Even though three very worthy first-ballot candidates – Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas – were elected to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday, those who are selected for induction sometimes are overshadowed by those who aren’t.
The structure of the voting process – which limits voters to make 10 selections on their ballot – has come under greater scrutiny every year, especially as the candidacies of those from the PED era, like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, converge with strong first-ballot classes.
There’s simply too many qualified players and not enough votes to go around.
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If this year was tough, it won’t get easier next year, when Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz make their first appearance on the ballot.
The 10-player limit rule is one as old as the voting process itself, and during its winter meetings gathering, the Baseball Writers' Association of America voted to create a committee to explore whether adjustments should be made to the rule.
That’s a start. Even though Craig Biggio fell just short of the 75 percent needed for election, receiving 74.8 percent, he will likely be awarded next year.
Any amendment to the 10-player limit won’t help former Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who will fall off the writers’ ballot after receiving just 4.4 percent of the vote. Candidates need at least 5 percent to remain on the ballot the following year.
Palmeiro, whose finger-wagging denial of PED use on Capitol Hill was shortly followed by a failed drug test, became the first official casualty of the PED era. His numbers alone – he is one of four players to record 500 homers and 3,000 hits – would have earned enshrinement, but his connection to PEDs hurt his chances.
So did the 10-player limit.
"There are so many people on the ballot this year that are worthy of it,” Palmeiro said. “I’d say I got pushed off by a lot of these guys that are coming in now. But if you can only put 10 on, you have to go to the guys that are least likely [to be elected] or the guys that are connected to the PEDs or however you want to look at it. And you have to push those guys aside. I think it hurt me and some of the other guys, too, because the class that came in this year had three legitimate candidates – more than that probably, but three first-ballot Hall of Famers – and it affected the rest of the ballot, the rest of the guys."
Now Palmeiro’s next chance at the Hall won’t arrive until 2026 through the veterans committee.
"There’s not anything I can say about the rules and the way they are, obviously they have them for a reason,” he said. “But I think that if there wasn’t a 10-player limit, yeah, I would still have a chance to get five or six percent. Some of these guys didn’t vote for me this year because they needed to vote for somebody else. And so I think they still would have voted for me. I don’t understand why, other than that reason, a voter would vote for me one year and then the next year not vote for me unless they were at the limit."
Like I said, players like Biggio will get in. And maybe Palmeiro will too someday, once the sting of the PED era wears off.
But there are other legitimate Hall of Fame candidates who are more negatively affected by the 10-player limit, qualified players whose vote totals have waned through the years because they’re caught up in a flawed system.
Take Larry Walker, for example, who recorded a career batting line of .313/.400/.565 in his 17-year career. His case for the Hall is hurt by the fact that he played much of his career in hitter-friendly Coors Field, but he’s still a worthy candidate. But because of the logjam of worthy players on the ballot, Walker’s voting total has dropped each of the past three years, falling to 10.2 percent this year.
And there’s Fred McGriff, who finished his career just seven homers shy of 500. In 2012, McGriff received 23.9 percent of the vote. This year, he collected just 11.7 percent.
As long as you're on the ballot, you still have a chance, but the trend for this candidates is a bleak one. I think they're both Hall of Famers. (But it's worth noting that, as policy, Baltimore Sun writers don't vote for the Hall of Fame or other awards.)
Whether those two players would have been inducted regardless of the 10-player limit can be debated. But you don’t have to go far – from Tim Raines to Edgar Martinez to Alan Trammell – to find players who will face on uphill climb not because they’re unworthy of election, but simply because they won’t be among the 10 most popular choices among the voting body.
And really that's no way to determine who is worthy of a place in the Hall of Fame.