The Hall of Fame ballot limit is a problem. But the composition of the electorate is a bigger one.


Yesterday Buster Olney said that he would abstain from voting for the Hall of Fame due to the ridiculous choices and strategies the arbitrary 10-vote limit on Hall of Fame ballots causes voters to make. Tyler Kepner of the New York Times — who is eligible to vote but does not per his paper’s rules — looks at the problem himself today and he has a different solution: don’t vote for Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.

Not that he thinks they shouldn’t be in the Hall — without checking back at all of his stuff my impression is that Kepner probably would support their candidacies if he voted — but because their continued presence on the ballot is the source of the logjam. It’s a fact that they will maintain more than 5% of the vote and stay on the ballot. It’s also certain, absent a radical change in the electorate’s collective mind, that neither Bonds nor Clemens will get the 75% needed for induction, thus filling up two of the ten slots on the ballot for years to come and squeezing out others. Kepner believes, correctly, given current realities, that Bonds and Clemens are a case for the Veteran’s Committee, so let’s get them there faster and make room for others.

This approach is, without question, logically sound. But it’s also kind of galling that such an approach seems necessary. Kepner notes that a BBWAA committee is coming up with recommendations for changes to the Hall of Fame ballot, including the elimination of the 10-vote rule. That would help.

But it’s also the case that freeing the roughly 35% of the people who vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens of their responsibilities to those two candidates is not some panacea. Yes, some of them are forced by circumstances to not vote for a player they want to, but knowing what we know about voter habits, the 60% or so not voting for Bonds and Clemens are not currently supporting, say, Edgar Martinez in large numbers. Nor are those 35% voting for Bonds or Clemens champing at the bit to vote for Fred McGriff or Lee Smith.

The fact is that ballot crush — while certainly a problem — is not as big a problem as it’s made out to be. In the voting for the 2013 inductees, only 22 percent of voters used all ten slots on their ballots. Last year, in perhaps the most loaded Hall of Fame ballot of all time, only 50 percent of voters filled out all 10 spots. What’s really going on is that a huge number of voters simply aren’t voting for the many, many worthy candidates on the ballot, for whatever reason. And that’s before we even get to the gimmicky ballots or blank ballot protest votes which enrage so many.

Getting rid of the ballot limit will help a bit. And it will certainly ease the minds of “big hall” voters who, like me, see at least 12 and maybe as many as 15 great candidates on the current ballot and would like to vote for them all. But it’s not a sufficient step. What is truly needed is for the BBWAA to cull and reorganize the electorate itself.

As it stands, once you are eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame, you get that vote for life, which means that a great many voters who are no longer covering baseball — including many who never really covered baseball in a meaningful way — get a vote. Editors who oversaw baseball writers for a time. People who covered baseball for a few minutes during the Carter Administration but later went on to do other things. At the moment, the BBWAA will take away everyday credentials from a member if he or she is not affiliated with a BBWAA-approved outlet for two years, yet it will not take away a Hall of Fame vote from someone who has had no professional need to pay attention to baseball for decades.

Meanwhile, a lot of reporters who live and breathe baseball and have done so for many, many years do not get to vote because they have not achieved a standard just as arbitrary as the ten vote limit: ten years of BBWAA tenure. In this instance I think of guys like Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He’s one of the best in the business and has been for a long time. He’s now the vice president of the BBWAA. He also did not get a Hall of Fame ballot until this year because he did not have his ten years in. There is no logical reason why he shouldn’t have been allowed to vote for the past decade while some guy who has covered golf or olympic sports since the 80s has cast ballots each year and will until they die.

The counterargument to this is that, since there is a historical element to all of this, having legacy voices is useful. Perhaps, but only to a very small degree. Many of those old voters have been out of the baseball game for the entire length of some current candidates’ careers and never saw them once, undercutting the “eyewitness to history” argument. At the same time, currently active and working BBWAA members are, just like anyone else, entirely capable of assessing the careers of players they did not actively cover or did not cover for long.  Indeed, the entirety of baseball analysis and scholarship is based on the work of people who did not see Player X play talking about and contextualizing Player X’s career, rendering the “I saw him play” argument is a fallacy. More generally speaking, even if you aren’t into super advanced metrics, it is inescapable that the state of the art in baseball analysis has changed an awful lot in the past 25 or 30 years. No organization I know of outside of baseball — including historically-minded organizations — would continue to grant special and influential status to people who have no reason to keep up with advances in the field while eschewing fresher voices, yet the BBWAA does this with the Hall of Fame.

One would think that the BBWAA would want to have its brightest, most engaged members involved in the Hall of Fame voting process as opposed to treating a Hall of Fame vote like a gold watch given out at retirement or some sort of sinecure. It does so already with the postseason awards, giving the vote to currently active writers who are, by professional necessity, engaged in covering and study of baseball. And, as a result, the awards voting, while prone to some occasional dustups, has not resulted in the wholesale rejection of baseball accomplishment the way the Hall of Fame voting has come to do. And, as baseball thinking and analysis has improved, the awards voting has as well.

The removal of the 10-vote limit is a good thing. It’s a start. But it’s not going to fully get at the larger problem of a Hall of Fame that is missing a great many of the greatest players of all time. One thing that would do that is to address the composition of the Hall of Fame electorate itself. That is within the control of the BBWAA and is not something the Hall of Fame itself has to pass on. Here’s hoping some of the bright minds in the BBWAA are considering it.

