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The ten vote limit on Hall of Fame ballots is a real problem

Dec 26, 2012, 2:07 PM EDT


If I had to bet I’d say that two players make the Hall of Fame this year: Jack Morris and Craig Biggio. But it would not shock me at all if no one made it in.

One big reason is the anti-PED people with ballots. Another big reason, and one that hurts those who are not suspected of PED use more than the PED users, is the ten-vote limit the BBWAA places on the ballot. ESPN’s Jim Caple notes just how vexing a problem this is:

Since the Hall of Fame began, the maximum number of players for whom a writer can vote has been 10. The number of teams has almost doubled in that span, which means the number of potential Hall of Fame candidates has also nearly doubled. Actually, when you consider that African-American, Latino and other minority players weren’t allowed to play when the Hall of Fame opened, Hall-caliber candidates have likely more than doubled.

And yet, the maximum remains 10. For no apparent reason. Is it any wonder so many writers have trouble with the game’s advanced metrics?

The fallout of the 10-player maximum is that I no longer can simply vote for the players I think belong in the Hall of Fame. I now have to vote with an agenda, just like a politician.

Caple’s potential ballot is massive, and includes a lot of people you or I may not vote for. But the problem is that he does not get the option to make such choices, and as a result has to leave off people who he thinks are genuinely worthy.

Makes very little sense to begin with, and now that we have potential first-ballot guys like Clemens and Bonds hanging around for years, clogging up the ballot, it makes the problem even worse.

  1. braddavery - Dec 26, 2012 at 2:15 PM

    So now not enough players can get in? I thought most people think it’s watered down, now it’s not “open” enough? Only one to three players usually make it per-year, so I don’t see how not having more than ten votes is keeping deserving players out of the Hall.

    • alexo0 - Dec 26, 2012 at 2:47 PM

      I think the issue Caple is bringing up is that with so many legit candidates, voters are forced to choose who makes it onto their ballot. Each voter will use different criteria to decide who they vote for, and will likely end up voting for many different players. This results in a split vote, leaving no one with enough support to make the hall.

      • braddavery - Dec 26, 2012 at 2:57 PM

        I didn’t realize that getting players into the Hall is an issue.

    • ptfu - Dec 26, 2012 at 3:22 PM

      This is not a normal year. There are a lot more Hall-worthy players on the ballot. Should we not elect worthy players because a bunch of other worthy players happened to retire at the same time?

      Aside from first-ballot inductees, worthy players establish a low baseline vote percentage and then it increases over the years…or dwindles away to nothing. This reflects a years-long baseball conversation. Plus there’s the whole steroids aspect, which deserves its own long conversation, possibly with respect to each player.

      Thanks to the ten vote limit, that conversation is going to be cut short on several players who (in a different year) would otherwise merit this long baseball discussion. And so players like Fred McGriff, Larry Walker, or Edgar Martinez will fall off the ballot after only one year and that discussion will be lost.

    • mrfloydpink - Dec 26, 2012 at 4:53 PM

      Do you really not grasp the issue? Does basic mathematics elude you?

      Caple suggests he might vote for as many as 15 players, if he could. Because he can’t, he has to remove 5 players from his list. He has removed the five players he deems to be the least deserving. If every writer used the same basis for evaluation, perhaps there would not be a problem. But some writers are certainly going to use some other basis–most obviously some variant of an anti-steroids approach. Put in more concrete terms, compare Caple’s ballot to a hypothetical writer #2 who won’t vote for ANY steroid-tainted candidates, and hypothetical writer #3, who will only withhold his votes from proven steroid users, and only votes for “clear-cut” Hall of Famers, particularly power hitters:

      Caple’s ballot: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Mike Piazza, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling, Jack Morris.

      Writer 2: Craig Biggio, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling, Jack Morris, Fred McGriff, Larry Walker.

      Writer 3: Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa

      In this hypothetical scenario, multiplied by 100, Larry Walker–who has never been linked to PEDs–loses out on induction, because writers like Caple can’t find room on their ballots, when they otherwise would. This is only going to get worse as more and more candidates clog up the ballot, splitting the vote and keeping ANY player from getting 70%.

