Please Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself

Hola, amigos. It’s been awhile since I rapped at ya. I’ve been busy at Sports Illustrated, particularly so during Hall of Fame season, and the platform there has elevated me to the point that not only do I get to appear on MLB Network’s MLB Now occasionally, I get to rub elbows with none other than Bob Costas, which is pretty damn cool. Who the hell would have thought that could happen when I began this thing some 13 1/2 years ago?

Some visual proof, direct from the MLB.com video archive:

Anyway, even with me churning out one or two articles per day for SI.com — here’s the whole archive — this blog has lain fallow for far too long, and I’ve decided to return to using it as a place to loosen my tie, and a clearinghouse for stuff that doesn’t fit on SI or social media, or quickly gets lost there. Yes, there will be beer; you can keep up with the best of what I’m drinking at Untappd (more on the topic below). There may also be bad words, so buy the kids a fucking dictionary already so they can follow along.

This space will become particularly important as I move forward in working on my book, The Cooperstown Casebook, which I’m aiming to get out in spring 2016 via Thomas Dunne (here’s the Publisher’s Weekly announcement, from August 18 — the same day, in fact, that Emma Span and I announced our engagement to the world). As you might ascertain via the title, The Cooperstown Casebook is about the Hall of Fame, and particularly about my JAWS-driven take on who’s enshrined and who should be. In addition to a trip around the diamond to identify several intriguing cases among recent, current and upcoming candidates, the book will contain some longer essays about the institution’s history, my research into some of its electoral trends, and some ideas for reform.

Some of that research and energy towards reform has already been put to use by the BBWAA; while I’m still six years away from the 10-year service requirement to get a ballot of my own, I was part of an eight-person committee charged with researching and recommending changes to the process (thanks to then-BBWAA president La Velle Neale III and past president/committee chair/former Clubhouse Confidential sparring partner Susan Slusser). We kicked around various ideas, from lowering the threshold for election from 75 percent to another number, from expanding beyond 10 slots to 12, 15 or even an unlimited number (Derrick Goold’s “Binary Ballot” idea), from doing away with the 5 percent minimum eligibility requirement — which has screwed over some great and deserving players in the past — or changing the threshold based upon the number of years a candidate has been on the ballot, and so on. Meanwhile, the Hall of Fame unilaterally enacted its own change last summer, curtailing the window of eligibility for each candidate on the writers’ ballot from 15 years to 10 — a move that in time could break up the ballot’s bottleneck, albeit without helping to increase the pace of players elected, particularly when one considers that the various Veterans Committees charged with picking over the BBWAA’s leftovers haven’t elected a living former player since the 2001 cycle.

Why do we need it? In short, my research shows that voters have failed to keep pace in terms of electing modern players — not just those who played in the 1990s but in the 1970s and 1980s as well. Limiting the field to those elected by the BBWAA, he average number of active Hall of Fame players per team per season from 1923 through 1941 is 1.5. From 1946 through 1988, that level falls to 1.34; it’s been below 1.0 since 1988, and below 0.5 since 1993. And beyond the split in the electorate over how to handle candidates linked to performance-enhancing drugs, the backlog is being caused by the rule allowing voters to include only 10 candidates on their ballots. The 10-slot rule dates all the way back to 1936, when the Hall of Fame first empowered the writers to vote, and at 10 it’s remained despite the major leagues nearly doubling in size from 16 to 30 teams.

At the recent winter meetings in San Diego, the BBWAA voted to accept our recommendation to increase the number of slots on the ballot to 12. It’s a modest increase, and less than what many would have preferred (myself included), but the final decision rests with an inherently conservative institution that is clearly unwilling to undertake a radical change. A formal proposal to the Hall of Fame is in the works, but once it’s submitted, the final decision on that move rests with the institution.

