Hall of Fame voting a flawed system

Bruce Sutter is excited to be in the Hall of Fame after 12 years on the ballot.

“It was a call you always hope for, but you never really expect it to happen,” Sutter said in an article in Wednesday’s New York Times. “And, when it did, I didn’t think it would affect me or hit me as hard as it did, but it sure did.”

But should he really be feeling that good? Sure, he’s now Bruce Sutter, Hall of Famer. He’s also Bruce Sutter, Hall of Famer, elected during his 13th year on the ballot.

For the previous 12 years, Bruce Sutter wasn’t considered Hall of Fame material. And then in 2006, a year with no clear-cut Hall of Fame candidate (or no Hall of Famers, period), the voters decided that maybe Sutter deserved a plaque in Cooperstown.

It only took President George W. Bush two elections to win legitimately. Sutter needed 13. What’s wrong with the system?

My argument here is not an original one. In fact, this argument was the first I read during a Tuesday filled with Hall of Fame arguments. It was Dan Shanoff’s over at ESPN.com’s Daily Quickie. Here’s what Shanoff had to say:

I simply want to say that if these players didn’t get the 75 percent of “yes” votes needed for entry in previous years, I don’t understand how they are suddenly qualified. These are baseball players, not bottles of wine.

It’s as though the swing voters (the ones switching from “no” to “yes”) can’t handle a year without a Hall enshrinement. Is the food in Cooperstown so great that they don’t want to miss a party?

In reality, any previously unqualified player who suddenly makes the cut is just another example of how broken the Hall of Fame voting system is.

In my opinion, Shanoff hit the nail on the head. No part of Sutter’s career has changed since the 2005 Hall of Fame election. In fact, no part of Sutter’s career has changed since his first appearance on the ballot. Yet, now he’s Hall-worthy?

It’s not as if Hall of Fame voters couldn’t have voted him. Every writer has the opportunity to vote for up to 10 of the eligible candidates. As David Pinto pointed out, with 520 eligible voters, that means 5200 votes. This year, 2933 votes were cast for a whole bunch of candidates, none of whom had Cooperstown careers. With nearly 2300 non-votes, Sutter easily could have been elected a few years ago had voters really thought he was Hall-worthy.

Instead, the baseball writers association apparently decided that they just had to vote in someone even if that person’s name hadn’t made it to their ballots in the previous 12 elections. What makes Sutter’s case even more ludicrous is that as recently as 1999, his name didn’t appear on 25 percent ballots. In his first year of eligibility, with his career still fresh in the minds of voters, he appeared on fewer than 24 percent of all ballots.

It doesn’t make sense, and something has to give. Yesterday’s voting shows an institution stuck in its ways. The Hall of Fame voters had to elect someone. So they opted for a reliever who couldn’t garner 25 percent of the vote seven years ago while omitting players whose careers were nearly identical.

Sutter, obviously elated after 12 years of disappointment, hit the nail on the head. In talking about Goose Gossage and Lee Smith, two closers who didn’t make the cut this year, Sutter said, “We can’t compete with their statistics: their innings and their strikeouts. If you compare [the relievers] to each other, I think that you’ll see we’re all pretty equal.”

If the Hall voters were voting on anything other than a sense of obligation to elect someone, they would have voted in three closer all of who are equally deserving (or not deserving, as the case may be).

As it stands, Hall of Fame voting, much like the All Star game and the Cy Young Award voting, is just one more part of the baseball rewards system stuck in its flawed ways.

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4 Responses to “Hall of Fame voting a flawed system”


  1. 1 Marsha January 11, 2006 at 2:19 pm

    Excellent points. I say limit the eligibility to 5 years, not 15. And some years there just may be no new Hall of Famers.

  2. 2 J January 11, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    I agree with both of you… A year with no one entering the hall certainly wouldnt be the end of the world…

    Here is a great article written by Bill Simmons over at Page 2 concerning the HOF. You may need ESPN Insider to read it… (I hope you don’t though, its prety good…)

  3. 3 Victoria January 13, 2006 at 11:44 am

    This was an issue I knew nothing about before reading your post, Ben, but it really devalues the entire Hall of Fame to admit these not-so-worthy players. It no longer becomes an accomplishment to get into the Hall of Fame, it no longer means anything, which is tragic for those players who really would deserve to get in even if the standards were higher. Can we kick some players out and bring back the significance of the Hall of Fame?


  1. 1 Ducksnorts » Fairness, Perception, and Viewing the World with a Critical Eye Trackback on October 14, 2006 at 11:52 am
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