I don’t think anyone would accuse me of hyperbole when I say that the Veterans’ Committee (VC) has been a disaster throughout the course of baseball history. I, myself, have criticized it on more than one occasion. As I have said before, it is a great idea in theory, but its execution has been abysmal. Ever ask a yourself how a completely undeserving Hall of Famer made it to Cooperstown? The VC was likely responsible.
Little has changed with the VC process over the years. It’s now split into Eras Committees, but the process is similar. With the rise of social media and publicly available databases such as Baseball Reference, as well as Hall of Fame specific advanced stats such as JAWS, fans appear to be getting more and more fed up. It was bad enough when Jack Morris got in, but last year’s election of Harold Baines was even more inexplicable.
There are some out there that have called for the abolition of the VC, given that it has done a lot more harm than good. While I would not lose any sleep if that happened after the current incarnation convenes in December, I would not go that far. There are mistakes that need correcting, such as the current consideration of Lou Whitaker, one of the worst Hall of Fame omissions that the BBWAA has ever made.
That being said, I am definitely in favor of putting in a timetable to end the VC. BBWAA voters are smarter than ever, and the quality of the voter pool continues to improve. I think it is safe to say that we are never going to have obvious misses again such as with the late Ron Santo and the aforementioned Whitaker. I can understand wanting to give further consideration to borderline players, but it is also fair to say that they had their chance after 10 years on the ballot, though we would have to get rid of the five percent rule.
In the past, I have summarized the problems with the VC by citing “the cronyism, the makeup of the committee, [and] the lack of transparency and accountability.” I thought it would be interesting to try address these problems in order to create a more effective version of the VC.
Harold Baines likely got elected in part because his former manager, Tony LaRussa, and White Sox owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, were on the committee. As FanGraphs’ Jay Jaffe pointed out, that was far from the only connection between the members of the committee and those on the ballot. Jaffe once broke down the rampant cronyism that plagued the history of the VC process over at Baseball Prospectus.
Of course one cannot directly prove that cronyism directly led to a player’s induction into the Hall of Fame via the VC, but at best, the optics are really bad. You can’t have a selection process were you have to question the motivations behind the voters, especially since none of them have to reveal whom they voted for and why. I can’t believe the Hall of Fame has ever allowed this, but then again, the Hall has never really cared about who gets in and who does not.
It is obviously not realistic to stack the electorate with people who have zero connections to any of the players on the ballot, but go back to that FanGraphs article by Jaffe I linked to above. They can do a lot better than that. One of the ways they can do that is by addressing the…
Makeup of the Committee
I don’t want to say that writers know more about baseball than former Hall of Fame players, but the Hall of Fame players on the VC are probably not well versed in modern baseball analysis. I am sure that they can provide great insight on how to play the game, but they are likely still evaluating players by outdated traditional stats such as RBI and pitcher record. The VC would benefit from being made up of mostly baseball writers instead of just 25 percent. I would also be in favor of including current or recent GMs.
There is also no reason to limit the VC to just 12 people, which just looks silly when you consider that there are hundreds of voters for the BBWAA ballot. Maybe 50? I don’t know what the right number is, but it should be way higher than 12. More voters would also lead to a dilution of the effects of cronyism.
Having a small number of people also risks that a strong personality can take control of the room. LaRussa, for example, is known for, shall we say, having a domineering personality. Now that does not mean that he belligerently brow beat the other voters to vote his way, but we would not know if he did because there is no…
Transparency and Accountability
Nobody has to reveal whom they voted for or why. It’s a joke! We don’t even know how the Hall of Fame comes up with the VC ballot! Would Baines be in the Hall of Fame if each person who voted for him had to publicly reveal that he did so?
Thankfully, this is a simple fix. Voters would have to reveal their ballots, and they have to write up their reasoning behind their selections. Voters who are not writers can have ghost writers assigned to them if they would like. I am sure they would not have any trouble finding a major outlet to publish their rationale.
What I would consider to be the biggest problem with the VC process still remains, however. Let’s say that I was part of a small committee commissioned by the Hall of Fame to overhaul the VC process. Obviously I would present my proposals above, but I would be willing to forgo all of them in exchange for this:
The Veterans Committee would no longer be able to directly elect players to the Hall of Fame.
My biggest problem with Baines getting in was not so much how poorly he compared to the Hall standard, but how it was a gigantic middle finger to the BBWAA voters. This was not like Santo or Whitaker, where the voters clearly screwed up and a modern lens shows us how good they really were. There was nothing new to consider with Baines’s candidacy.
In fact, Baines was first eligible relatively recently in 2007. He fell off the ballot in his fifth year of eligibility, when 553 out of 581 voters deemed him to not be worthy of Cooperstown. He peaked at only 6.1 percent of the vote. And yet, nine people reversed that decision for reasons they have more or less declined to share.
Omar Vizquel is a divisive Hall candidate. While he was certainly a very good player, I do not understand his candidacy at all. However, 42.8 percent of last year’s electorate disagrees, which is up almost six percentage points over the year before. History shows that Vizquel will get in eventually, but even if he does not, how much do you want to bet that the VC will put him in first chance they get? Yadier Molina will be another divisive candidate for whom you can say the same.
It just feels like Vizquel and eventually Molina being on the BBWAA ballot is a farce, and it has nothing to do with the merits of their cases, but because you know the VC will just backdoor them in regardless. It is completely disrespectful to the BBWAA voters.
What I would proposed is that anybody that clears 75 percent of the VC vote would not receive automatic election, but that such players would go back on the BBWAA ballot for a second chance. A full ten-year second chance would be a bit much, but maybe three to five years depending on how much support they get. I would not be opposed to lowering the bar for induction for these players either, but it might be best to also provide a high bar for staying on the ballot. After all, if a player on his second chance on the ballot can’t get many votes, he definitely is not going to get elected in only a few years. Maybe 60 percent for induction and at least 30 percent to stay on the ballot? There is obviously a lot of room for discussion on those numbers.
I think that preventing the VC from directly electing players to the Hall of Fame would go a long way towards preventing future poor selections while giving overlooked players a fair second chance and respecting the BBWAA’s vote. Will the Hall of Fame ever even consider any of my suggestions here? Of course not. But one can dream.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.