Over the weekend, the Baseball Hall of Fame admitted a problem with its current structure and voting rules. As Sports on Earth's own Will Leitch noted last year, the current format's combination of limited eligibility time, a limit of 10 selections per ballot, a requirement of 75 percent of the vote for induction and the influx of obviously great but controversial players from the steroid era is primed to create a ballot logjam of massive proportions over the next decade.
It is unclear, however, how the reforms implemented by the Hall of Fame will solve those problems. The new rules will reduce the number of years a player can remain on the Hall of Fame ballot from 15 to 10, and will additionally require voters to complete a registration form and sign a "code of conduct."
The purpose of the registration form and code of conduct is obvious. Members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) were incensed last year when Miami writer and radio personality Dan Le Batard gave his vote to Deadspin in what he described as an effort to expose the absurdity of the BBWAA's voting process. Le Batard was suspended from the organization from one year and his Hall of Fame vote was stripped. Now, voters will all be publicly named, but their votes will still be held confidential. Mission accomplished?
The bigger change is of course the decreased length of time a player can remain on the ballot. With Jack Morris dropping off the ballot last year, Don Mattingly, Alan Trammell and Lee Smith are the only remaining players between their 11th and 15th years on the ballot. Under the new rules, they will drop off the ballot after the 2015 election should they fail to reach the 75 percent threshold. Given all fell under 50 percent in 2014, it is supremely unlikely either will make it in on their final shot, nor would they have made it given the full 15 years (in Mattingly's case, 2015 marks his 15th season on the ballot anyway).
It is clear, then, the biggest impact of this rule falls on those tainted by their involvement in baseball's steroid era. For those supporting the cases of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa or others implicated, whether by evidence or by association, the hope was that the Hall of Fame's 15-year ballot eligibility would allow enough time for younger, more accepting voters to join the ranks of the BBWAA and give the players of the 1990s and early 2000s a boost as anti-steroid sentiments waned over time.
McGwire's Hall chances are almost certainly destroyed by the new rule. His remaining years on the ballot are now slashed from seven to two, and after picking up just 11 percent of the vote in 2014, he faces an uphill climb too formidable for even his tremendous bulk. Sosa received a piddling seven percent of the 2014 vote and may fall off the ballot before his 10 years are up.
Bonds and Clemens, however, will be the interesting cases with eight years remaining. The pair has held steady between 30 and 40 percent of the vote since becoming eligible. Players like Bert Blyleven and Ralph Kiner have surged from such positions to attain the necessary 75 percent of the vote in their final five years of eligibility.
Blyleven's case in particular shows that it is possible to overcome what appears to be a heavy ideological bias against a candidate in a matter of a decade. Blyleven's rise would have been impossible without the help of a sabermetric campaign, headed by baseball analyst Rich Lederer. The campaign required both the influential weight of Internet baseball communities as well as the passage of a decade to take hold, and still Blyleven barely passed over the 75 percent threshold in his 14th year of eligibility.
It isn't difficult to imagine such a campaign picking up steam for Bonds, Clemens or both, nor is it difficult to imagine for later cases such as Manny Ramirez or Alex Rodriguez. The current crowded ballot (caused in part, of course, by the resistance to steroid-era candidates) serves as an added obstacle. Still, the response to Bonds' presence at San Francisco Giants camp this offseason, for instance, suggests there is a significant body of baseball fans ready and willing to embrace Bonds despite his involvement in baseball's steroid era, and one imagines some part of this population will eventually join the legion of scribes in the BBWAA.
Limiting ballot eligibility to 10 years thus has one obvious short-term effect: The candidacies of Bonds, Clemens and those like them to come on the ballot in the next half-decade or so will have less time to shake free from the shackles of the current anti-steroid sentiment and pick up support among the writers of the BBWAA. Note also that the 10-year eligibility rule matches exactly with the waiting period before a new BBWAA member gets a vote. In effect, unless a new writer joins the BBWAA by the time a player gets on the ballot, she won't ever get the chance to cast a vote in support of that player.
This is a dangerous game the Hall of Fame is playing. Clearly, a large number of the current members of the BBWAA and the Hall of Fame believe the museum is better without those tainted steroid-era players. Many have invoked the character clause of the ballot to justify keeping greats like Bonds and Clemens out, and many have said they will proudly continue to use their votes as a gatekeeping measure.
The Hall of Fame exists as a family destination. It is a powerful symbol of baseball's past, a way for parents to connect their children to the heroes of their own childhoods. Undoubtedly this is the heart of much of the opposition to steroid-era players: The legends of past eras would be tainted by the mere association with the cheaters of the 1990s and 2000s.
The Hall of Fame itself acknowledges and trumpets this symbolic role. It is explicit in the slogan on the Hall's website: "Preserving History -- Honoring Excellence -- Connecting Generations." The idea of connecting generations, however, falls flat when the largest figures of baseball for some 15 to 20 years are effectively erased from existence. Much like the story of baseball is incomplete without virulent racists like Ty Cobb and amphetamine poppers like Ted Williams and Hank Aaron, there is no story of the baseball of my childhood -- the 1990s and early 2000s -- without Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez and others who will almost certainly miss out on the Hall as a result of the institution's new rules.
Millennials, despite what you may read, are not that different from other generations. We have our heroes, and when our children grow up, we will want to pass on their stories. Looking at the new rules proposed by the Hall of Fame, it's hard to come to any other conclusion than that our heroes have been deemed unworthy, that their stories should not be told, and if they are to be told, they won't be told in Cooperstown.
If the Hall of Fame and the voters in charge of it hold fast to this viewpoint, they shouldn't be surprised if we don't bring our kids to Cooperstown either.