      And incidentally, the last time the BBWAA inducted three candidates in the same year was 1999 (Brett, Sutton, Ryan). Since then it has gone like this: 2, 2, 1, 2, 2, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1. So it’s entirely possible that a logjam could create many years without any inductees.

      • braddavery - Dec 26, 2012 at 6:14 PM

        I don’t see an issue. If Larry Walker is going to make the HOF, he will make the HOF. Voters are wasting votes on PED abusers. That is the problem, not the fact that they are allowed only 10 votes. You can’t have it both ways. If the Hall is “watered down” like the majority suggests, then having even more players make it certainly won’t “up the class” of players being selected. If Walker is a HOFer, then voters should vote for him. It’s really that simple. Who cares if no one makes it some year. What exactly does that matter. Better than having a Hall full of mediocre players who get in because they get a ton of bottom-of-the-barrel votes.

      • braddavery - Dec 26, 2012 at 6:17 PM

        Oh, and it’s laughable that ANYONE could truly believe that 10 to 15 players should be elected in any given year. That is a joke and you know it.

      • mrfloydpink - Dec 26, 2012 at 9:54 PM

        @braddavery: This really is a simple concept; so let’s put it this way. Imagine that the Hall of Fame was starting over again today. Voters could vote on anyone they wanted from baseball history, but they only get 10 votes. Since everyone’s list of the 10 best players in baseball history would be a little bit different, it’s likely that only a small number of players would get 75% of the votes. Maybe Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Ted Williams. Certainly such a process would leave, say, Mike Schmidt, Joe Morgan, Yogi Berra, Tom Seaver, and a bunch of other players on the outside. Would you argue that Schmidt is not a Hall of Famer? And yet, there simply wouldn’t be ballot space for him in this scenario.

        Of course, I don’t have to just come up with hypothetical scenarios, because this has ALREADY HAPPENED. In the 1950s, there remained a backlog of players (since the HoF had only been open for about 12 years). Further, they tinkered with the eligibility rules a couple of times. The result was that obvious Hall of Famers, notably Joe DiMaggio, were struggling to get elected. Surely you’d agree that Joe DiMaggio is a clear-cut Hall of Famer, right? And yet, he had to wait until his third ballot.

        I don’t think anyone would be bothered (at least, nobody outside of Cooperstown business owners) if a year went by with no player elected. But circumstances are unfolding in such a way that it could be a run of several years.

        And I think you assume too much when you suggest that the majority agrees that the Hall is “watered down.” Some people feel that way, yes, but it’s hard to argue that too strongly if the Hall does not have the career leaders in hits, home runs, walks, on base percentage, Cy Youngs, and MVPs.

        Finally, it would seem that Jim Caple does see 10 to 15 HoF worthy players, so your assertion that nobody feels that way is demonstrably false. I myself see eight players who I think are unquestionably worthy (Bonds, Clemens, Bagwell, Trammell, Raines, Martinez, Biggio, Piazza), and I would give serious consideration to several others–Schilling, McGwire, Sosa, Walker–if I had a vote. There isn’t a single guy among the 12 I have listed that would not be at least average for their position among Hall of Famers.

      • braddavery - Dec 27, 2012 at 2:02 AM

        This whole made-up scenario is complete crap. There is absolutely NO WAY those players you mentioned wouldn’t make it in. Just NO WAY. You are making up absurd scenarios where the top-tier “clean” players are all on the ballot at the same time and it’s utter nonsense. Yes, I’m saying that Mike Schmidt, Joe Morgan, Yogi Berra and Tom Seaver aren’t Hall of Famers. lol That is EXACTLY what I said. Nice lame straw man. Give me a freaking break with this stupid hypothetical garbage. You know and I know the best of the best “clean” players always make it in first ballot or will make it in very quickly. To say otherwise is idiotic.

      • mrfloydpink - Dec 27, 2012 at 3:05 AM

        Of course, I also gave you a real, non-hypothetical example of when this had already happened. I see you ignored it.

        Further, The Schmidt, Morgan, etc. example was not a straw man. It is an illustration of what happens when you have more worth players than ballot slots.

        Reading comprehension: Not your strong suit, is it?

