MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Time to consider changing Hall of Fame voting system

Are the most qualified people voting? After 80 years of doing things one way, is it time to consider another? Those are among the questions the National Baseball Hall of Fame ought to be asking itself.

This isn't just about the most recent Hall of Fame voting, but if it prompts an assessment of voting procedures, that's a good thing. Rather, it's an acknowledgement that the world has changed, that maybe, just maybe, some of the best and brightest men and women have been excluded from the process.

If you've followed the debate about whether Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, etc., ought to be in the Hall of Fame, some of the smartest commentary has come from people like Rob Neyer, Joe Sheehan and Grant Brisbee.

They're not members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, and thus aren't allowed to participate in Hall of Fame voting. But beyond being way more qualified than some of the 569 people who cast ballots this year, they reflect the dramatic changes in the way people consume media.

Also, there are broadcasters who would be imminently qualified. Jon Miller knows more baseball -- and has more smart opinions -- than anyone I've ever met. Vin Scully obviously would be terrific. Brian Kenny and Keith Olbermann are brilliant. And there are many, many more.

Let's be clear that there are no easy answers regarding steroids and the Hall of Fame. We will never know how many players used steroids, or to what extent. We also will never agree on the impact steroid use should have on a player's Hall of Fame eligibility.

There was a time when there was little question the BBWAA deserved to be the sole decider of Hall of Fame membership. BBWAA members covered the game more intensely than anyone else. And BBWAA members did most of the smart writing and thinking about the sport.

Times change. Newspapers are now just one of many options for baseball-hungry consumers. For a time last season, one team -- the Seattle Mariners -- didn't have a single newspaper reporter on its road trips. At least one BBWAA chapter pads its membership with people who do not meet the organization's own requirements. Plenty of other members -- people who haven't written about the sport in decades -- continue to have Hall of Fame voting privileges.

This system may have worked in another era. But now, as men and women move on from the newspaper business, as they get farther and farther from the process, the Hall of Fame could do better.

BBWAA membership is supposed to be for the men and women whose primary responsibility is to cover baseball, and the BBWAA traditionally has extended membership to newspaper columnists and sports editors regardless of the depth of their involvement in coverage of the sport.

What makes this discussion even more compelling is that we're living in an era when there are more ways to evaluate Hall of Fame candidates than ever before. Whether you buy into the various ways of calculating Wins Above Replacement, whether you believe in Jay Jaffe's advanced metrics or the writing that Bill James has done on the topic, they are invaluable tools for being able to assess the whole of a player's career.

To base a Hall of Fame vote strictly on threshold numbers -- 500 home runs, 300 victories, etc. -- probably will result in leaving some deserving players off the ballot. Columns like this one will stir the ashes still smoldering from the publication of "Moneyball," which detailed a new, numbers-based system of looking at both players and games.

Some in the media still despise A's GM Billy Beane, still poke fun at advanced metrics. They do this even though almost every Major League team -- even those run by general managers who still believe passionately in the wisdom of traditional scouting -- uses the advanced metrics.

Some teams -- the Rays, Cubs, A's, Red Sox -- use them more than others, but almost all of them dabble in data. Whether the Hall of Fame even cares about how voters decide who to vote for is for the Hall of Fame to decide.

Maybe the Hall will decide simply to trust the process that has worked so well for 80 years. Maybe the Hall will see steroids as a problem with no easy answers. Even with no changes, we could have a large induction class in 2014, because Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas have raw, easily understandable Hall of Fame numbers without a hint of scandal.

Whether there's a single change or not, the Hall of Fame ought to take another look at things. Yes, it has worked well for 80 years. But times do change.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.