The Hall of Fame in an Alternate Universe
The Hall of Fame will announce its 2010 class this Wednesday. While the Baseball Hall of Fame is perhaps the most prestigious of all Hall of Fames, its procedures and standards aren't exactly organized nor are they truly fair. It would be great if the Hall of Fame had one clear standard for admission which remained the same across time. Unfortunately this hasn't been the case during its 75 year history.
The Hall's caretakers would likely disagree with me, saying that throughout history, it has kept in place its requirement that players receive 75% of the vote. While this ironclad 75% requirement seemingly makes the Hall of Fame fair and consistent throughout time, in reality the Hall has tinkered with and manipulated the vote in order in increase or decrease the number of players being enshrined. In reality, the Hall has messed with the process by creating several voting bodies at various times including the Old-Timers Committees, two separate Negro League Committees, and several incarnations of the Veterans Committee, in addition to the regular BBWAA writers' election.
Part of the problem is that the concept of a "Hall of Fame" is ill-defined, particularly with regards to the quality of player who deserves to be enshrined there. One could create a Hall of Fame of 50 players, 100 players, or 500 players, and all would be equally as valid. But for the voters, the Hall's size was never well-defined. Hence, the quality deemed necessary for Hall inclusion evolved organically over-time, rather than adhering to a set standard.
Initially, the standard was 5 players selected over an approximately 40 year period of baseball. However standard necessary for the Hall of Fame quickly deteriorated after the induction of Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, and Babe Ruth.
After adding a handful over players later in the 1930's, by the 1940's the Hall of Fame decided that the club was too small after several years of no new elections. In reaction, they had run-off elections in 1946, and also instituted the Old Timers commission to induct more players from the olden days of baseball, which writers seemed to have forgotten.
In the 1950's the Veterans Committee was created to include even more old-time players - a move which resulted in a vast overrepresentation of players from the 1920's and 30's.
Additionally, somewhere along the line, voters picked up the peculiar habit of making players wait to enter the Hall. Rather than voting on players on their merits, voters would haze players by not voting for them right away. While this practice has lessened in recent years, most players still increase their vote totals over time. Considering the voters are largely the same, and the players accomplishments remain the same, this practice only serves to cast doubt upon the validity of the process.
As a result of all of these inanities, the Hall of Fame is now a multi-tiered structure, with Veterans Committee selections clearly adhering to a different standard of greatness, and with many modern players not immortalized clearly more deserving than many old-time players who are enshrined.
Rules for an Alternate Universe
How could the Hall of Fame have avoided all of these troubles? Here, I'll set out some rules and reconstruct what the Hall of Fame might look like today had these procedures been in place from the beginning.
First, to maintain an equal standard over time, the Hall of Fame ought to have fixed the number of players allowed to enter the Hall of Fame each year. In addition to maintaining a consistent standard, this would also give the Hall the publicity of honoring one great player each year, without the embarrassing situation of having no player selected or flooding the Hall with too many selections in a given year. A forward-thinking panel would have enacted the following rule in 1936: One player shall be inducted each year.
Of course to guarantee that exactly one player is admitted each year, the 75% rule is out the window. Instead, the BBWAA would vote for the player most worthy of induction similar to how the MVP is selected. Each voter ranks the most worthy players for induction, and the player finishing with the most points is elected to the Hall of Fame. The rest would wait until next year.
While forcing players to wait 5 years before voting on them is a reasonable rule, there is no reason take players out of consideration after 15 years as the rule is currently. In the Alternate Universe Hall of Fame, players would remain eligible indefinitely. Since voters can vote in only one player per year, the best players would usually get in on the first try. Lesser players might have to wait for a lull in newly eligible players before getting in. Meanwhile, those not worthy will soon be forgotten. Still, allowing players to remain on the ballot indefinitely allows voters to correct mistakes of the past. When voters finally realize that Ron Santo is the best player currently not in the Hall of Fame, they will have an opportunity to vote for him and include him. However, as long as voters think another player is more deserving, he'll have to wait.
Each year, voters would be instructed to vote for the most deserving player, regardless of the time he has been on the ballot. This will be easier for voters to do under this system, since voters are directly comparing players to each other, rather comparing players to some arbitrary Hall of Fame standard.
