Imperfect 10: Time to revise HOF rule

Writers should be permitted to vote for more candidates on ballot

Imperfect 10: Time to revise HOF rule

Let's talk about what the Hall of Fame voting will look like over the next few years … but first, we have to talk a little bit about the Rule of 10.

On Wednesday, Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez were all elected to the Hall of Fame. It was a banner year. Raines had waited a decade. Bagwell had waited seven years. And Pudge was the second catcher (after Johnny Bench) to be elected on his first ballot. All of that was fascinating and wonderful.

But two players -- Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero -- just missed. Guerrero fell 15 votes short of election. Hoffman was just five shy.

Both of them would have been elected, I think, except for the Rule of 10.

That rule states that each voter must limit his or her ballot to 10 votes. A couple of years ago, the Baseball Writers' Association of America petitioned the Hall of Fame to increase the limit to 12, but the Hall of Fame said, "(The board) didn't feel this was the right time to change." The board made other changes instead, including reducing the number of years a player could stay on the ballot from 15 years to 10.

Looking back, it seems to me that the Hall's board was making a hard statement: They did not want to do anything that could be perceived as lowering the Hall of Fame standard. And they plainly did not want to do anything that might help suspected or confirmed PED users get into the Hall of Fame.

The Hall's position is understandable -- they are proud, and should be, of their high standard. But this year, the Rule of 10 definitely kept Hoffman out of the Hall for one more year, and it probably delayed Guerrero for at least a year. And I doubt that was the intention.

There is little doubt about Hoffman. Of the 68 people who we know did not vote for Hoffman, 34 voted for 10 players. There were certainly five of them who, given another vote or two to use, would have chosen Hoffman. At least three of them have publicly said as much. More than 75 percent of the voters believe that Hoffman belongs in the Hall of Fame. The Rule of 10 prevented it from happening.

Guerrero misses Hall of Fame

Thirty-three of the people who did not vote for Guerrero also voted for 10 players. It's a bit less certain that there are enough votes in there to have elected Guerrero, but that one is personal for me: I did not vote for Guerrero because I could not find room on the ballot. I know of at least five other people who felt the same way.

2017 Hall of Fame election results
Votes Player Percentage
381 Jeff Bagwell 86.2%
380 Tim Raines 86.0%
336 Ivan Rodriguez 76.0%
327 Trevor Hoffman 74.0%
317 Vladimir Guerrero 71.7%
259 Edgar Martinez 58.6%
239 Roger Clemens 54.1%
238 Barry Bonds 53.8%
229 Mike Mussina 51.8%
199 Curt Schilling 45.0%
Complete voting results »

The Hall of Fame should absolutely revisit the Rule of 10 -- not because it will lower the standard, but because it will maintain the standard. Expansion has fundamentally changed baseball -- there are almost twice as many teams as there were in the 1950s. And, of course, by opening up the game to all Americans and to the world, there are many, many more great players now in Major League Baseball than there were at that time. The people running the Hall of Fame like to say that it is for the top 1 percent of all players. That's a good standard. Well, there are more players in the Top 1 percent now.

And so limiting the ballot to 10 -- an arbitrary number -- is an outdated idea. To give you an sense of how much things have changed, the 1987 Hall of Fame ballot, 30 years ago, had four players on it with 60 or more wins above replacement. That was fairly typical. This year's ballot had 11. Next year's ballot will have 12.

The Rule of 10 didn't just hurt Hoffman and Guerrero. It also knocked Jorge Posada off the ballot after just one year. The rule now is that to stay on the ballot, a player must get 5 percent of the vote. That was a lot easier before the ballots got so stuffed. Posada, an excellent-hitting catcher who was behind the plate in six World Series, might or might not be Hall of Fame caliber, but he never really had his case heard. In the view of most people, he clearly wasn't one of the 10 best players on the ballot and so could not get any recognition.* Posada got lost, much like Kenny Lofton did a couple of years ago, much like Kevin Brown did a couple of years before that.

* A friend suggested an interesting idea -- he is ambivalent about the Rule of 10, but he thinks the Hall of Fame should add an "honorable mention" category. You could put, say, Posada and Sammy Sosa and Jeff Kent and whoever else in your honorable mention (assuming you voted for 10) and say: "I'm not voting for this person, but I consider him generally Hall of Fame worthy and am voting for him to stay on the ballot." I'm not sure exactly how that would work, but I like the concept.

