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A few ways to improve Hall of Fame voting

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  January 8, 2014 10:30 AM

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The Hall of Fame voting will be announced this afternoon. Based on the votes revealed so far, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Craig Biggio could all get in.

Who gets left out will be an ever bigger topic of discussion and the Baseball Writers' Association of America will again be the target of criticism, much of it justified.

There are no "correct" ballots. Everybody is free to decide on their own how to evaluate the Steroid Era or the merits of a particular player. There is no right way to vote and it's foolish to suggest there is.

But the BBWAA can take some common-sense steps to clean up the process a little:

Make the results public: Every ballot should be made public on the BBWAA web site. Journalists ask players, managers and executives to go on the record every day. It is unconscionable for an organization made up of journalists to conduct a secret ballot.

Public scrutiny would force voters to carefully consider their choices.

Investigate who is voting: The BBWAA rules say that a writer must be an active member of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years. Once a writer receives a Hall of Fame vote, they are eligible to continue voting even when they are no longer an active member of the BBWAA, provided they become a lifetime honorary member.

Understand this: BBWAA membership is essentially a convenient way to obtain a press pass that works at every stadium. There is no vetting process. Media organizations simply select a list of people, pay their dues and their BBWAA cards arrive in the mail.

You're supposed to be a beat writer, a backup beat writer or a columnist to be in the BBWAA. But those guidelines aren't enforced. There are plenty of BBWAA members who have a card just for the convenience and cover a handful of games each season. Others go years without stepping foot in a park or writing a word about baseball.

The BBWAA should work harder to ensure members actually are covering the sport. Sports editors should be encouraged to be judicious with their choices.

Limit the lifetime voting privilege: Bob Ryan, now retired from the Globe, is a perfect Hall of Fame voter. He is passionate about baseball, attends games regularly and makes his choices with great thought.

But for every Ryan, there are voters who now cover a different sport or are in a different profession entirely. Instead of lifetime voting rights, honorary members should be reviewed every five years and asked whether they truly want a ballot.

In previous jobs, I voted in the Associated Press Top 25 college basketball poll and for the Heisman Trophy. That stopped when I switched to baseball. But BBWAA membership lasts forever for some reason.

These rules were made decades ago when being a baseball writer was a job nobody would think of leaving. That has changed.

Increase the pool: The BBWAA has slowly adapted to the changing times by granting membership to writers from web sites. This should be further encouraged to diversify the membership and bring in new voices.

There also could be a way to have broadcasters and baseball historians included. Vin Scully, Joe Castiglione, Bob Costas and other veteran baseball broadcasters are far better qualified than many who do vote.

Offer some help: The ballot arrives with a sheaf of statistics for each player. The stats are pretty basic and frankly not much help.

Why not have a committee of respected analysts compile a packet of information? That could include advanced statistics, comparisons to other Hall of Famers and where the player stands on career charts. No opinion, just facts.

We have smart people like Bill James, Jay Jaffe, Dave Cameron, and Sean Forman available as resources, along with many others. Why not use them?

The Hall of Fame voting creates tremendous debate and for me, it's a sign of how great a sport baseball is. Whatever we can do to improve it, even if just a little, is a worthwhile endeavor.

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