Hall of Fame voters have begun to cast their ballots this season and for the first time, former Cardinals great Jim Edmonds is on the ballot. Unfortunately, and completely unrelated to his merit as a candidate, the current Hall of Fame voting rules are outdated and could hurt legitimate candidates like Jim Edmonds. There is a backlog of very good candidates for the Hall of Fame on the ballot this year due to mixed practices when it comes to voting for players from the steroid era. Hall of Fame voters are not able to vote for every candidate they deem worthy for the Hall of Fame leaving potential borderline candidates like Jim Edmonds in trouble to even stay on the ballot to have his case heard in future years when the number of candidates has thinned.
Prior to the steroid era, candidates who received 5% of the vote in one year were placed on the ballot the following season for up to fifteen years. Prior to last year, the Hall of Fame changed the rules, lowering eligibility from 15 seasons to 10 seasons, grandfathering in Lee Smith and Alan Trammell. While over time this will pare down the candidates a little with Trammell and McGwire off the ballot after this year and Smith and Tim Raines off the ballot after next season, there are between 15 and 20 potentially worthy candidates this year, and even next year there are likely to be more than 10, preventing Hall of Fame voters from voting players they believe should be in the Hall of Fame.
The BBWAA, the group charged with voting players into the Hall of Fame, modestly requested that voters be allowed to vote for 12 players instead of 10. Despite the request from those most intimately aware of the difficulty in casting a vote, the Hall of Fame denied that request, again preventing Hall of Fame voters from voting for players they believed to be worthy of the Hall of Fame.
Derrick Goold, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and now president of the Baseball Writers Association of America, has made a reasonable proposal of his own, simply asking for a simple yes/no vote on all players. Goold discussed the logic of his decision based on the task given to Hall of Fame voters.
The Hall asked the BBWAA eons ago to serve as the voting body for election to Cooperstown, and that responsibility is treasured and protected by many writers. It is not easy to earn a ballot. There are many things that determine eligibility for the Hall and that govern the vote. You know by now that baseball's Hall voters are explicitly told to consider "integrity, sportsmanship" and other values in the character clause that other halls do not have. But, when distilled, the Hall is asking the writers to answer one question:
Is this player a Hall of Famer?
Unfortunately, the Hall of Fame is not currently asking that question. The Hall of Fame is asking is the player a Hall of Famer, so long as there are not more than ten players on the ballot worthy of the Hall of Fame. Last season, 51% of voters used all ten spots on the ballot, and it seems highly unlikely that more than half the electorate believed there were exactly ten Hall of Fame-worthy players.
The Hall of Fame did do a good job of attempting to get the electorate to be more representative of those actually covering the sport as there will be around 100 fewer voters this season after removing those who have not covered baseball in many years. Changing the electorate could help get more worthy candidates in the Hall of Fame, but it does little for those voters who want to vote for Jim Edmonds and are prevented from doing so by the Hall of Fame.
I believe Jim Edmonds deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I understand that he is probably a borderline candidate for many people. Sadly, that is not really even at issue here. Hopefully, we can all agree that the voters charged with electing the Hall of Fame should be able to vote for those players they believe are Hall of Famers. The current system does a disservice to the players and fans of those players. Jim Edmonds is in danger of falling off the ballot entirely despite having one of the greatest six-year runs in the history of baseball. Whether Edmonds is deserving of the Hall of Fame is an interesting, worthy topic of discussion, but foolish voter rules from the Hall of Fame limits that discussion this year, and could prevent that discussion from taking place again for more than a decade.