Steroid hysteria is really not good for Cooperstown

While, as always, I respect his opinion and the amount of thought and genuine care he puts into these things, I think Ken Rosenthal badly misses the mark in his latest column on the Hall of Fame. Rosenthal's main premise is that it won't be a big deal if no one gets elected to the Hall of Fame this year, that above all else, the "debate" is good for the Hall, and that no major changes to the voting process are needed. I'll take each in turn.

As far as no one getting elected goes, I think Rosenthal is really missing the forest for the trees in his analysis. Sure, in theory, not electing anyone shouldn't be a big deal, but in a very tangible sense, the Hall of Fame is bleeding money, and induction weekend is a vital part of keeping the institution afloat. They might not share it with the writers, but I'd bet dollars to dimes that when no one is looking, the people responsible for running the place aren't the slightest bit happy about the possibility of a weekend featuring no one but long dead and mostly forgotten inductees from the pre-integration era, especially not with the huge potential afforded by this stacked ballot. And Rosenthal actually kind of argues against himself here:

If no player is elected, it will be due to the large number of intriguing first-time eligible candidates — voters can select no more than 10 players — and more significantly, the consternation over the candidates linked to PEDs.

The problem? If this is true, then the issue of an over-crowded ballot full of people with ties (of varying rigor) to steroids is only going to get worse. Sure, maybe Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson won't have any problems clearing the 75% bar, but with so many worthies up all at once, it will still be the case that many players who should be going in will be excluded, and many others will fall off of the ballot entirely. This will be an especially big problem for traditionally marginal guys like Larry Walker and Kenny Lofton, to say nothing of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro. And once players like this are officially no longer eligible due to not clearing the 5% bar, the "battle lines" will really calcify, as their supporters become increasingly angry and alienated.

All of which makes the idea that no changes need to be made rather Pollyanna-ish to me. Not that we need to get totally radical and cast the writers out of the process entirely, and certainly not in favor of some sort of hackneyed fan vote, but there are definitely some short and long term changes that need to be made for the good of the institution. On the former, I'd suggest a temporary lifting of the ten player limit for voting, just to account for the unusually large number of worthies who are eligible now. The Hall of Fame doesn't have any sort of cap on the number of players who can go in, and the idea is that everyone who is worthy should be inducted, so there's no reason to limit the number of players a voter can support if he thinks there's an unusually large number of Hall of Fame caliber players on a ballot. Both because of the exclusion of players over juicing and because there's just a fairly unusual number of sure fire Hall of Famers becoming elgibile in the near future, this at least needs to happen on a temporary basis to ensure that worthy players won't be prematurely excluded, and to keep voters from potentially having to engage in tactical voting to protect them from going below 5%.

As far as the electorate goes, I simply don't take arguments that everything is fine seriously, and anyone who does is out of touch with where sentiment amongst people who care about these things is. More so than who is being voted for, there's legitimate outrage out there over the fact that people who haven't covered baseball during my entire lifetime are getting votes in this process, while many of the contemporary baseball media's biggest and most respected names are excluded. And as far as the Hall itself goes, I think this is a badly under-appreciated reality. No matter which side of the steroid debate you come down on, as the balloting becomes more and more contentious and controversial in the coming years, it becomes increasingly important that everyone have a certain level of respect for the people who are doing the voting, which basically means making sure that it's people who are actually covering baseball doing the deciding. Agree with them or not, few people (no nutpicking, please) have a serious problem with Rosenthal, Tom Verducci, and Joe Posnanski voting, but the Olympic reporters, hockey writers, sports editors, and Murray Chass have to go. Better still if they're replaced by Bill James, Bob Costas (who, of course, regular readers know I rarely find myself in agreement with), and Rob Neyer.

And as far as protecting the institution goes, I think this is easily the most inaccurate thing Rosenthal says in the entire piece:

But that consternation — the intense debate over what to do with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and others — is not a bad thing for the Hall. If anything, it underscores the special place that Cooperstown holds in every fan’s heart.

At the risk of turning anecdote into data: no it does not. Speaking at least for myself and like minded people my age; the longer this "debate" rages, and the clearer it becomes that my favorite childhood hitters aren't going to be able to get the support of 75% of the voters, the more alienated from the Hall of Fame I become, and the less I care about the place. That's true both from a writing perspective and from the perspective of a potential paying customer who's a lot less enthusiastic about the prospect of drgging my kids up to Cooperstown for a weekend than I would have been two years ago.