Last December, after the Pre-Integration Committee failed to elect anyone to the Hall of Fame on the heels of the Golden Era Committee's shutout in December 2014, one committee member suggested to me that changes to the process were likely in store. Indeed, amid the Hall of Fame Induction Weekend festivities on Saturday, the institution quietly issued a press release announcing a significant reorganization of the means by which executives, managers, umpires and long-retired players are considered for Cooperstown. While the resulting system is more complex than the one it replaced, it addresses several of the criticisms levied at the Hall in this space in recent years.
Back in 2010, the Hall of Fame split the Veterans Committee into three era-based committees that considered candidates on a triennial basis in connection to the period where they made the greatest impact, namely the Pre-Integration Era (1871–1946), Golden Era ('47–72), and Expansion Era ('73 onward). That was actually the third significant tweak to the process in this young millennium, following the radical expansion of the Veterans Committee voting to include all living players and also Spink and Frick award winners (writers and broadcasters) in 2001, then a retooling six years later to separate out pre-World War II players, post-war players and non-players (managers, execs and umps) into three separate processes.
Collectively, those processes yielded little. From 2002 to '10, the Veterans Committee shut out all post-war players and elected one pre-war player (the late Joe Gordon in '09), three managers, three execs and one ump. Across six election cycles after the Veterans Committee was broken up, the era-based committees elected just two players, both deceased, along with one umpire, two executives and three managers:
2011 Expansion: executive Pat Gillick
2012 Golden: third baseman Ron Santo
2013 Pre-Integration: umpire Hank O'Day, owner Jacob Ruppert and third baseman Deacon White
2014 Expansion: managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre
2015 Golden: none
2016 Pre-Integration: none
The new system divides candidates into four eras: Early Baseball (1871–1949), Golden Days ('50–69), Modern Baseball ('70–87) and Today's Game ('88 on). Instead of a simple quadrennial cycle, the slates will be considered with different frequencies within a 10-year cycle geared toward emphasizing more recent eras, with the Modern Baseball and Today's Game each voted upon twice every five years, the Golden Days once every five years, and the Early Baseball once every 10 years. The schedule is as follows, with the dates referring to induction year; the voting will still be done the previous December at the winter meetings.
2017: Today’s Game
2018: Modern Baseball
2019: Today’s Game
2020: Modern Baseball
2021: Golden Days and Early Baseball
2022: Today’s Game
2023: Modern Baseball
2024: Today’s Game
2025: Modern Baseball
2026: Golden Days
As before, all of the era slates will be voted on by 16-member committees comprised of writers, executives and Hall of Fame players and managers. While the logic behind the particular dates chosen for the era cutoffs isn't exactly clear, they're no worse than those that they replaced (1973 wasn't an expansion year) and, according to a Hall spokesman, may be readjusted as the process continues. Beyond that, there's plenty of good news here.
First off, the Hall is righting the wrongs that were particularly glaring with last December's election, which took place against the backdrop of an industry rightly under fire for its current lack of diversity among managers and general managers. Gone is the Orwellian euphemism for the game's shameful period of segregation, which didn't end until Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947. Where the Hall previously considered the books closed on Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues black candidates in the wake of the Special Committee on the Negro Leagues election in 2006 (which resulted in the induction of 17 candidates), they're now eligible for inclusion within the Early Baseball framework. That means that the late Buck O'Neil, who conspicuously fell short of election by that panel, will be eligible again (not that it means as much given his passing in October 2006), as will Bud Fowler, who played organized baseball in the 1870s and '80s before the so-called "gentleman's agreement" established the color line in '87.
Second, the frequency issue consigns the Hall's most over-represented and picked-over period to a once-a-decade re-examination. Under the announced schedule, after the 2021 voting (held in December of the previous year), the Early Baseball Era won't be considered again until '31. Meanwhile, it gives a second chance to its more underrepresented eras. This graph illustrates the inequity of representation on a players-per-team-per-season basis (it doesn't include managers, execs or Negro League players):
As you can see, the pre-World War II era is far more heavily represented than the post-war era. For the 1920s and '30s, it's saturated to the point of ridiculousness thanks to the cronyism of the late '60s and '70s Veterans Committees featuring Frankie Frisch, Bill Terry and/or Waite Hoyt that resulted in an average of three players per team-season inducted. That figure falls below 2.0 with the 1961–62 wave of expansion, below 1.6 with the '69 expansion and below 1.0 with the '93 expansion.