      • braddavery - Dec 27, 2012 at 4:12 AM

        What is with your ridiculous and childish condescending tone? Are you a douchebag in real life, or just online? Is it possible for you to have a civilized discussion, or are you just a miserable twat all the time?

      • mrfloydpink - Dec 27, 2012 at 12:10 PM

        Right, because every word that you wrote was the absolute height of tact and diplomacy: Lame, laughable, crap, stupid, idiotic, absurd, etc.

        And I note you STILL can’t find space to respond to the real example I provided, namely Joe DiMaggio. Which means, of course, you don’t have a response because you know that the example proves you wrong.

      • braddavery - Dec 27, 2012 at 12:33 PM

        You are right. I should have known better than to stoop to your level by responding in-kind to your miserable and antagonistic posts. I apologize. I’m better than that. Joe DiMaggio is in the Hall of Fame. I don’t care at all that he wasn’t first ballot. I really just don’t care. He’s in, and deservedly so.

      • jimmym715 - Dec 29, 2012 at 3:38 PM

        This is an extremely minor point, but the three candidates elected by BBWAA in 1999 were Brett, Ryan, and Yount. Sutton was the sole BBWAA inductee in 1998.

        Regardless, great post!

    • pjmarn6 - Dec 29, 2012 at 2:59 PM

      Two points:
      One is that Craig Calcaterra has done an about face on Clemens and Bonds. Before he was a stout supporter of these cheats and now he states ” they are clogging up the ballot!”
      Two is that the committee that elects the eventual entrants to the hall of fame are with few exceptions, intelligent knowledgeable and dedicated to the game who know who should be included.
      It is their wisdom and insight that is trying to salvage the reputation of the game.
      It now appears, due to the wholesale cheating, these people are choosing players who can prove they did not cheat rather than allow in people who are doubtful.
      It is to their credit that these members of the selection committee, that they are taking a careful approach.

  2. bigjimatch - Dec 26, 2012 at 2:43 PM

    Expansion does not increase the amount of talent in baseball, it dilutes it. There was not an increase in the amount of hall of fame players in the league, it increased the amount of players that would not have been in the major leagues to begin with.

    • raysfan1 - Dec 26, 2012 at 2:56 PM

      Okay, while expansion has nearly doubled the number of teams since 1940, the US population has more than doubled (132 million in 1940, 312 million now). Also, that does not take into account the world wide growth of the game and MLB scouting world wide now too.

    • paperlions - Dec 26, 2012 at 2:58 PM

      Actually, expansion has no effect on the talent in baseball, the talent is the talent, no matter how many teams you spread it among. More athletes playing baseball = more talent. And compared to the first 1/2 of the 20th century, there are a LOT more athletes playing baseball.

      In any case, the number of players is still irrelevant because HOF players, by definition, are the best of their generation….more players doesn’t mean more HOFers because it is a sliding scale, it just means there is more competition to be the best and that the bar has been raised.

  3. girardisbraces - Dec 26, 2012 at 2:52 PM

    I don’t necessarily believe that expansion, in the context which Caple writes, diluted the amount of talent in baseball. There is a point of diminishing returns, to be sure, but I don’t think we hit that point until the ’90s. The initial expansion of baseball, plus the inclusion of African American and Latin players, I believe, brought to the forefront a lot of players who would have otherwise languished in obscurity. But I’m inclined to disagree with Caple now because I think we’ve pretty much passed that window. With the exception of a few hold overs, the current ballot is pretty watered down.

  4. mattyflex - Dec 26, 2012 at 2:58 PM

    It seems like everyone makes such a big deal out of this. I could care less about the Hall of Fame. Sure, it’s the ultimate recognition to a player’s career, but the legacy of the baseball players that made me fall in love with the game carry a lot more weight than a bunch of writers lobbying for or against players, statistics, and other outlying factors.

    • eshine76 - Dec 26, 2012 at 4:45 PM

      Agreed. Some of my favorite players of all time are not or will never be Hall of Famers.

  5. braddavery - Dec 26, 2012 at 3:05 PM

    We need more allowed votes so lower-tier guys like Jack Morris can get in by getting those votes past the ten mark. Right, Craig?

