Despite shift, Hall voters resistant to change

January 7th, 2016

The Hall of Fame electorate became younger and smaller. But its core values didn't really change.

Some national commentators had promoted the notion that sweeping changes would be seen in the 2016 Hall of Fame voting. These changes would come about, the theory went, because the Hall was trimming some retired baseball writers from the list of eligible voters.

The electorate certainly became smaller. There were 440 votes cast in this year's election. There had been 549 in 2015. The voters are members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America who have been active for at least 10 years.

:: Griffey, Piazza make Hall of Fame ::

The voters who remained did the right thing in electing Ken Griffey Jr. with a record 99.3 percent of the vote. But this didn't change, either. No one has ever been elected unanimously to the Hall of Fame. Three people out of 440 found a way to leave Griffey off their ballot. Who? Why? Huh? What the heck? These are the questions that reasonable people would ask in a case such as this.

And the voters were right again in electing Mike Piazza with 83 percent of the vote. This was Piazza's fourth year on the ballot and it was clearly time for him to be on his way to Cooperstown.

But the sweeping changes in the voting did not occur. One theory frequently spouted was that the candidacies of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens would make great leaps.

Both have been linked to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The thinking was that the older generation of writers would have been much more vehemently opposed to Bonds and Clemens, but younger voters entering the electorate -- who, in some cases, had not covered the game during the height of the steroid era -- would not be opposed to either candidacy.

So Bonds and Clemens were, according to this line of thought, going to receive a big boost in support. But they did not.

Clemens went up from 37.5 percent of the vote last year to 45.2 percent this year. Bonds went up from 36.8 percent last year to 44.3 percent this year. With 75 percent of the vote required for election, these candidacies have hardly been transformed by the change in the electorate.

There was small progress on paper for Bonds and Clemens. But this sort of change in the electorate is only going to occur once. These results were actually bad news for both candidacies.

There was a related school of thought that, with those old curmudgeon writers no longer guarding the gates at Cooperstown, a new generation of writers, guided by sabermetrics, would sweep a bunch of players into the Hall. In fact, Griffey and Piazza were the only candidates elected. The candidates who made the most progress were those who should have had more support previously, but are getting it now, much better late than never.

Jeff Bagwell was primary in that category, going from 55.7 percent of the vote in 2015 to 71.6 percent this year. Tim Raines had an increase nearly that large, reaching 69.8 percent.

When candidates reach this level of support, their election is a question of when, not if. In the past 20 years, 13 of the 14 men who were named on two-thirds of the ballots, but were short of 75 percent, eventually were elected. Only Jack Morris, who reached that level on his last season on the writers' ballot, was not elected.

Include Trevor Hoffman in that "when not if" category. He pulled 67.3 percent of the vote, a justifiably strong showing in his first year on the ballot.

In the end, the demographics of the voters were altered, but the viewpoints of the electorate were not dramatically changed. There was still majority resistance to the concept of players associated with PEDs reaching the Hall.

And there was not a rush to elect a raft of candidates based on an arbitrary statistical framework. Hall voters are younger as a group than they were last year, and they are deliberating with more information in hand than ever before. But the fundamental character of this election did not seem to fluctuate.