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Goold: A modest proposal to improve Hall of Fame voting

Goold: A modest proposal to improve Hall of Fame voting

Cardinals v Giants NLCS Game 4

Barry Bonds walks out on a crutch to throw the first game to start Game 4 of the National League Championship Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014, at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Photo by J.B. Forbes,

SAN DIEGO • I have before me a Hall of Fame ballot for the class of 2015.

Behind me are history, the riddle of baseball’s performance-enhanced era, voting trends of the past decade, and, of course, an Internet-fueled horde with pitchforks and torches awaiting an inevitable misstep. (’s Jay Jaffe, who is a leading authority on the Hall and modern candidates, is literally sitting behind me as I start typing this, sans pitchfork, for now.)

'Tis the season of Hall of Fame voting and thus Hall of Fame debate and Hall of Fame dissension. It has become its own Advent calendar, counting down the days until late December when the ballots are due and then January when the class is announced. The first milestone of the season happens today, Monday here at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, when the players selected by the Veterans Committee Golden Era are revealed. Cardinals captain Ken Boyer is one of the candidates along with Dick Allen, former Cardinals pitcher Jim Kaat, Gil Hodges and others. The committee is made up of eight current Hall of Famers, including Ozzie Smith, and four executives and four media members or historians. A player needs at least 12 votes for election.

Ballots for the contemporary players – a list that includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tim Raines, Craig Biggio, and newcomers to the ballot Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz – are due just after Christmas. To be elected a player must receive 75 percent of the votes cast. The voters are active and honorary members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who have been in good standing for at least 10 years.

This ballot is my first.

Already, I see my colleagues’ common complaint.

I don’t get to vote on every candidate.

Allow me to suggest a solution: the binary ballot.

Already this month we’ve had a major national baseball writer express his decision to not vote at all. Buster Olney, of ESPN, wrote (paywalled) that he will abstain from voting because he “can’t stand the idea of casting a ballot that works against players (who) I think should be inducted such as Mussina, Schilling, or others. … I’ll abstain, and hope that in the future the rules change.” New York Times baseball writer Tyler Kepner explores the bind Olney and other voters are in with his suggestion: stop voting for Clemens and Bonds. Kepner’s beef is not with the two players who have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs but with a ballot that does not allow the voters to flex with all their might.

Each voter is limited to a maximum of 10 selections.

This rule has been in place since 1936. But never has the ballot been this backloaded with qualified but controversial candidates, and the clock is ticking on each player and his eligibility. If a voter believes there are 11 deserving candidates, then that voter must choose what 10 he or she will vote for. The voter can decide to, say, leave Randy Johnson off the ballot because he’s a shoo-in and doesn’t need the added vote. That would allow that voter to cast a ballot that, say, includes Tim Raines and keeps his candidacy alive. But then, as a pal just said, you’re the voter who didn’t vote for Randy Johnson. Curse you. With the 10-player limit, the ballot isn’t a vote it’s an exercise in game theory.

The Binary Ballot corrects this.

The Hall asked the BBWAA eons ago to serve as the voting body for election to Cooperstown, and that responsibility is treasured and protected by many writers. It is not easy to earn a ballot. There are many things that determine eligibility for the Hall and that govern the vote. You know by now that baseball’s Hall voters are explicitly told to consider “integrity, sportsmanship” and other values in the character clause that other halls do not have. But, when distilled, the Hall is asking the writers to answer one question:

Is this player a Hall of Famer?

Or, as Olney put it, “Was his career worthy of the Hall of Fame?”

This is a yes or no question.

There is no maybe.

Yes. No.

It’s binary.

Hence, the need for a Binary Ballot*.

* As people have read this article, some have reached out about how this is, by definition, a Boolean ballot. True. And that was one idea, but the name came before the Boolean was evident. It has a yes/no factor. The name binary was first attached to this idea -- for me -- when we were talking about how to program a test run for a yes/no ballot. Yes was one vote and no was a zero when we envisioned the program. Hence, binary. Also, it sounded good.

The Hall and the writers should embrace the bedrock question and its two simple answers on the ballot by doing away the 10-player limit and just putting two boxes beneath every name on the ballot. Yes. No. This forces the voter to weigh each player individually, not as a group, not when weighted as one of the 10 most-deserving on the ballot. It’s simpler. It’s streamlined. And it fits the theme every voter must confront, the ghost of PEDs past or not.

Is Roger Clemens a Hall of Famer? Yes or No.

Is Tim Raines a Hall of Famer? Yes or No.

Is Randy Johnson a Hall of Famer? Yes or No.

Is Mike Mussina a Hall of Famer? Yes or No.

The Binary Ballot does away with the ballot limit and embraces the ballot’s purpose.

The concerns addressed by Olney and others and highlighted in Kepner’s article would be solved with the Binary Ballot. The voter would merely take a No. 2 pencil and fill in his or her choice, SAT-style, and then move on to the next candidate. If an individual player receives 75 percent of the vote – at least three “yes” out of every four ballots submitted – then the player is the Hall of Fame. There is no abstaining from individual players; a voter must confront the question with each one. That’s each voter’s responsibility. There is no kicking the can down the street for the next generation of voters to solve. Viva Binary Ballot.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America has established a committee to look at suggestions for improving and changing the Hall ballot. The urgency for this has been accelerated in the past 12 months because the Hall has imposed a new 10-year limit on how long a player can remain on the ballot if he receives at least 5 percent of the vote. This is an obvious attempt to cleanse the ballot of its current PED stain and limit the number of years that Bonds, Clemens, and Mark McGwire will be hanging around, hanging around, hanging around without entry. There are many clear and creative minds on this committee and their proposals are forthcoming. I have mentioned the Binary Ballot to several of the members.

There are other ways they could go.

I’m convinced the Binary Ballot would solve many of the issues.

So, what do you say?

Yes or No?


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