COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- For the first time since 1991, the National Baseball Hall of Fame has changed its rules regarding the election of players on the annual Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot. Under the new system, effective in time for the 2015 election, players will remain on the ballot for a maximum of only 10 years, instead of 15, when their eligibility begins five years after retirement.
In addition, the Hall will now require an Internet registration of the approximately 625 eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America and those voters will be notified about a specific code of conduct regarding the handling of that ballot. Voters will be asked to formally agree to a stipulation that their ballot is non-transferable with a penalty of permanently losing that vote.
The changes were made on Saturday morning, on the eve of today's induction ceremony, by the Hall's board of directors and come at the same time a committee of the BBWAA is studying changes in the voting system, but the standard of attaining 75 percent of the vote for election will remain.
"The Hall of Fame is all about relevance," Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson said at a media conference in the Clark Sports Center. "In a study of Hall of Fame voting over its history, it has become clearly evident in the last 30 years or so that after 10 years the likelihood of election is incredibly minimal. The idea of making it more relevant was attractive to the board. We think it maintains the integrity of the process and for those that fall off the ballot after 10 years it gets them to consideration by the era committees a little sooner."
Timing is everything
That change will not affect the three players currently in years 11-15 on the ballot. Don Mattingly (15th year in 2015), Alan Trammell (14th) and Lee Smith (13th) will be grandfathered in and remain on the ballot for the full 15 years.
Of the 115 players previously elected into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA, 102 were voted in within their first 10 years on the ballot, while only 13 needed those extra five years. Most recently, Jim Rice attained the Hall in his 15th year in 2009 and Bert Blyleven in his 14th year in 2011.
As for the others, players can still maintain their status on the BBWAA by attaining five percent of the vote each year. That part of the rule hasn't changed. But after 10 years, they now will be eligible for consideration by only one of the three Veterans Committees -- the Expansion Era Committee -- which meets every three years.
So far, that 16-member committee has met twice since the current format was instituted and has not elected a player. In 2011, that committee elected general manager Pat Gillick and late last year unanimously elected managers Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox. That trio will be inducted today along with 300-game winners Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and slugger Frank Thomas, who were all voted in by the BBWAA.
As for the voting process, BBWAA members with 10 consecutive years in the organization will still be eligible to cast votes for the Hall of Fame. But next January, for the first time, the Hall will release a list of all the members who ultimately cast their votes, though their specific ballots will not be made public by the Hall of Fame. That continues to be up to each individual voter, many of whom now tweet or blog their votes -- some with a picture of the ballot.
That change was in direct reaction to ESPN host and longtime newspaper columnist Dan Le Batard relinquishing his ballot in this year's BBWAA election to Deadspin.com as a protest regarding what he termed a "flawed" voting process.
In January, the BBWAA Board of Directors suspended Le Batard from the organization for a year and revoked his Hall of Fame vote in perpetuity. The same penalty will apply in all future cases under the new system.
"I think the BBWAA and the Hall were discussing options simultaneously," BBWAA president LaVelle Neal, the Twins beat writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, said on Saturday at the conference. "We were going to put a disclaimer on the ballot saying that you can't transfer that ballot to someone without risking being penalized, much like [Le Batard] last year. The Hall of Fame had their interests as well as ours in mind as far as protecting the integrity of the vote."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.