The Alternate Universe Hall of Famers
In 1936, the Hall of Fame would kick off with a mega-election which elected 15 players who had retired between the years 1910 and 1930. There would also be a separate Old-Timers election which admitted 10 19th-century players who had retired before 1910. This initial class of 25 players is a good start to the Hall of Fame and roughly adheres to the same one player-per-year standard that would be used from then on. Players who failed to be selected in this initial election would of course be eligible for election in subsequent years. Basing the selections on the actual votes at the time, the players elected would likely have been the following 15 players:
And the Old-Timers Commission likely would have selected the following 10 players:
Moving on, the Hall of Fame would use its current five-year waiting rule (no exceptions) when considering new candidates. To determine who the voters likely would have selected, I ranked eligible players in each year according to how many years it took them to crack the real Hall of Fame. The highest ranked player in each year got in my "Alternate Universe" HoF. The voters would vote on the best players in each year. The likely selections through 1981 would probably be the following:
Clearly some years are tougher competition than others. The mid-1960's had a relatively weak crop of newly eligible players, and this allowed some older players to finally make the cut after a long period of waiting. Borderline Hall of Famers like Pie Traynor, Lou Boudreau, or Red Ruffing eventually make it in after a long time, while true greats like Lefty Grove or Babe Ruth are sure to make it in on the first try. Since all players are eligible indefinitely, there is no need for a Veterans Committee to water down the Hall of Fame by inducting lesser players. Since each year the voters select the best player not currently enshrined, fans can be confident that the Hall of Fame maintains a consistent standard and that the players enshrined really are the best of the best.
In 1982, the Hall of Fame realizes that it needs to expand the number of Hall of Famers due to MLB's expansion. Since there are more teams, there are more dominant players, and the Hall of Fame needs to make room for them. Major League Baseball expanded to 24 teams 13 years earlier and to keep the same amount of players per team in the Hall of Fame constant, the Hall of Fame must increase the number of players inducted into the Hall of Fame by a proportional amount. Therefore, in 1982, the Alternate Universe Hall of Fame begins electing two Hall of Famers every other year, reflecting the 50% increase in the number of teams in the majors. Doing the same process as above to get the likely selections through today, here are the rest of the players in the Alternate Universe Hall of Fame:
Again, the Hall of Fame goes through cycles of weak and strong classes, with the weak periods allowing some older deserving candidates to get a shot an enshrinement. In 2013, the Alternate Universe Hall of Fame would expand once again to account for the most recent expansion, now moving to enshrining two players in each year.
How does the Alternate Universe Hall of Fame look overall? The new Hall of Fame is not diluted by the Veterans Committee selections, and consists of most players elected by the BBWAA. These 112 players represent the best of the best, and it’s hard to argue against the greatness of any of these players.
There are a handful of players elected by the BBWAA, but thus far not in the Alternate Universe Hall of Fame and they are: Bill Terry, Dazzy Vance, Joe Medwick, Hoyt Wilhelm, Duke Snider, Ralph Kiner, Don Drysdale, Tony Perez, Gary Carter, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and Jim Rice. While certainly there is an argument to be made that some of these players deserve enshrinement, these players were ranked by the writers below the other 112 players - an assessment I would generally agree with. Each of these players also still has a chance to make the Hall in future years when there is the inevitable lull in new top candidates. One of those lulls occurs in 2010, when at least one of these players would likely have a chance to make the Hall of Fame in what is otherwise a fairly weak crop of new candidates.
Of course the Hall of Fame would be remiss without any Negro League players as well. In the real Hall of Fame, a Negro League Committee was created to include worthy Negro Leaguers. They inducted 9 players, while the Veterans Committee inducted a few more in later years. Then in 2006, 12 more Negro League players were inducted. Who knows how many more might be inducted in the future?
In the Alternate Universe Hall of Fame, in 1971 it was decided that a set number of 10 Negro Leaguers would be inducted into the Hall of Fame, spread over the next ten years. Considering that the Negro Leagues were only in their heyday for about 25 years, had fewer teams, and had several teams with questionable quality of play, ten players seems like about the right number to complement the 60 other Alternate Universe Hall of Famers in 1971. Of course, any players not making the cut would also be eligible for the regular BBWAA election in later years. The likely inductees would have been:
Comparing the Halls
In all, I much prefer this trimmed down, and fairer list of 122 men for the Hall of Fame, instead of the bloated, unrepresentative, and multi-tiered current Hall of Fame of 232 men. In the Alternate Universe Hall of Fame, you can say that these men are the 122 greatest players who ever played the game. You can't really say that that the current Hall includes the 232 greatest players. Does anyone really believe that Joe Gordon is a more qualified candidate than Ron Santo? No, but due to the Hall's strange election procedures, Gordon is in the Hall of Fame while Santo is not. Is there any chance that anyone thinks Rube Marquard was a better pitcher than Bert Blyleven? No, but Marquard is in and Blyleven is out. Is there any reason that hitters from the 1930's should be vastly over-represented? No, but thanks to the inanities of the Veterans Committee, we now have Lloyd Waner and his ilk permanently watering down the field. With a bit more foresight, the Hall of Fame could have set up a system similar to the Alternate Universe Hall of Fame and we would have a better Hall of Fame today.
The reason they didn't of course, is that nobody likes quotas. Players should be chosen on their merits, not based on some artificial numbers, you can hear the critics saying now. But in deciding on a shrine for the "greatest players", one way or another, the definition of how great is great enough gets defined. The Hall of Fame's founders should have taken the chance to define the size of the Hall of Fame explicitly, rather than the organic growth that has seen the Hall of Fame's standards become inconsistent over time. But the Hall of Fame didn't do that, and as a result we have the skewed, multi-tiered, irrevocably broken system we do today. I wish they had.