The Problem with Hall of Fame Voting - and why WAR won't help.

Voting is a cherished thing, both here and abroad. Hopefully you've noticed the amazing, somewhat disturbing events in Tunis and Egypt, where thousands upon thousands of underemployed and oppressed citizenry are peacefully protesting their current governments. All they really want is a voice.

In America, our voices demand to be heard, even if sometimes on shallower subjects than freedom itself. We vote every November (if you're not, we need to talk). We vote in city, county, state, and national elections. School boards. Sometimes we vote for things of which we should be embarrassed: American Idol. Biggest Loser. Dancing with the Stars. Those daily ESPN polls that only show regional bias. Those endless top-10 lists. Which Twilight monster is sexier, Edward (that hair!) or Jacob (those abs!)? VOTE NOW! Hell, even pressing [LIKE] on articles such as this is our little way of voting.

Every day, everywhere, we're voting.

That's why we accept votes on things where we think it may not be appropriate, like the baseball Hall of Fame. I'm certainly aware of the fact some original committees were required to establish some minimum threshold and to seek out the boundaries and expectations of inductees. But why vote if those boundaries, expectations, and thresholds are met?

Doesn't it follow that requirements for the Hall would get increasingly stringent?

Here's the problem. We can create all the Hall of Fame zones, arcs, and weighted Wins Above Replacement we want (with nods to Sky, Studes, Adam, et. al.), and all to our hearts' content. But if we can make such clear cut cases, why have a voting committee at all? If you get 80-90-100 WAR, you're in. That's it. Right?

The problem is clearly that the threshold for enshrinement ISN'T clear. The boundaries of behavior AREN'T set in stone. The expectations of players are not based on a single set of rules. All of this is amorphous, a gelatinous shape that we can only attempt to mold with known quantities -- and even then we're talking about players voted in based on some unknown standards from an earlier era.

The good part is that the voters almost always get it right. Sometimes they take their time with certain players for no good reason, and sometimes their collective moral haughtiness is both hypocritical and wrong. But most of the time they get it right.

The beauty of voting is that the rules don't have to be stringent, that expectations can change, and standards are subject to the whim of the day. Could those first committes have expected the rise of the dominant closer or the development of the the setup man? In those cases, it's probably good that we don't have stringent rules (not that I'm making a case for either closers or setup guys).

Clearly, flexibility is also the cost. It means holier-than-thou types can keep Pete Rose out (at least his is a clear and proven violation), they can thumb their noses at Jeff Bagwell, and they can attempt to judge more than their given right. In turn, we can use all their previous votes to establish obvious boundaries and say, "if you voted for this guy then you MUST vote for this one."

So with a nod to my friends and colleagues around the sabersphere, I say: if it were that easy they wouldn't be voting. There's a cost, but in the end it's for the best.

 

 **Please note that this small effort should in no way detract from the serious nature of recent events in the Middle East, including Tunis and Egypt.

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