By Shannon Drayer
Each year the controversy surrounding Hall of Fame voting grows. If you are not on Twitter you (luckily) have missed the majority of it. The debate has become contentious online and it is becoming increasingly clear that it is time to put the entire process on the table and examine it.
This should be an enjoyable process that celebrates the game. Instead, it has turned into a huge negative with one writer pointing out Wednesday that we were doing something wrong if Armando Benitez and Jacques Jones were trending on Twitter while Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas were not.
I think it all begins with the voters. I think there are far too many who have far too little involvement with the game. I have seen an average of 140 games a year in person for the past 11 years. For each of those games I spend a minimum of eight hours at the ballpark. I see the on-the-field action, I understand what goes on off the field. I talk to baseball players every day. I live the sport from February to October. I continue to learn about the game.
I do not have a vote for the Hall of Fame yet there are sports editors and columnists who attend fewer than 10 games a year that do. I am just using this as an example, not lobbying for a vote. I am more concerned about those who are voting and perhaps shouldn’t be than those who aren’t, including myself.
I think potential voters should be carefully screened and be required to attend a minimum number of games be it as a writer (in print or online), broadcaster or a retired voter who is willing to work to stay involved. I think they should have a history with the game to fall back on and should display at least a rudimentary knowledge of numbers, new and old. I think former players — again, those who display a knowledge of numbers — should be involved as well.
I think the group should be smaller but more diverse. I also think if you hand pick the right group you should at that point trust them to make their own decisions. This applies to numbers, worthiness of position (although I have strong feeling about that and believe all positions are worthy of representation) and the handling of the character issues.
I do believe the last category has a place in this. If it didn’t then all of this would be easier. Establish the requirements and run the numbers. Being elected to the Hall of Fame is an honor. Honors aren’t just handed out for reaching milestones. This isn’t just about milestones. Baseball has never been that exact.
I think every living player should be given the opportunity to voice what they believe should be represented in the Hall of Fame. This is their sport. This represents them. I am not saying ignore or hide history. I don’t believe you should be required to honor it, however.
With all of that said and all the battles on Twitter this week, three very worthy candidates still managed to get elected Wednesday. How many more would we have seen if there was no limit on the number of candidates a voter could vote for? No doubt a rule change would have helped Craig Biggio, who missed being elected by two votes. He will have to wait at least another year.
The wait for Edgar Martinez will be much longer. It took eight years for Martinez to break fully into the big leagues. It will take him longer to break into the Hall of Fame. There is a chance he never makes it. In his fifth year of eligibility he saw his vote percentage drop from 32.9 percent to 25.2 percent, which was not unexpected with the number of top-flight candidates added to the ballot this year.
It was encouraging, however, to finally see a designated hitter elected. No doubt a good number of voters who have been against voting for a “part-time player” would rationalize their voting for a DH by considering Thomas a first baseman, but the fact of the matter is 4,334 of his plate appearances came as a first baseman while 5,698 were as a DH. Martinez’s splits are more drastic at 2,388/6,218 but this does appear to be progress.
I am optimistic that either changes in the voting process or the Veterans Committee will eventually take care of Martinez. In the short term it will be interesting to see if one DH opens the door for others. It should help David Ortiz’s case when he is eligible, which in turn should help Martinez if he is still on the ballot at that point.
Interestingly enough, if Ortiz walks through the doors of the Hall of Fame he will do so carrying with him a minimum of seven Edgar Martinez Awards. Slightly awkward.