  6. weaselpuppy - Dec 26, 2012 at 3:08 PM

    They still would have left me off their ballots with 20 votes despite a WAR greater than Ryne Sanberg Bobby Grich and Barry Larkin.


    Lou Whitaker

    • contraryguy - Dec 26, 2012 at 8:43 PM

      Bobby Grich…. heckuva player (yes I’m old enough to remember him), but bad comparison for HoF quals. Plus, we’re talking about WAR, the Great White Whale of baseball statistical nonsense. Fame is fame, people; you know it when you see it, and it doesn’t take more than 10 votes a year to select those who belong.

  7. DJ MC - Dec 26, 2012 at 4:30 PM

    Caple is right that there is a problem, but it isn’t the one he’s complaining about. He should be asking not for an expanded ballot, but for an expanded or adjusted electorate.

    Remove the BBWAA from the equation, or at least add-in or trade-in other knowledgeable minds within the game, and you lessen the impact of the truly ridiculous voting patterns of some writers. Maybe make rules about blank ballots, too:

    – A ballot returned blank will not be counted.
    – A pattern (say, three or five consecutive years) of blank ballots will result in revocation of voting privileges.

    There are changes to be made, but I don’t think it is as simple as adding spots on the ballot.

  8. raulduke11 - Dec 26, 2012 at 4:56 PM

    Does this mean Juan Berenguer will be left off the ballot?

  9. mazblast - Dec 26, 2012 at 5:49 PM

    Given ESPN’s handling of the recent Rob Parker affair, I question the integrity and word of anyone employed by that alleged network. IMO they’re not a sports programming network, they’re a profit center with an agenda.

    • Kevin S. - Dec 27, 2012 at 9:29 AM

      That’s really not fair to tarnish all ESPN writers because their executives are a bunch of douchenozzles. ESPN definitely employs a lot of questionable “talent,” but they also have a number of quality writers, and they shouldn’t be denigrated just because they work for the four-letter.

  10. theawesomersfranchise - Dec 26, 2012 at 5:51 PM

    Since they won’t put in Raines, how about they take out Brock? Absolutely no reason these two players should be on opposite sides of the fence.

    • kirkvanhouten - Dec 27, 2012 at 1:23 AM

      I’m not sure if Raines and Brock were really all that similar. In fact, I think it kind of does Raines a disservice to compare him to Brock…

      1. Tim Raines was a much better base stealer. Brock stole 938 bases at a 75% success rate, Raines stole 808 at an 85% success rate.

      2. Raines was much better at getting on base. His career OBP was 40 points higher

      3. Raines had a much better peak. Brock’s career high in OPS+ was 127, a mark that Raines topped 8 times.

      The only thing Brock has over Raines is that he was healthier at the end of his career…which doesn’t really matter because Raines was much, much better during the other parts.

  11. mdac1012 - Dec 26, 2012 at 8:17 PM

    If your a hall of fame caliber player, you will make it to the majors, regardless of the number of teams. That’s why your a HOF player, get it?! Having more teams doesn’t mean more HOF players. Terrible article, maybe the writer should be reviewing restaurants instead of writing about something he obviously understands so little about.

  12. kirkvanhouten - Dec 27, 2012 at 1:14 AM

    If he thinks it’s bad now, wait until 2017. My guess is that, in the next few years, we will see Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr and Craig Biggio go in. Smoltz is excellent chance, but not a guarantee and I don’t know how irrational Frank Thomas steroid suspicion will shake down. Let’s go with the best case scenario and say they all go in between now and 2017.

    So…what will the 2017 ballot look like with those names removed?

    Barry Bonds (7 time MVP, home run king)

    Roger Clemens (7 time Cy Young Winner)

    Larry Walker (141 OPS+, 230 steals, 7 GG)

    Curt Schilling (216 wins, 127 ERA+, 77 WAR, 11-2 in postseason)

    Jim Edmonds (Top 10 CF of all time, offensive numbers comparable to Duke Snider with 8 gold gloves)

    Mike Mussina (270 wins, 123 ERA+, 78 WAR)

    Jeff Bagwell (448 HR, .948 OPS, 78 WAR)

    Tim Raines (one of the greatest leadoff hitters of all time)

    Rafael Palmeiro (569 HR, 3000 hits, 132 OPS+ sustained over 12,000 PAs)