The Rule of 10 will play a huge role in Hall of Fame voting for the next two years, at least. Bagwell, Raines and Rodriguez will obviously come off the ballot next year, as will Lee Smith, who aged out. But four players of at least equal value will come on the ballot.

Smith misses Hall of Fame

2018 Hall of Fame ballot
Chipper Jones comes on the ballot, and he's a slam-dunk Hall of Famer.

Jim Thome comes on the ballot, and I think he should be a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, though it's hard to predict how the voters will view him.

Scott Rolen comes on the ballot, and Rolen has a very strong Hall of Fame case. He was a fantastic defender and a very good hitter; his case looks a lot like Ron Santo's case. The BBWAA did not vote Santo into the Hall; he was finally elected by the Veterans Committee.

Justice on 2018 HOF ballot

Andruw Jones comes on the ballot … and he could be in the Rule of 10 danger zone. That is to say, he could fall off the ballot after one year, which isn't right. There is an argument to be made that Andruw was the greatest defensive center fielder since Willie Mays, and he also hit 434 home runs.

Johan Santana comes on the ballot … Santana is definitely in the danger zone of getting bumped off the ballot, even though he had a peak that was, in its own way, Koufax-like:

From 1961-66, Koufax went 129-47, pitched 1,632 2/3 innings, led the league in ERA five times and in strikeouts four times. His ERA was 2.19 -- that's a 156 ERA+ when you compare it to his low-scoring era. Koufax won three Cy Young Awards. His entire Hall of Fame case is in those six seasons.

From 2002-09, Santana went 119-57, pitched 1,580 innings, led the league in ERA three times and in strikeouts three times. His ERA was 2.89, but because he pitched in a much higher-scoring era, his 153 ERA+ is about the same as Koufax's. Santana won two Cy Young Awards, and he probably should have won one or two more. Koufax's peak might have been a touch higher than Santana's, but it's close enough that it would be a real shame for Santana to just fall off the ballot unnoticed. And yet, that seems his destiny with the Rule of 10.

With so many good players coming on the ballot, it also will be very hard for many current players on the ballot to make much headway. I do think Hoffman will get elected. I'm not as confident about Guerrero, but I'm hopeful. And others who need big jumps in the percentage -- like Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina and so on -- might find it rough sledding. It gets no easier in 2019.

Bonds, Clemens not elected

2019 Hall of Fame ballot
Mariano Rivera comes on the ballot, and he's a lock. Looking ahead, it is probably essential for Hoffman to get elected next year. I think he will, but the point is that once Rivera comes on the ballot, the standard for Hall of Fame closers will probably change.

In a way, this is what happened to Luis Tiant. He seemed well on his way to the Hall of Fame -- he got more than 30 percent of the vote his first year, which usually all but guarantees eventual Hall of Fame election. But then a bunch of all-time great pitchers came on the ballot -- including 300-game winners like Tom Seaver and Phil Niekro and Steve Carlton and Gaylord Perry and Don Sutton -- and Tiant got washed away. He never came close to getting 30 percent of the vote again.

Roy Halladay comes on the ballot. He's a two-time Cy Young Award winner who was often called "future Hall of Famer" while he played. He will be interesting to watch.

Todd Helton comes on the ballot. He hit .316/.414/.539 for his career. Of course, he has the Coors Field stigma.

Andy Pettitte comes on the ballot. He he won 256 games, pitched in eight World Series, etc.

This would be Martinez's last year on the ballot. Will there be enough oxygen for him as the ballots get more and more crowded? A lot could depend on if Thome gets elected on his first ballot or ends up carrying over.

Martinez misses Hall of Fame

2020 Hall of Fame ballot
There is a little bit of a moment to breathe here in 2020 … though it would come too late for Edgar. Derek Jeter is the only certain Hall of Famer to come on the ballot. Fine players like Jason Giambi, Cliff Lee and Bobby Abreu are coming on, but they probably won't factor in. This could be the year for guys like Bonds and Clemens to take a significant leap forward.

2021 Hall of Fame ballot
The break continues … there are no sure Hall of Famers coming on the ballot. Good players like Torii Hunter, Tim Hudson and Mark Buehrle will probably not gain too many votes. This will be the ninth year on the ballot for Bonds, Clemens and Curt Schilling, assuming they don't get elected earlier. This could be their year.

2022 Hall of Fame ballot
Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz will presumably be on this ballot.

Joe Posnanski is a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author, an Emmy Award-winning writer and has been awarded National Sportswriter of the Year. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.