Saturday, April 23, 2022

The Veterans Committee Has Once Again Changed Their Rules, for Some Reason?

In a complete surprise move, the Hall of Fame announced on Friday that they would be once again changing their rules for the Veterans Committee. This is something that I’ve written about a lot, including a big, two-part article last year, so I figured I would give my thoughts on the update.

I saw some initial confusion from baseball writers (likely because this came out of nowhere and the explanation was a little odd) that the changes were about length of time before a player is eligible. And while that was a reasonable assumption (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and company are all finally eligible this winter, and it wouldn’t be the first time the Hall changed their rules to work around them), that wound up not being the case.

Instead, the big change wound up being to the Era Committees. It used to be that there were four divisions focusing on different time periods of the sport and the candidates from those eras: broadly speaking, “Before the 1950s”, “The ‘50s and ‘60s”, “The ‘70s to the late ‘80s”, and “The late 80s and on”. Those divisions seemed a little arbitrary, but I suppose that was bound to happen with any division into eras. Either way, there was a rotation, where each winter, the VC would meet and discuss one or sometimes two eras and their candidates.

That’s generally the framework they’re sticking with now, but they’ve changed the eras up quite a bit. Instead of four periods, we’re now down to just two: 1980 to Present (here named “Contemporary Baseball”), and Pre-1980 (“Classic Baseball”). And the rotation of years have switched up with that change: starting with this coming December, our yearly rotation will be “Contemporary Baseball-Players”, then “Contemporary Managers-Managers, Executives, and Umpires” the following year, then “Classic Baseball” the year after, and then back to the top.

I’m honestly trying to figure out what the driving motivation behind this was and coming up blank? As I said earlier, I don’t blame the people who jumped to “this is to keep Bonds and co. out” since that has motivated Cooperstown policy recently, but I’m not really sure how it would do that. I guess it widens the time period they’re competing with, but only barely. And it’s not like there are a whole lot of other motivations jumping out here.

Overall, this is… I guess marginally better than what existed? It gets rid of the five- or ten-year waits that some of the committees had to deal with, which I always thought was a bizarre choice. I’m a lot less positive about adding a whole year entirely for non-players, though; in fact, in that two-parter I linked to earlier, I verbatim said: “if you do that [split players and non-players into different committees], definitely don’t do what the Hall did from 2008 to 2010 and alternate voting on players and non-players each year, because that was really dumb”. Glad to see they’re taking my views into account here.

I just don’t know that the non-player field is crowded enough at this stage to demand an entire year to itself. The Hall of Stats updated their upcoming elections page following the news, and their best guesses for that 2023-24 voting cycle is: Bruce Bochy, Davey Johnson, Lou Piniella, Mike Scioscia, Sandy Alderson, Brian Sabean, George Steinbrenner, and Joe West. I bet Bochy goes in there, but I also don’t think he would have struggled to get in under the old system. I’ve spoken positively about Johnson’s and Piniella’s cases in the past, but they've also appeared on the ballot several times already (as has Steinbrenner), so I don’t know that I’d call them completely overlooked, either. The other five all have points in their favor, but some big drawbacks, too. I don’t know that any of them excites me a ton, plus most of them haven’t even been retired long enough to feel like we’re missing them on the ballot.

Also, that list is still not a full ballot; I don’t know the last time a VC cycle had only nine candidates. They’ll probably find names to fill it out a little more (I’d bet Charlie Manuel is one, as he’s been on a Vet ballot before), but ultimately, that still feels like a kind of empty ballot. And it’s going to be coming up every three years! Imagine how the 2026-27 ballot will look, with no Bochy (and honestly, no Joe West; for as disliked as he was, he has the career profile of a Hall of Fame umpire, and I bet the VC voters induct him ASAP). I guess there will be a few more strong potential options going forward, as guys like Terry Francona and Dusty Baker hang it up, but the best case here still seems to be “one to two big new names, and a recurring cast of ten or so kinda interesting non-players”, which is honestly usually the least interesting kind of Hall ballot.

And then, there’s the two new eras… I don’t get it. I could kind of see if they had just combined their previous four eras into “Pre-1970” and “1970 to Present”, but I’m not sure what the rationale in moving the line to 1980 was. The most direct negative impact is probably the ‘70s stars, who I think get their next vote pushed back a year and are getting up there in age. I still think Luis Tiant (who’s 81) has a good chance to go in on his next try, and putting that off another year makes me nervous (especially for a player who has been vocal about not wanting to be inducted posthumously). And this would also apply to guys like Tommy John, Bobby Grich, and Graig Nettles. And on top of that, it’s going to be a much deeper ballot now. They’ll also be going against earlier guys, like former Golden Age candidate Dick Allen (who was also nearing induction), or perpetual Early Baseball choice Bill Dahlen, plus any non-players who remain (since they didn’t get their own section like the modern guys, although that’s absolutely for the best).

And then there’s the stars of the Negro League, who get a mention in the Hall’s press release. Their recent re-classification as major leaguers got them renewed attention in this past voting cycle, culminating with 70% of the Early Baseball Ballot being overlooked Negro League players, but it also led to an extra-crowded affair that kept down everyone’s votes. And that’s not even getting into all of the other players who couldn’t even make it into those ten spots; if anything, this era probably needs its own special committee for at least a few cycles, and instead, it’s getting shoved into that wide “Pre-1980” group.

I don’t think it’s all bad. The smaller number of groups means snubs aren’t going to be waiting too much longer for their next chance. And if a good number of players are still getting inducted this way, we could still see some decent churn bringing in more names. But I still wish they had uncapped the ballot sizes and vote limits along with this, which would have probably done even more to fix that issue.

And I still just do not get that non-player ballot; I would bet they’re the big winners here, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we see something like eight or nine (or even more) non-players getting inducted over the next decade (assuming this system makes it that long, and who even knows at this point). Of course, if the VC voters really, really wanted to throw votes over the next few years at guys like Scioscia and Alderson and Steinbrenner and West that badly, maybe it is better to put them on their own ballot like this. It’ll give the players of that era more space, since they seem committed to keeping that vote cap and making everyone compete for those few spots. That’s the thing that would rationalize a shake-up like this the most, in my opinion.

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