    Fred McGriff (493 HR, 134 OPS+)

    Kenny Lofton (great defensive CF who brought along a .372 OBP and 600 steals)

    Manny Ramirez (one of the best right-handed hitters of all time)

    Ivan Rodriguez (great defensive catcher and all-time hits leader at position. Was also named in Jose Canseco’s “Juiced” as steroid user, so it’ll be interesting to see if voter exclude him for that reason)

    Mark McGwire (583 HR, all time leader in HR/AB, 10th all-time in OPS)

    Mike Piazza (Best hitting catcher of all time)

    Gary Sheffield (500+ HR, 140 OPS+)

    Vladimir Guerrero (449 HR, 140 OPS+, MVP)

    Sammy Sosa (600 HR)

    Jeff Kent (1st in HR, 2nd in RBI all time for 2nd basemen)

    Edgar Martinez (.418 OBP, 64 WAR, 147 OPS+)

    That’s *20 players*, who, due to voter ignorance or continued steroid era exclusion will likely not be admitted to the hall. Now, I don’t think all of them deserve to go, but I think any serious baseball fan would have to admit that a compelling case could be made for each of them.

    • braddavery - Dec 27, 2012 at 2:07 AM

      I think you are all just being Chicken Little’s. The best of the best will always make the Hall regardless of the 10 vote minimum. The “logjam” some are freaking out about is being caused by voters splitting on suspected and known PED abusers and that may create some problems, but it will all work itself out. The sky is not falling and many if not most deserving players will get their induction. If a guy like Bonds doesn’t make it, there is a reason for that and we all know what it is. People will complain and worry about ANYTHING.

      • kirkvanhouten - Dec 27, 2012 at 10:19 AM

        “he “logjam” some are freaking out about is being caused by voters splitting on suspected and known PED abusers and that may create some problems, but it will all work itself out. ”

        Oh well, argument solved then. Just say “the problem will work itself out” and it does…every time!…No need to have a basis for your argument! Currently, yes, PED players are split. But now players who were never accused of using PEDs, (Bagwell) are being left off a number of ballots. When you add in the large number of players who are coming on in the next few years, that’s just going to split those votes further.

        ” The sky is not falling and many if not most deserving players will get their induction”

        This is a great theory…if the HOF was made up of Babe Ruth’s and Willie Mays. It’s not, there are a lot more Willie Stargell’s, Ryne Sandberg’s and Billy Williams in the hall. Your basically creating a HOF where only the elite of the elite of the elite will be in, and the merely incredibly great will be on the outside. Maybe this is the Hall you want, *but this is not what the hall is!*. Based strictly on the merits of their performance, most of the players above would have gone into Cooperstown. And when you have a ballot of 20 players who are deemed worthy and can only vote for ten…yes, that is a problem. And very obvious problem.

      • braddavery - Dec 27, 2012 at 12:29 PM

        Bullshit. Just bullshit. It has been 10 votes for HOW long now??? And all I ever hear about is how watered down the HOF is. I have no idea where you people are getting this nonsense. It seems almost like you are making most of it up to create a problem that doesn’t exist.

  13. wpjohnson - Dec 27, 2012 at 11:04 AM

    This is ridiculous. There are not remotely 10 who should even realistically be on the ballot. The Hall doesn’t need a large influx of mediocrity. It already has an abundance of that.

    Biggio did get 3,000 hits so, I guess, he gets in, But he doesn’t deserve to do so on the first ballot. Let him wait a while as did many far, far more deserving inductees. Morris, if elected, will join a goodly number of good pitchers who were never great. He is not deserving of election. Morris would join pitchers like Lemon, Newhouser, Jenkins, Fingers, Gomez, Drysdale, and several more in the lower level of the Hall. Election of guys like that merely detracts from the true greats like Mathewson, Johnson, Alexander, Young, Spahn, and Koufax.

  14. kalinedrive - Dec 27, 2012 at 2:12 PM

    “But he doesn’t deserve to do so on the first ballot. Let him wait a while as did many far, far more deserving inductees.”

    If everyone leaves a guy off the ballot because they don’t think he deserves to go in the first year, he never gets another chance.

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