Saunders: Baseball Hall of Fame voting process isn’t perfect but it’s darn good
I came across the following letter to the editor in Thursday’s Denver Post.
“If the National Baseball Hall of Fame was worthy of its name, retired Colorado Rockies player Todd Helton would already be enshrined. As it is, the unworthy voters — none of whom could bat .100 in T-ball — torture a player of nobility and grace for another year. Perhaps they should build a Hall of Shame in Cooperstown filled with images of baseball writers/voters facing a blank wall in embarrassment?”
— Harry Puncec, Lakewood
Well, Harry, as a past president of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and a Hall of Fame voter, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be ticked off by your letter.
I mean, seriously, .100? I’m positive I could hit above the Mendoza Line in T-ball.
As for the rest of your take, I’ve got a few issues.
Yes, I was bummed that Helton didn’t make it to Cooperstown this year, but he’s not being “tortured.” Helton is going to be elected next year, on his sixth year on the ballot. For a player who is not a slam-dunk Hall of Famer like Ken Griffey Jr. or Mike Schmidt, making it on the sixth try is pretty good.
And I have heard from a number of other fans who complain that the Hall of Fame voting system is a mess and needs to be replaced. Baseball writers aren’t qualified to vote for the Hall of Fame, or so the argument goes.
A writer has to cover baseball for 10 consecutive years to earn the right to vote. It’s an honor and a hard-earned privilege. A Major League Baseball season is 162 games long, and beat writers, in particular, pay close attention to the game.
The vast majority of writers take their votes very seriously and spend many hours contemplating their selections. We talk to other writers, players, managers, and others in the game to get a sense of who’s truly worthy of induction into Cooperstown.
As Bob Nightengale, the national baseball writer for USA Today wrote the other day: “The doors to the Baseball Hall of Fame are easily the most difficult to enter among the four major sports. It represents only the greatest of the great who have ever stepped onto the field in baseball history.”
That’s as it should be and that means tough choices have to be made.
I’ve had fans suggest that the Hall of Fame voting should be handed off to the players. Seriously? Do you think that players wouldn’t hold grudges or take a myopic view of their fellow players? Of course they would.
And let’s face it, a lot of players’ sense of baseball history is not that good.
The Hall of Fame voting process is far from perfect. I do believe there is an East Coast bias that hurts players like Helton who get overlooked because they play in less populated regions of the country.
Also, I disagree with those writers who submit a blank ballot, don’t vote at all, or just pick one or two players a year as if they are somehow upholding the sanctity of the game when all they are really doing is trying to show that they are smarter than everybody else.
One of the reasons I like the Baseball Hall of Fame voting process is because it’s out in the open and has become part of our public debate. I think that’s healthy, plus it keeps baseball in the sports public’s eye during the dog days of winter.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame utilizes a 49-person selection committee to determine who’s enshrined in Canton, Ohio. The committee is made up of an august group but it’s not perfect, either. A lot of lobbying goes on behind closed doors. You can ask Broncos great Randy Gradishar about that.
If there was one major change I would make to the Baseball Hall of Fame voting, it would be this: Include the daily TV and radio broadcasters in the process. Most of them know the game inside and out. They do their homework. Most of them know the difference between a good player, a great player and a Hall of Famer.
As for Mr. Puncec’s call for a writers’ “Hall of Shame” in Cooperstown, I think it should only include those writers who hit .100 or less in T-ball.
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