In late July the Hall of Fame delivered some very good, albeit long overdue news: BBWAA members who were more than 10 years removed from actively covering the game would no longer be allowed to vote for the Hall of Fame.
Prior to the move, once a writer was eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame — with said eligibility coming after 10 years of BBWAA membership — they got that vote for life. This meant that a great many voters who were no longer covering baseball, including many who never really covered baseball in a meaningful way, got 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. It didn’t matter. At the same time, active BBWAA members who were totally engaged with the game and who possessed a thorough knowledge of its history had no vote if they hadn’t been in the club for a decade. It made no sense.
While those BBWAA members without ten years still can’t vote, at least now the dead wood is out. At least in theory. In any event, the Hall of Fame announced today that, as a result of the change, the voting pool has been cut by about 20 percent. Specifically, it estimated 475 ballots would be mailed for the upcoming election. Last year about 600 ballots were mailed and 549 were cast.
This year Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman are the top new candidates for election. I suspect that the change will have zero effect for Griffey, who will be about as close to a unanimous choice as any ballplayer can be (note: there has never been a unanimous choice). Hoffman could see some benefit in that, in theory, the rule change will eliminate more older voters, many of whom may be less amenable to vote for a relief pitcher who plied his trade in an era of specialization.
The backlog could be helped as well. Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines all drew over 50 percent last year but fell short of the required 75 percent needed for election. If you believe that Piazza and Bagwell were dinged by PED suspicions, and if you think that older, less-engaged voters are more likely to harbor such suspicions, their totals should go up. The same could apply to Raines insofar as the merits of his Hall case tend to be less obvious to a certain stripe of voter. Possibly older ones who are less prone to dig deeply into the numbers and prefer to look at more traditional milestones. Not that Raines’ case requires a microscope to appreciate, but that’s another conversation.
These are all broad generalizations of course, and it’s quite possible they’re unfair generalizations. We don’t know how every single voter votes or which voters are being deprived of the franchise. Maybe the culling of the electorate changes things, maybe it does not. But whatever happens, it’s a good move aimed at arriving at a better, more engaged electorate.