Sportswriter Joe Posnanski offers some potential reasons why the Baseball Hall of Fame recently changed the length a player could be eligible to be voted into Cooperstown.
Previously, players who had at least 10 years at the major league level and had been retired for at least five years were screened by a committee so that those who clearly did not have Hall of Fame careers wouldn't clog the ballot. Those players for whom a Hall case could be made were on the ballot, and if they were deemed Hall of Fame worthy by at least 75% of the voters -- members of the Baseball Writers Association of America -- they were elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Players named on fewer than 75% of the ballots, but more than five percent, would appear on the next year's ballot, for up to 15 years after first becoming eligible. Players who had not hit the 75% mark by the end of that 15-year time period were off the ballot, but might later be considered by one of the Hall's special committees that were designed to investigate potentially overlooked players, managers, coaches or others connected with the history of baseball in America.
The change reduces the eligibility period from 15 years to 10 years. Posnanski kicks around several possible reasons for the reduction, among them the possibility that the tighter time frame will help keep out some of the steroid-fueled players whose achievements are now considered suspect because of their chemical enhancements. He allows for that possibility, as well as the idea that Hall wants to bring the BBWAA membership more in line with the realities of modern baseball coverage and include broadcasters as well as online writers.
But Posnanski believes the major reason is that the Hall organization might be readying itself to take more of the reins of its own admission process. He points out that other than tweaking its rules to keep out players who are currently permanently ineligible (like Pete Rose), the Hall has pretty much let someone else run its selection system. That kind of disconnect led to the 2006 decision by a committee of people whose brains may have demonstrated the lowest level of brain functionality compatible with human life when they didn't include Buck O'Neil in their recommended list for the Hall of Fame.
Posnanski believes that the committee had no express instructions to include O'Neil on its Hall of Fame slate, but that the hint of having two living candidates on the list of 26 was thought to be enough. When it wasn't -- and it's not really the Hall's fault for not foreseeing that level of dumb was possible -- the Hall operators may have begun laying plans to be able to have a greater influence on the selection process.
It will be interesting to see if Posnanski's ideas play out, and either way, it should provide something baseball can always use -- something else to argue about.