MLB, WNBA postpone games due to smoke from Canadian wildfires

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NEW YORK — With the stench of smoke permeating Yankee Stadium and wafting through its walkways, Major League Baseball postponed games in New York and Philadelphia on Wednesday night because of poor air quality caused by Canadian wildfires.

A National Women’s Soccer League game in New Jersey and an indoor WNBA game set for Brooklyn were also called off Wednesday amid hazy conditions that have raised alarms from health authorities.

The New York Yankees’ game against the Chicago White Sox was rescheduled as part of a doubleheader starting at 4:05 p.m. on Thursday, and the Philadelphia Phillies’ game against the Detroit Tigers was reset for 6:05 p.m. on Thursday, originally a day off for both teams.

“These postponements were determined following conversations throughout the day with medical and weather experts and all of the impacted clubs regarding clearly hazardous air quality conditions in both cities,” MLB said in a statement.

The National Weather Service issued an air quality alert for New York City, saying: “the New York State Department of Health recommends that individuals consider limiting strenuous outdoor physical activity to reduce the risk of adverse health effects.” In Philadelphia, the NWS issued a Code Red.

The Yankees and White Sox played through a lesser haze on Tuesday night. A day later, stadium workers and fans arriving early to the ballpark wore face masks for protection in a scene reminiscent of the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was business as usual for me coming in. I got in around 12, 12:30, and didn’t really think too much of it,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I actually walked outside about 2 o’clock and was like – like everyone else, like – whoa.”

White Sox manager Pedro Grifol thought MLB made the right decision postponing the game.

“These are health issues, right? So this has got to be it. We’ve been through everything – snow, rain, hail. I don’t think I’ve been through something like this,” he said. “Today at one point, it was pretty bad out there. We walked out of the dugout and it was kind of orange. They did the right thing. They got all the information.

“I’m assuming if Major League Baseball is comfortable setting up a doubleheader tomorrow, they have some type of information that it should be better than what it is today, or at least safe.”

In Philadelphia, the Phillies beat the Tigers 1-0 on Tuesday night in a game played in hazy conditions with the smell of smoke in the air. Afterward, manager Rob Thomson and his Phillies players said the conditions didn’t affect them.

About a half-hour before Wednesday’s postponement, Thomson said he thought the game would be played. But the Philadelphia skyline could not be seen from the ballpark in the afternoon, and the smoky smell remained.

Minor league teams nearby also changed plans. The Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania, and the Mets’ top farm club in Syracuse, New York, postponed their games for the second consecutive night.

The Mets’ High-A affiliate in Brooklyn completed a game Wednesday against Greenville that began at 11 a.m.

The WNBA called off a game between the Minnesota Lynx and New York Liberty, saying the decision was made to “protect the health and safety of our fans, teams and community.” A makeup date wasn’t immediately announced.

Even inside Barclays Center at the morning shootaround, reporters could smell smoke in the arena.

The NWSL postponed Orlando’s match at Gotham in Harrison, New Jersey, from Wednesday night to Aug. 9.

“The match could not be safely conducted based on the projected air quality index,” the NWSL said.

At nearby Belmont Park, the New York Racing Association said training went on as planned Wednesday ahead of Saturday’s Triple Crown horse race. However, NYRA canceled training Thursday morning at Belmont and Saratoga Race Course upstate “due to poor air quality conditions forecast to impact New York State overnight and into Thursday morning.”

NYRA said a decision about Thursday’s live racing program, scheduled to begin at 3:05 p.m., will be made Thursday morning “following a review of the air quality conditions and forecast.”

“NYRA utilizes external weather services and advanced on-site equipment to monitor weather conditions and air quality in and around Belmont Park,” spokesman Patrick McKenna said Wednesday. “Training was conducted normally today, and NYRA will continue to assess the overall environment to ensure the safety of training and racing throughout the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival.”

New York’s NFL teams, the Giants and Jets, both had Wednesday off from offseason workouts. The Giants had been planning to practice inside Thursday, and the Jets said they are also likely to work out indoors Thursday.

Youth sports in the area were also affected, with parents quick to voice concern about their children’s safety outdoors.

In a statement Wednesday, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association said schools should understand that all schedules were subject to change.

“NJSIAA is closely monitoring air quality data across New Jersey and local/state health advisories. As start times for athletic events draw near, we will make decisions for each venue and sport based on currently available information,” the organization said.

It’s not the first time in recent years that wildfires forced changes to the MLB schedule. A two-game series in Seattle between the Mariners and Giants was moved to San Francisco in September 2020 because of poor air quality caused by West Coast wildfires.

About an hour after Wednesday night’s game at Yankee Stadium was postponed, two fans visiting on vacation from Vancouver, British Columbia, were still lingering outside the ballpark.

“It’s just circumstances. What do I say? It makes me disappointed because this is one of the highlights of the trip,” said Malcolm, who was in town with his daughter and didn’t want to give his last name.

“I have a heart condition. That’s the only reason I’m wearing two masks and whatever. And my personal thought is that, why wasn’t it canceled two days ago? Because we knew about all this two days ago. But having said that, I don’t want the players running around and putting out in this, too. It can’t be good for them.”