti-esque stunt.

  6. Charles Gates - Jan 8, 2010 at 11:56 AM

    Of the HOF voting population, roughly 50% have below average intelligence.

  7. Grant - Jan 8, 2010 at 12:33 PM

    I really enjoyed Olney’s piece. It was the first time I had agreed with him in a long time.

  8. YankeesfanLen - Jan 8, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    Jeez, even the Senate only needs 60% of the simpletons to vote something ridiculously expense in, and you need 75% of somebody who’s heard of the modern version of Rounders to pick who may be best?
    Not even counting the fact that a few relatively esteemed writers of two certain daily periodicals aren’t, by company policy, even allowed to vote?

  9. DullBurham - Jan 8, 2010 at 12:41 PM

    I actually don’t like the idea of taking the writers’ vote away. The Hall of Fame’s previous committees have done a terrible job of selecting the right people to the Hall, especially compared to the writers. Writers are able to be lobbied, campaigned, moved with evidence and argumentation. A small group has a higher tendency toward bias. If you had two people who were in Heyman-esque heel-digging territory on Blyleven out of a group of 40 or something, it would make Blyleven’s candidacy different. Smaller committees lead to quirkier choices, and I don’t think ‘quirky’ is really what you want from this kind of body.
    Kick non-baseball types and editors right the heck out, absolutely. But don’t create some sort of smaller insulated cabal. Writers voting makes the process more democratic.

  10. Val - Jan 8, 2010 at 1:36 PM

    Compare Ryne Sandberg’s numbers to Robbie Alomar. There are no comparisons between a HOF second baseman who batted 285 lifetime to one who batted 300, with more hits and RBI. Sad!Yet, one is in the HOF and the otehr is not. Compare another second baseman, Joe Morgan to Robbie.

  11. Skids - Jan 8, 2010 at 1:41 PM

    I know that most of the writers like Olney and Rosenthal take this as a responsibility, and a huge one at that, and try to vote as their hearts and common sense tells them. Then you have others that send in a blank vote? Or people like Jay Marriotti? How did some of these people get votes in the first place? I’m not sure of the answer, but I agree with Olney and Rosenthal, some of the voters need to be culled out or fix the system. It is definitely broken.

  12. DiamondDuq - Jan 8, 2010 at 1:53 PM

    This is simple really. There are 30 MLB franchises. Select 8-10 writers from each market who actually cover those teams, that would give you a pool of 240-300 writers from all over the country which is plenty large enough. Rotate who gets a vote based on who actually covers baseball, so when someone retires or stops writing about baseball they lose their vote and someone else gets a vote, and rotate voters every 10 years as well on a staggered basis so there isn’t complete turnover. Then, reduce the time frame for induction to 5 years, if you’re not a HOFer for 5 years what makes you one in year 8, 9, 15? Also, raise the threshold for being dropped from the ballot to 50% not 5%. Seriously, if half the people in a room don’t think you’re a HOFer then are you really? This becomes more about a popularity contest and non-sensical comparisons every year. I spent a lot of time last week and earlier this week discussing certain candidates and their place in or out of the HOF so I’m not going to do that now but after a 22 year career and 5 years of not playing Blyleven only received 17.5% of the votes and 12 years later he’s gotten 74.2% of the vote! To me, that says 12 years of b!tching and moaning is worth more than what he actually did on the field for 22 years and there’s something very wrong with that! Guys are going to start hiring lobbying firms to get them into the HOF, apparently that’s all it takes!

  13. JE - Jan 8, 2010 at 2:00 PM

    Yes, Alomar should have been voted into Cooperstown, but the real shanda is Trammell and Raines not receiving even a third of the votes tallied.

  14. Bbq - Jan 8, 2010 at 2:15 PM

    Everybody has an opinion you can agree or disagree with. My guess is that many baseball writers don’t spend near as much time watching games as they should. They may get most of their information by just looking at highlights and scanning boxscores. I don’t know how much time HOF voters spend on making their choices or how much varied information they take in. If voters want to just rely on stats we can have computers make the choices for us. If they want to base their choices on others opinions then they are still not doing their job. Maybe the job of HOF voters should be turned over to those that actually eat, drink, sleep, and dream baseball.

  15. David Silverwood - Jan 8, 2010 at 2:31 PM

    HOF voting players of the era and managers and general managers should vote on the hall of fame too many people get in that are not top dogs now.

  16. Fred - Jan 8, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    Pete Abraham told his readers this morning that Bill Hall is in the middle of a 6yr, $52M contract. I’d not hold him up as a shining example of a good writer.

