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"The Rule of 10": Why Hall of Fame voting is broken and unfair

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The current policies for Hall of Fame voting almost guarantee unfair results, as shown by Mike Piazza falling just short of qualifying.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The current policies for Hall of Fame voting almost guarantee unfair results, as shown by Mike Piazza falling just short of qualifying.

It's widely argued by historians that the single worst decision-making body ever convened was the general Sejm the parliamentary body used by the Polish state from the mid-15th to the late eighteenth century.

Just in case you were wondering, yes, this is still a baseball article on a baseball site. Stick with me here for...a few more sentences. We get back to baseball. I promise.

While the Sejm was in fact an elected body, and thus to some extent revolutionary compared to the autocratic governments surrounding it, it had a fatal flaw: the liberum veto, perhaps the worst governing idea (albeit one with noble intentions and origins), which allowed any member to dissolve the parliament and undo anything that had been passed. Although the spirit of equality and unanimity that it was intended to reinforce is laudable, the practical result was that nothing ever got done, and it helped to bring about the destruction of the Polish state.

I mention this to put the voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame in perspective. It's not the worst system ever conceived (thank you, Poland). It's just close. The so-called "Rule of 10," that limits voters to just ten selections, regardless of how many valid candidates are on the ballot, is an absolute travesty. Voting for the Hall of Fame is not like voting for President: it doesn't matter if one person "wins" or if ten people get in. Nothing is gained by forcing the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to perform ballot triage.

As Jayson Stark notably points out in a recent column, this was one of the deepest Hall of Fame ballots ever, filled with a lot of talented baseball players, including a whole bunch of newcomers, three of whom were guaranteed to be first-ballot selections in Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz (although the latter clearly did not get in on the basis of his stint with the Red Sox). There were also a whole lot of other names that were worthy of consideration---Tim Raines, Craig Biggio (the other new inductee), Jeff Bagwell, Curt Schilling. Of course, there are also some of the "suspected" names, who are still qualified but will be kept out over the pharmaceutical elephant in the room: Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds. But they're all candidates who have the records that merit qualification. (And we haven't even mentioned Don Mattingly yet.)

So that's an even dozen names right there. Even if you thought all of them were qualified, you can't vote for all of them. Or at least not anymore. The rules were changed last year, seemingly in an attempt to weed out the players from the steroid era from consideration. (Note that the other change reduced eligibility from 15 years down to 10.) And there's still the requirement that a person needs to get votes from at least five percent of the active voters if they want to maintain their eligibility into the following year. So you might have to move a vote from a candidate you'd really want to see in the Hall to another name who might be flirting with that five-percent threshold (this year Nomar Garciaparra just squeaked in, with 5.5 percent, so he'll live to see another ballot).


This year's real victim, though, was Mike Piazza, who managed to scrape together appearances on just under 70 percent of the voters' ballots---enough in a normal electoral system to get elected in a landslide, but here meriting only the consolation prize of a hearty "better luck next time!" from the BBWAA. It's pretty easy to think that the extra twenty-eight votes were out there, but divvied up by the likes of Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield, and Larry Walker.

It's already hard enough to get on the ballot: first you have to be nominated by multiple members of the six-member Screening Committee, then get seventy-five percent of the ballots from the writers eligible to cast ballots. The Congress of the United States can oust a sitting president on a two-thirds majority, but that's not good enough to make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It's the sports equivalent of requiring a 9-0 Supreme Court majority to take action, while only allowing justices to vote for the majority in a given number of cases. It's a process that adds tension and drama to the proceedings at the cost of simple fairness.

If the committee wants to make it harder to get on the ballot, that's fine, and that's their right. But once a person's on the ballot, it really ought to be an up-or-down ballot by the voters. No fiddling: just a simple yes or no question. "Does Player X have the necessary qualifications to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame?" How many other Hall of Fame worthy players are eligible in a given year shouldn't even enter the equation.

Getting rid of the egregious "rule of 10" should be a priority for the BBWAA, because it makes the whole process look more like a rigged beauty pageant or Olympic figure skating contest than an evaluation on an individual player's actual merits compared to the sport as a whole. After all, how do you compare John Smoltz to Craig Biggio straight up? Jeff Bagwell to Tim Raines? Curt Schilling to Edgar Martinez? You can't, and you shouldn't.

Sorry, Piazza. And better luck next year.