Before you are too critical of Corky Simpson, the Tucson, Ariz., baseball writer singled out for not voting for Rickey Henderson on his Hall of Fame ballot this year, consider a poll that ran on Page 2 last week.
Readers were asked which of 40 players active in 2008 they would vote into the Hall of Fame. There was no limit to the number of players you could vote for, all 40 players are good enough they certainly will make the ballot when they are eligible and many of the 40 likely will wind up in Cooperstown. But not according to Page 2 readers. Only eight of the 40 players received 75 percent of the vote, the minimum required for election to the Hall of Fame.
So if it were left up to those voters, Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez would not make the Hall of Fame. Tom Glavine, who has won more than 300 games and two Cy Young Awards, reached the 75 percent mark by the thinnest of margins.
That's the problem with recent calls to change the Hall of Fame voting procedure. I'm not against change, but I'm not convinced some of the proposals will improve the vote. In fact, I fear they would make it worse.
That's because the more voters you add, the more difficult it becomes to reach the required consensus of 75 percent. We learned this via the Veterans Committee, which expanded the pool of voters when there was a sense that it consolidated power among a select few old players. Specifically, the complaint was that veterans supposedly had to be friends of Ted Williams to get into Cooperstown. That might have been a legitimate concern, but at least Williams had a lot of friends, so the Veterans Committee added players from time to time. But due to the changes in the Veterans Committee voting procedure, almost no one gets in now. (We can only wonder what Ron Santo did to tick off so many of his peers.)
I'm open to giving broadcasters a vote. I'm also willing to listen to proposals that include some fans, although I'm not sure how this would work. But we must be careful about adding too many voters. Do it the wrong way, and we'll just make the Hall harder to get into, which is the opposite of what is desired by many of the people proposing changes.
In the meantime, here are ways we can improve the actual votes of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
1. Expand membership. It took way, way too long -- there are baseball writers who still aren't convinced this Internet thing will catch on -- but the BBWAA is finally expanding its membership, albeit slowly.
One complaint about limiting the vote to the BBWAA is that the organization has too many biased writers who refuse to take a more enlightened view of player evaluation. This is a legitimate concern. But now that the BBWAA has finally opened its doors to "non-traditional" writers such as Rob Neyer and Keith Law (plus yours truly) of ESPN.com and Christina Kahrl and Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus, this problem will lessen. In time, more and more of these writers and analysts will receive ballots and make their marks on the vote.
And then they, too, can know what it's like to be called a complete moron for not considering Lee Smith a Hall of Famer.
AP Photo/Eric Risberg
Come on, seriously -- how could you not vote for Rickey Henderson for the Hall of Fame?
2. Prune the voter rolls. In theory, baseball writers vote on the Hall of Fame because we cover so many games and talk with so many players over so many years that we get an informed view of which players deserve plaques in the Hall. At least, that's one justification. But some of our members are columnists and sports editors who have scant interest in baseball, seldom attend games and rarely speak to players. Nonetheless, they get votes, same as full-time baseball writers. That's wrong.
By all means, offer those people BBWAA membership and the access that comes with it -- but don't automatically grant them voting rights. Instead, require that, in addition to being an active member for 10 consecutive years, you also attend a minimum number of games (say 30 to 40) per season during that period. How would you know how many games a writer/editor attends? At the end of the season, simply have the local chapter chairman check the sign-in sheet in the media dining room, because there are only four recorded cases in baseball history of a writer attending a game without eating.
3. Make all votes public. If Bert Blyleven has to endure a decade of disappointment, he should at least know who isn't supporting him (and who is). And if you're a voter certain of your vote, you should be willing to justify it. If you can't, maybe you shouldn't have a vote.
Speaking of which
4. Get rid of the idiots. Call it the Corky Simpson Rule. If you fail to vote for a player who gets 94 percent (or thereabouts) of the vote, you should lose your voting privilege for a year. Do it again, and lose your vote for three years. Do it a third time, and lose it permanently.
I'm not talking about writers who don't vote for Jim Rice, Goose Gossage, even Kirby Puckett or anyone else on whom there is room for reasonable disagreement. But if you don't vote for Rickey Henderson (and 28 people did not), Tom Seaver (five did not), Willie Mays (23 did not) or Hank Aaron (nine did not), I'm sorry, you no longer can be considered an expert on baseball. The fact that previous voters were too stubborn to vote for Mickey Mantle is no excuse for continuing this indefensible practice. When I hear someone say, "No player has ever been a unanimous selection," my reaction is, "Well, why the @#$% not?"
Voting for the Hall of Fame isn't a right, it's a privilege. Abuse that privilege, and you should lose your vote.
TELL YOUR STATISTICS TO SHUT UP
• One more recommendation, which is more a matter for the Hall of Fame than the BBWAA. Have a heart. Don't kick players off the ballot if they don't get 5 percent the first year. As long as you get one vote that first year, you should stay on the ballot. After that, your percentage should have to at least equal the number of years you have been on the ballot (5 percent after five years, 11 percent after 11 years, etc.). This might never affect whether a player gets into Cooperstown, but it just seems wrong that very good players, such as Lou Whitaker, drop off after only one year of consideration.
• If you need another good time-suck (and don't we all?), go to the Hall of Fame Web site and look up the voting history on each player. This not only is a good way to eat up a productive afternoon at work, it could be the basis for a good book. Just look at Rice, who reached the 75 percent needed for inclusion in his 15th and final year of eligibility, after receiving only 29.8 percent his first year. As recently as 1999, he still was at less than 30 percent. What happened? Why did his vote total go up so dramatically, while Don Mattingly's has not? (Mattingly got a comparable 28.2 percent his first year, but even with the benefit of New York voters, he has never gained any traction and is down to 11.9 percent.) Why does one player gain momentum and another does not?
• Oh, and here's another item on how tough the standards for starting pitchers have become recently. No starting pitcher with fewer than 300 wins has made the Hall since Fergie Jenkins in 1991. In other words, as it has become more difficult to win 300 games due to the five-man rotation, we have increasingly used that as a standard. At the same time, as it has gotten easier to pile up save totals due to the one-inning specialist, we've been making it easier for closers to get in.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
HALL OF FAME 2009
Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice will make up the 2009 Hall of Fame class. Henderson was voted into the Hall in his first time on the ballot and Rice gained admission in his final time: