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December 4, 2012

Skewed Left

Could We See a Blank Hall of Fame Ballot in 2013?

by Zachary Levine

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Before thinking about the awkwardness that the next Hall of Fame ceremony could unleash on the baseball world, we’ll think first of Sal’s Pizzeria and Nicoletta’s, the Cooperstown haunts that need that weekend a lot more than we do.

They won’t be ruined by an induction weekend where a steroid user gets a key to the somewhat sacrosanct halls of 25 Main Street. What will hurt them is the lack of visitors that would follow the very realistic scenario of the BBWAA turning in a collectively blank ballot with none of the 37 candidates reaching 75 percent of the votes on the individual ballot.

It would lead to a type of induction ceremony not seen since 1965, when Pud Galvin was a class unto himself and also 63 years grave-bound. Though three worthy candidates were granted admission by the Veterans Committee on Monday, all three of them have been deceased since the 1930s, meaning that a blank BBWAA ballot would make for the first induction weekend since Galvin’s without a living inductee.

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum president Jeff Idelson acknowledged that this was a possibility but not a devastating one to him.

“At the end of the day you want your election process to be that: an election process and not an appointment,” Idelson said. “What’s most important to us is the integrity of the process.”

It’s a two-part process that began Monday with the election of three figures from the pre-integration era. With 12 votes necessary for induction, Jacob Ruppert received 15 of 16 votes on the strength of his tenure as Yankees owner that featured the acquisition of Babe Ruth and the building of the real Yankee Stadium. Long-serving National League umpire Hank O’Day also received 15 votes, while (notably barehanded) catcher and third baseman Deacon White, who played from 1871-90, received 14.

That was the easy part. Now comes the loud part, as the BBWAA pores over the ballot sent to them with intentionally vague language, some statistics, and a lot of pressure and anticipation.

The best hope to prevent an empty stage would be Jack Morris on his 14th of 15 tries. He won’t get the do-or-die boost that next year’s inclusion would bring, but his candidacy has taken a pretty nice trajectory toward 75 percent. He dipped after 2006 and has been on the increase since:

2007: 37.1%
2008: 42.9%
2009: 44.0%
2010: 52.3%
2011: 53.5%
2012: 66.7%

The 2013 ballot debutant Craig Biggio is the second favorite for induction, and while Mike Piazza could have a strong debut and Jeff Bagwell has progressed up to 56 percent and enters his third ballot, no other candidate has much of a shot to emerge from a bizarrely aligned set of circumstances. There’s a crowded ballot, omnipresent drug questions, and a deep divide in the candidacy of the favorite whose numbers don’t stack up for some but whose postseason highlights and durability are enough for others.

The funny part of a potential BBWAA goose egg is that this is the deepest ballot in recent memory. There is a statistical argument to make that Biggio, who reached the generally potent 3,000 hits milestone, is the 11th-most-deserving player on the ballot. (He’s seventh on the ballot according to WARP, but Baseball-Reference’s WAR has him 11th and Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system ranks him tied for 10th/11th.) Beyond the stats, voters may hold a first-ballot bias, drug suspicion, or just simply run out of room before they get to him. The rules imposed on the BBWAA voters limits each to 10 names, and Idelson is in no hurry to change that even with what next year potentially looks like.

“Ten is a lot,” Idelson said. “It’s a lot of votes. It’s 25 percent of what’s traditionally on a ballot.”

As has been much discussed, including by Dave Cameron in his plea to expand the ballot, should the BBWAA fail to elect anybody this year, next year’s ballot is a total mess for any writer inclined to vote only on performance lines. Never mind the fact that Morris would be a near-lock to make it in his last year of eligibility. A statistics-minded voter picking a different 10 for his or her ballot—let’s say 2014 virgins Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina and Frank Thomas, plus Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, Curt Schilling, Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez—would have to leave off Biggio, Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Kent, Alan Trammell, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Larry Walker and Kenny Lofton (if the underappreciated case of Lofton even surpasses the five percent necessary to stay on the ballot this year). Maddux and Glavine would get in, but everyone else could be lost in a math problem that shows no signs of ending.

A BBWAA election this year that yields no Hall of Famer might be closer to an accurate view of players’ candidacies than a ballot that yields only Morris, as electing Morris would significantly lower the bar for entry if precedent is to be considered. However, a blank ballot could be a bigger disaster for the Writers Association and the Hall.

It would mean an even bigger backlog of candidates next year, and the possibility of the loudest calls yet for overhauling the process or for the need for the Hall to step in. And worst of all, an emptiness muting what is supposed to be a joyous celebration next July.

Zachary Levine is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Zachary's other articles. You can contact Zachary by clicking here

Related Content:  Hall Of Fame,  Induction,  Voting,  Ballot

12 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

chrisekeedei

Good article, but I was hoping to find a deeper analysis about the new pre-integration selections somewhere on the site. I was surprised in particular by Deacon White, but I'm willing to be convinced. Anyone know of a place that analyzes those in more depth? Who were the other guys on the ballot?

Dec 04, 2012 04:11 AM
rating: 1
 
Behemoth

http://mlb.si.com/2012/11/27/jaws-pre-integration-hall-of-fame-ballot-part-1/#more-3057

Dec 04, 2012 05:39 AM
rating: 2
 
jdeich

Fun statistical note on Deacon White being a barehanded catcher: In 1871, he played 29 games at catcher, and B-Ref has him at 109 passed balls and 34 errors.

Insert Mike Piazza Hall of Fame joke here.

Dec 04, 2012 06:35 AM
rating: 5
 
Sharky

I thought Piazza was a lock, no? Doesn't JAWS put him clearly in the mix given peak and career metrics?

Dec 04, 2012 08:05 AM
rating: 2
 
TADontAsk

He might be a lock by those standards, but who knows what the BBWAA is going to do. Between the writers who don't like voting for players their first time on the ballot, and the ones who hold grudges against anyone from the steroid era, no one entering the ballot is a lock.

Then consider that 5% of voters didn't check off Babe Ruth or Willie Mays on their ballot.

Dec 04, 2012 08:24 AM
rating: 3
 
RedsManRick

If Jack Morris enters the HOF on a ballot where Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling don't, they might as well just get rid of the process altogether. What is the point of the HOF if it's not for the best players?

Dec 04, 2012 08:49 AM
rating: 15
 
alangreene

If you go to Baseball Think Factory, the Hall of Merit section has quite a few massive, interesting threads on Deacon White.

Dec 04, 2012 09:04 AM
rating: 2
 
BayCityM

BBWAA is brutal on all accounts. It is easy to just say that the awards and Hall don't matter, but as a baseball fan they do. I think the BBWAA does a huge disservice to baseball by the way it votes.

Dec 04, 2012 09:41 AM
rating: 5
 
Bkmcmahon

I am amused, and irritated, that the headlines say Bonds, Clemons and Sosa won't get in, but it appears Piazza will. Do people really believe he was clean too? Or, is it because he is nice to the press and has a good personality?

AND

Rock Raines should be in!!

Dec 04, 2012 11:09 AM
rating: 2
 
SC

Indeed, perhaps Tim Raines' case gets some momentum in the next two years as voters avoid the "steriod cases" but still want to turn in ballots. Now must be the time for that momentum, as pointed out, the decisions get tougher as the greats from the 90s and early 00s appear on the ballot.

Dec 04, 2012 13:42 PM
rating: 0
 
Ric Size

Wow! People really do care about the HoF.

I wrote an article giving my thought-out answers to all your HoF questions and more, and have submitted it to Russell & Ben for BP publication.

This is the most important HoF ballot ever. This is the fan's chance to be right, at an important milestone in baseball history.

Probably the best pitcher and the best player ever, have reportedly received around 25% support from the writers who vote.

Use your +/- to if you want to have your voice heard and your questions debated & answered, in this article.

Dec 04, 2012 16:47 PM
rating: 6
 
drawbb

Has anybody in the history of baseball parlayed a single well-played game into the Hall of Fame before now? Unfortunately, that is exactly what is about to happen when the Flat Earth Society votes for Morris. In that one respect, it'd be like enshrining Don Larsen.

Maybe they can even have Sanctimonious Costas and Hear-No-Evil Morgan evangelize the announcement of Morris's election from atop their soapboxes filled with charred copies of Moneyball while the Most Feared Man Alive! Jim Rice leads the morality police sportswriters in a crusade to burn the next great player who is suspected of suspicious suspicion.

Dec 06, 2012 03:56 AM
rating: 2
 
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