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Has it really been a full year since the last Hall of Fame balloting? Perhaps it’s because we also worked our way through the new Veterans Committee ballots last winter, but it sometimes seems like we were thinking about Eddie Murray and Gary Carter just yesterday.

As list owner of STATLG-L, the “Baseball (and lesser sports) discussion list,” I’ve been operating an online Hall of Fame vote since 1991 (the 1992 HOF election). In our first eight years–the HOF elections of 1992 through 1999–the voting was carried out through our e-mail list and my own personal e-mail contacts. Since moving here to the Baseball Prospectus website in 1999 for the 2000 ballot, the balloting has generated a whole lot more voters and a whole lot more interest, though of course we continue to argue over our choices and criteria on the STATLG-L e-mail list.

To the best of my knowledge, the STATLG-L vote is still the only public-access Hall of Fame balloting found anywhere. While those aging members of the Baseball Writers Association of America seemingly make their decisions based on little more than their memories of the heroes of their youth (and perhaps a few baseball card stats), we readers and surfers of BP can make use of the sophisticated analytic tools found here to compare and contrast the candidates. With this added information at our disposal, surely we can do a better and more accurate job of assessing the merits of the candidates than those besotted BBWAA members.

Or can we? Throughout our dozen years of existence, the STATLG-L participants have voted very much as the writers did. For example, Ron Santo had no better luck with us than he did with the BBWAA. We were ahead of the writers on Niekro, Fisk, and Carter, and never chose Sutton, Perez, or Puckett, but those are minor inconsistencies. Here’s the comparison between the real BBWAA winners and those of the STATLG-L voters (note that the “year” is that of the induction ceremony, not the issuance of the ballot):

Year       BBWAA result               STATLG-L result
1992       Tom Seaver                 Tom Seaver
           Rollie Fingers             Rollie Fingers

1993       Reggie Jackson             Reggie Jackson

1994       Steve Carlton              Steve Carlton

1995       Mike Schmidt               Mike Schmidt

1996       (none)                     Phil Niekro

1997       Phil Niekro                Phil Niekro

1998       Don Sutton                 (none)

1999       Nolan Ryan                 George Brett
           George Brett               Nolan Ryan
           Robin Yount                Robin Yount
                                      Carlton Fisk

2000       Carlton Fisk               (none)
           Tony Perez

2001       Dave Winfield              Dave Winfield
           Kirby Puckett

2002       Ozzie Smith                Ozzie Smith
                                      Gary Carter

2003       Eddie Murray               Eddie Murray
           Gary Carter                Gary Carter

The STATLG-L Hall of Fame vote operates under rules as close to those of the BBWAA as I can make them. The rules are straightforward–choose the players you feel belong in the Hall of Fame from the list of candidates placed before the BBWAA. You can vote for any number up to 10, including zero. If you choose to submit a blank ballot, it will count toward the denominator. You can’t write in the name of anyone who doesn’t appear on the official ballot. Therefore, diehard fans of Pete Incaviglia (the only 1998 retiree I mentioned in my review of last year’s results who didn’t pass muster with the BBWAA), Bip Roberts, Billy Swift, Chris Hoiles, Joey Cora, Mark Lemke, Rafael Belliard, Erik Hanson, Tom Pagnozzi, Mark Parent, Billy Ripken, or Rex The Wonder Dog should forward their angry protests and petitions to the BBWAA Screening Committee, not me or BP.

When the voting ends and the ballots are tallied, any player whose name appears on at least 75% of all submitted ballots is “elected”. The Hall of Fame will announce the official results of this year’s BBWAA voting on Tuesday, January 6, 2004. We anticipate making our announcement the day before theirs, so our STATLG-L Hall of Fame voting will end Friday, January 2, 2004.

This year, the ballot lists 31 former players for consideration by the writers, including 16 holdovers from last year and 15 first-timers who completed their careers in 1998. The most interesting newcomers are 3,000-hit designated hitter Paul Molitor and unique pitcher Dennis Eckersley. How will the writers reconcile Molitor’s “automatic” hit total with his extensive gloveless experience (and how will that reflect on the future candidacy of Harold Baines and Edgar Martinez)? Does the combination of nearly 400 saves plus nearly 200 wins equal a Hall of Famer? And if it requires all that, then how can Goose Gossage, Lee Smith, or Bruce Sutter (whose 53.6% was the highest vote of any holdover in last year’s balloting) ever pull in enough votes?

Few others from this year’s freshman class will garner enough votes to stay on the ballot for another year, though it’s possible that the likes of Joe Carter and Cecil Fielder (and Dennis Martinez?) might be famous enough to reach the 5% mark. Only two of last year’s rookies, Ryne Sandberg and Fernando Valenzuela, stayed on the ballot. Otherwise, the holdovers are generally long-term also-rans who pull in enough votes every year to stick around, without evidencing any sort of momentum that might lead toward eventual election by the writers. This is the 12th try for Steve Garvey, who first appeared on the ballot in the STATLG-L vote’s second season. It’s the 11th for Dave Concepcion and Sutter, and Jim Rice and Tommy John have also reached double-figures in BBWAA ballot appearances. The best any of those fine players ever achieved in the BBWAA balloting was Rice’s 58% three years ago. Concepcion, in fact, has been hovering just above the stay/go threshold for the last couple of years.

Take some time to consider your selections, always remembering that there are members of the Baseball Writers Association of America out there trying to work out exactly the same puzzle that you’re working on. But by all means enjoy the challenge of determining for yourself who you believe to be worthy of receiving baseball’s highest achievement award.

Neal Traven is the co-chair of the Statistical Analysis Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

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