In any event, at SI.com I wrote about all 34 candidates on this year’s ballot, including 24 individual profiles — seven newcomers and 17 holdovers, the latter of which had their profiles revised (some of them significantly) from last year. Links to each of them are here, while links to my agonizing final 10 for my hypothetical ballot are here. My election day preview is here, my immediate thoughts on the election of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Craig Biggio and John Smoltz are here, my candidate-by-candidate breakdown of the results is here, and my forecast for the next five elections is here. Even the great Ray Ratto, who hates everything about what this Hall of Fame process has become, liked that one, which tells me that at least one of us has a screw loose.

(Speaking of the future, the more mathematically-inclined may be interested in the attempts by the community at Tom Tango’s blog to quantify what happens when so many big names come off the ballot at once. I’ll have to look at this more closely.)

One of the frustrating things about the election results is how far some of the candidates fell from the exit polls — the ballots published prior to election, collected by Ryan Thibs into a great Hall of Fame ballot tracker — to the actual results, with Mike Piazza slipping from above 75 down to 69.9 percent, Tim Raines from around 65 percent to 55 percent, Curt Schilling from above 50 percent to 39.2 percent and so on, to say nothing of the minimal traction that the JAWS-approved Edgar Martinez (26.7 percent), Alan Trammell (25.1 percent), Mike Mussina (24.6 percent) and Larry Walker (11.8 percent) get. If it seems like the victims of that were the ones most favored by JAWS and other advanced metrics, you’re not imagining things. At Baseball Prospectus, Lewie Pollis found a sizable correlation (R = .59) between my metric and the differential, underscoring the fact that the segment of the electorate willing to go public prior to the results isn’t representative. It skews younger, more technologically savvy, more open to advanced statistical analysis and more inclusive (“large Hall”) than the average voter (in my preview, the average published ballot used 8.99 names, well above the final mark of 8.42, which was still a record).

(Which isn’t to say that those who made their ballots public prior to the election had a monopoly on reason. Dear God no. Pal Jesse Spector does the Lord’s work on the worst ballots here).

Speaking of BP, I was on Episode 595 of the Effectively Wild podcast with Ben Lindbergh and Russell Carleton prior to the election. Here’s a post-election spot of me talking to ESPN St. Louis’ Kevin Wheeler, and another talking to KNBR San Francisco’s Ted Ramey. They’re two of the JAWS-friendliest radio hosts I’ve come across, so those are worth a listen even if I was a bit punch-drunk by Wednesday.

Moving along… I have two upcoming public appearances to promote, and as promised, there will be beer. First, I’m one of eight writers who will be part of Pitch Talks NYC, a panel discussion of local and national baseball topics moderated by the Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham (who’s come a long way himself since profiling the nascent baseball blog movement), and also featuring the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner, ESPN’s Buster Olney and Adam Rubin, WFAN’s Sweeney Murti, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal and Mets Blog’s Matthew Cerrone. It’s on January 14, 7:30 at B.B. King’s Blues Club and Grill. Tickets are $25, and the event should be a whole lot of fun.

Also next week, the good folks at ESPN El Paso, where I’ve done radio hits with Steve Kaplowitz for at least the last five years – hits that began including a couple minutes of beer talk at the end, with my “Beer of the Week” pick — are bringing me down to their fair city for Sun City on Tap, a craft beer fest held on January 17. Direct from their web page:

Sun City On Tap Craft Beer Festival takes place Saturday, January 17th at Southwest University Event Center. Choose from two sessions, 1PM to 4PM or 5PM to 8PM. Sun City on Tap will showcase over 100 releases from some of America’s best craft breweries. Attendees will receive 8 initial samples with their souvenir sampling glass and the opportunity to purchase more samples! Plus hang out in an atmosphere filled with live music, delicious food available for purchase and great vendors.

Jeebus Cripes, that’s enough out of my yap for now. In closing, a big and heartfelt thanks to the readers who followed along with all of my Hall of Fame stuff, the writers who said nice things about it in print, in person, or over the airwaives, and the gatekeepers of said airwives who invited me to air my spiel. As the great Yogi Berra might have said, thank you for making this day necessary.

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