  17. michael standish - Jan 8, 2010 at 3:59 PM

    “I’m thinking that the ideal voting group should be a lot closer in size and expertise to the awards voters than it is to the current anyone-who-once-arguably-wrote-about-baseball-and-is-not-yet-dead crowd.”
    Hmmm…One wonders if The Counsellor is referring to Feorge Gucking Will here.

  18. soxx - Jan 8, 2010 at 4:10 PM

    Simply making the votes a public record will help a lot, make these writers accountable.

  19. Ryan - Jan 8, 2010 at 7:47 PM

    Why writers have the say is beyond me. I believe that your peers and the fans should be the ones who determine the HOF members. And I love the hypocrytical nature of the statistic arguments. “Mattingly needed to play longer,” yet he has comparable numbers to Puckett, Katt belongs in, Blyleven, McGwire, ALOMAR is the best 2B in the last 50+ years… it is a joke that a writer gets to make his “point” to not vote for Alomar b/c he spit on an umpire. Writers are scrawny, non-athletic, dorks that could never play a sport in their lives. They have an axe to grind and do everything they can to get their “revenge” on all of the guys who make it. I don’t even read half of the crap they write anymore b/c I don’t care who Tiger slept with or who McGwire met in a dark alley. The HOF would be making a great decision to change it up and allow players and fans to vote. Imagine what an Induction Sunday would be with Don Mattingly going in… the most popular Yankee since Mantle. That crowd is representative of why he belongs, it is the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Statistics.

  20. JR - Jan 9, 2010 at 5:04 AM

    This whining is getting ridiculous. A bunch of saber geeks don’t like the result and they go off on the process. Alomar in my opinion is probably a Hall of Famer, but this is the way it works, first ballot induction should be reserved for the elite of the elite. A player/fan vote would be a lot more inconsistent in the long run. I say stick with the writers, and oh yeah, keep Marvin Miller OUT of the Hall too.

  21. willmose - Jan 9, 2010 at 9:12 AM

    Give the HOF voting to fans. Why the heck are the sportswriters gatekeeper to the HOF? Most really don’t know their butts from third base. I wish that was not exaggeration, but unfortunately it is simply the literal truth. When sportswriters wrote for newspapers back in the day, they had some standards and dare I say ethics. Today it’s about what they can do to get people to read their piles of horse manure. Their HOF votes are made not on merit, but so they can drum up interest in themselves and show off non-existent analytical skills. What happened to good old fashion eyeballs watching the game? Here’s two things that baseball writers never discuss that have had a most impact on the game since the DH. First, the humidity controlled baseballs, it directly correlates to how many HRs are hit. Secondly, the semi-banning of amphetamine use. Why do certain players get a bye and are able to use amphetamines? Because they are on the Yankees and the Red Sox? Didn’t the greats like Mickey Mantle and Joe Dimaggio use them? Aren’t amphetamines performance enhancing drugs?

  22. lennon_08518 - Jan 9, 2010 at 9:49 AM

    If writers vote on the Hall of Fame, why don’t players have a vote for the Pulitzer Prize?

  23. Jonas - Jan 9, 2010 at 5:40 PM

    I have to disagree with those saying fans should get the vote. If fans ever got the HOF vote, there would be a huge bias toward the big market clubs, since they have the most fans. The smaller market players would be largely overlooked.

  24. Mark C - Jan 9, 2010 at 6:51 PM

    A major overhaul of the HOF voting system is needed. Yes, get rid of these writers that have nothing to do with baseball. It’s clear they have no clue what they are doing, and I am surprised that they have even been given a chance vote for the baseball HOF. And yes, make the voting a matter of public record so the public can see what is going on so we know who the writers are that have no clue or do not take their responsibility seriously. And if writers are turning in blank ballots then they clearly do not care about their responsibility to the MLB, to the fans of MLB, and to the HOF qualified players. Blyleven missed getting into the HOF by 5 votes, yet there were 5 writers who turned in blank ballots and other writers who wasted votes by giving them to players like Kevin Appier, Pat Hentgen, David Segui, Robin Ventura.

  25. Jeremy - Jan 10, 2010 at 8:16 AM

    And then we still have Dale Murphy sitting back and watching this. The guy never took a drug, trashed reporters, or blew kids off for autographs. His only fault, he played on a horrible team. Much like Mattingly, the team chose them unlike today when the player chooses the team in free agency.

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