Again, you can quibble with where the Hall has drawn the boundaries, but Hall chairwoman Jane Forbes Clark explained the theory behind the frequency change within the press release. "Notably, there are twice as many players in the Hall of Fame who debuted before 1950 as compared to afterward, and yet there are nearly double the eligible candidates after 1950 than prior,” Clark said. “Those who served the game long ago and have been evaluated many times on past ballots will now be reviewed less frequently.”
Via Newsday's Mark Herrmann, Hall president Jeff Idelson told reporters in the wake of the announcement, "When you start to study the numbers ... I guess analytics have hit the Hall of Fame, too, at this point. We felt that perhaps the past 50 years weren’t quite as well represented as the previous decades."
The other changes are more minor. Where the Expansion Era ballot contained 12 candidates and the other two eras 10, now all four ballots will be limited to 10 candidates. Where there was a minimum one-year waiting period between falling off the BBWAA ballot and being included on the Expansion Era ballot, there's now none. At least in theory, Alan Trammell and Mark McGwire, whose eligibility on the writers' ballot ended with the 2016 cycle in January, can now be included among the Today's Game candidates this coming December instead of having to wait for the Expansion Era ballot in '20 (though Trammell, whose career ran from 1977 to '96, more likely fits into the Modern Baseball timeframe).
Indeed, the dividing lines between eras may be the most questionable part of this rearrangement. Candidates are classified by the era in which they had the greatest impact, not when they debuted, and according to the Hall, "Determinations have not yet been made as to which era any one player will be placed."
Consider Tim Raines, who will be eligible for the final time on the 2017 BBWAA ballot. In a career that ran from 1979 to 2002, he played 1,021 games, made six All-Star teams and compiled 38.3 WAR through '87 (the Modern Baseball era), then played in 1,481 games but made just one All-Star appearance and compiled 30.8 WAR afterwards (the Today's Game era). The Hall will similarly have to rule as to which ballot to place candidates such as Jack Morris (1977–94) and the 2015 Golden Era's two top vote recipients, Dick Allen (who played from '63 to '77) and Tony Oliva ('62–76).
A quick look around the diamond at some of the other top non-BBWAA-eligible candidates according to JAWS shows that they mostly fall into the two latter-day categories:
C: Ted Simmons (1968–88: Modern Baseball), Thurman Munson ('69–79: MB)
1B: Rafael Palmeiro (1986–2005: TG), McGwire ('86–'01: TG), Keith Hernandez ('74–90: MB)
2B: Bobby Grich (1970–86: MB), Lou Whitaker ('77–95: most likely MB)
3B: Graig Nettles ('67–88: MB), Ken Boyer ('55–69: GD), Allen ('63–77: ?)
SS: Bill Dahlen (1891–1911: EB), Alan Trammell ('77–96: ?)
LF: Sherry Magee (1904–19: EB), Minnie Minoso ('49–80: GD)
CF: Kenny Lofton (1991–2007: TG), Jim Edmonds ('93–'10: TG)
RF: Dwight Evans (1972–91: MB), Oliva ('62–76: ?)
SP: Tony Mullane (1881–94: EB), Wes Ferrell (1927–41: EB), Rick Reuschel ('72–91: MB), Kevin Brown ('86–2005: TG), Luis Tiant ('64–82: MB)
The elimination of the waiting period does not mean that candidates who fell off the ballot in fewer than 10 years because they received less than 5% of the vote can be taken up by this process immediately. Palmeiro, who became eligible for the BBWAA ballot in 2011 but fell off after receiving 4.4% in '14, would next be eligible in '21, though since there's no Today's Baseball slate until the following year, he'll have to wait until then. Lofton, who went one-and-done on the 2013 ballot, will similarly have to wait until the '24 Today's Baseball vote, Edmonds, who did the same in 2016, must wait until '27, assuming the 10-year cycle rolls over.
Like the BBWAA voting, the small-committee processes will never be perfect, and some would prefer they just disappear entirely because of their history of adding lesser candidates to the Hall. Still, there are enough good candidates who have slipped through the cracks of the process to merit occasional review in light of new research and evaluation methods, and this reorganization goes a long ways towards ensuring that it's done in a more equitable fashion than before. From someone used to complaining about such matters at least once a year, a round of applause is in order.