Reduction in HOF voters may have big impact

January 4th, 2016

NEW YORK -- We won't know for sure until the National Baseball Hall of Fame results are announced live on MLB Network and on Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET, but a recent voting policy change could have a drastic effect on this year's results.

It used to be that any member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America with either 10 years of consecutive experience covering Major League Baseball or anyone with a lifetime honorary membership automatically had a Hall of Fame vote. That is no longer the case.

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For the Class of 2016 election, the eligibility rules have been altered to cull BBWAA voting members who have not been active covering baseball for the past 10 years. Voters must still register online, but after a decade of not being active in the BBWAA, each is judged year by year by how many games he or she covered during the previous season.

The result so far is a substantial cut in the amount of voters. Last year, when John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Craig Biggio were elected, about 575 ballots were mailed out and 549 were cast.

How writers voted in Hall of Fame balloting

For this year's vote about 100 fewer ballots than last year were mailed out, said Brad Horn, the Hall of Fame's vice president of communication and education. Those 100 members shed either didn't apply or didn't qualify, according to Horn. In another change, this time the ballots were collected directly and audited by the accounting firm of Ernst and Young rather than as traditionally done by the Hall.

Since the ballots will not be checked until Wednesday, Horn said he doesn't know yet how many were cast. How the smaller electoral pool will affect the election of candidates is also very much open to question, although 75 percent is still the threshold for election. That mark was 412 of 549 votes last year, and the ratio will obviously be a lot lower this year, with a candidate needing 357 votes for induction, assuming all 475 ballots are filed.

"I don't know how you guys feel, but I think there was some pretty strong evidence of people who were [casting] some votes that probably had to be taken a closer look at," said Smoltz, the former Braves pitcher who is now a baseball analyst for MLB Network and FOX. "That process should be taken with the utmost of seriousness."

Anecdotally, many of the non-active BBWAA members who were voting seemed to err on the side of exclusivity, submitting ballots with only one or two names on them. Removing such ballots could open the doors for players whose vote totals have stagnated in the 50-percent range, such as Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines. In fact, based on public ballot tracking done by Ryan Thibs, both Raines and Bagwell are sitting at roughly 80 percent with close to 150 ballots accounted for.

The current rule changes came in the wake of ESPN TV and radio host Dan Le Batard allowing Deadspin, a popular sports website, to cast his ballot for him two years ago. Le Batard had his membership privileges to the BBWAA suspended for a year and his Hall voting rights suspended for perpetuity.

At the time, Le Batard said he made the decision to give away his vote as a form of protest in the midst of the ongoing controversy over what should be done about players whose careers were overshadowed by the performance-enhancing drug issue.

Neither the Hall of Fame nor the BBWAA has any specific rules or advice about how to handle those candidates, although ethics and integrity do play a part in it. Rule 5 on every ballot states: "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."

In the aftermath of Le Batard's action, the Hall began to register voters online with a specification that by doing so a voter would not relinquish his or her ballot to a third party under threat of losing it forever.

The Hall also decided to invoke what Horn calls its new "rules of conduct." And at the same board meeting during Hall of Fame Weekend 2014, Hall officials shortened a player's eligibility period from 15 years to 10, grandfathering in three players still in the 11-to-15-year period: Don Mattingly, Lee Smith and Alan Trammell. Mattingly fell off the ballot last year after receiving 9.1 percent of the vote in his 15th year. Trammell is in his 15th and final year, and Smith has one more year remaining.

This year's removal of 100 potential voters could very well have the largest impact of all these changes.

"The board feels that the changes enacted over the last two years ensure that the highest levels of integrity are maintained in the voting process, with the most active electorate possible considering candidates for Hall of Fame election," said Hall of Fame chairman Jane Forbes Clark.

Come Wednesday, we'll get a true sense of just what kind of impact all of these changes might have.