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The frontlogged Hall of Fame ballot

Here are all of the eligible candidates for the MLB Hall of Fame class of 2015:

Here are the first-time eligible players, in alphabetical order:

Rich Aurillia
Aaron Boone
Tony Clark
Carlos Delgado
Jermaine Dye
Darin Erstad
Cliff Floyd
Nomar Garciaparra
Brian Giles
Tom Gordon
Eddie Guardado
Randy Johnson
Pedro Martinez
Troy Percival
Jason Schmidt
Gary Sheffield
John Smoltz

Now, here are the holdovers, listed in order of the percentage of the vote they received last year.

Craig Biggio, 74.8 percent
Mike Piazza, 62.2
Jeff Bagwell, 54.3
Tim Raines, 46.1
Roger Clemens, 35.4
Barry Bonds, 34.7
Lee Smith, 29.9
Curt Schilling, 29.2
Edgar Martinez, 25.2
Alan Trammell, 20.8
Mike Mussina, 20.3
Jeff Kent, 15.2
Fred McGriff, 11.7
Mark McGwire, 11
Larry Walker, 10.2
Don Mattingly, 8.2
Sammy Sosa, 7.2

The ones in bold are ones that I would vote for right now if I could. The ones in italics are ones I would seriously consider in a year where there weren’t so insanely many qualified candidates. Note that I would have to not vote for a couple of the candidates that I absolutely believe deserve enshrinement because there are more than ten of them. This is nuts, and it’s entirely because of the voters and their head-up-the-butt approach to this over the past few years.

Joe Sheehan calls this “The Ballot Frontlog”:

In 2013, this — not some ballot limitation — is what broke the system. With Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa joining the ballot, more than one in three Hall of Fame votes was used on players who have no chance to be elected by this group of voters, not because they’re unqualified — my god, we’re discussing Jack Morris seriously while dismissing Palmeiro and Sosa? — but because a significant subset of the voting pool rejects them out of hand.

That’s why we have a logjam. In a rational system, five to seven players on this year’s ballot wouldn’t be on it. McGwire would have been elected on his third or fourth try. Bagwell would have been in on his second or third. That would have cleared 435 votes on last year’s ballots to be used on downballot candidates like Palmeiro, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell and Curt Schilling, or better still, to elect three inner-circle Hall of Famers in Bonds, Clemens and Piazza and a fourth mid-tier Hall of Famer in Craig Biggio. (In this parallel universe, Jack Morris probably gets elected in 2012 or 2013 as well.) You would certainly have a deep ballot, perhaps edging towards those seven-votes-per-ballot averages from the 1970s, but nothing the Hall hasn’t handled in the past.

That’s the problem. It’s not that there are 17 players on this ballot with pretty good cases for the Hall. It’s that there are at least six players on this ballot who have no business still being under consideration for the Hall of Fame. This isn’t a talent-depth issue, a ballot-size issue or anything else. It’s a steroids issue. It’s not a backlog, it’s a frontlog. The seven marked players returning from last year’s ballot are again going to eat up 1250-1350 ballot slots, 30-35% of the total. Then they’re going to do it again next year, and the year after that, and for years to come, making it impossible for qualified Hall of Famers who aren’t inner-circle types to gain ground in the voting. There probably won’t be another shutout for a while — you have Ken Griffey Jr., Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and others coming down the pike — but it will be impossible for anyone in the middle of the current ballot to advance, and the 5% rule (which I called for modifying last winter) is going to lop some fully-qualified candidates off the ballot along the way. Palmeiro, McGwire and Sosa, just to name three, are going to struggle to stay on the ballot for 2015.

Expanding the ballot, everyone’s favorite solution, doesn’t come close to addressing that problem. It’s the Hall — to be clear, the BBWAA doesn’t get to make that change on its own — passing the buck as it has now for the better part of a decade. The ten-man ballot works because it gives value to a place on the ballot relative to the number of names under consideration, and changing it to avoid taking a stand on the so-called “Steroid Era” would cheapen the process for political expediency. The Hall, and the Hall alone, is responsible for this, by not issuing clear instructions about how the voters should handle players from the last 20 years. By outsourcing this one to the writers, the Hall has broken the voting system. This is an issue on which the voters want leadership and guidance, and the Hall, deathly afraid of taking a position that will alienate anyone, has walked away from them — and by extension, baseball fans.

The only way to address this is for the Hall to issue clear directions to the voters…and it’s clear what those directions need to be. See, whether your dad likes it or not, some day Barry Bonds is going to be on that wall. So is Roger Clemens. So are Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell and probably the other three guys as well, along with the players like Alex Rodriguez who will come along after them. As steroid hysteria and all of the bad math, history and chemistry that came with it fade into the past, smart people who weren’t invested in our narratives will recognize that a place that honors the greatest players ever, but doesn’t acknowledge these all-time greats, cannot stand; that a Hall of Fame without Bonds and Clemens creates more questions than it answers. There’ll be a committee, maybe in my lifetime, certainly in my daughter’s, that corrects the mistakes being made now, that inducts these players, that acknowledges that in the heat of the moment, a lot of people got it wrong in the early days of the 21st century.

I think Sheehan is a little too easy on the voters, whose fact-free slandering of Jeff Bagwell is beyond shameful, and I don’t share his belief that “clear directions” from the Hall would have settled this. I just don’t think there’s anything short of not being allowed to vote that would keep enough of these moral scolds from blackballing an unacceptably large number of qualified candidates. That said, he’s clearly put his finger on the problem. I for one look forward to that day Sheehan describes when enough time has passed to allow some sanity to reign. I hope I live long enough to see it. Results of this year’s voting will be announced on January 6. I’ll be back to bitch about them afterward as always. Deadspin has more.

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