Analysis of the Ominous Animus That Results From a Lack of Unanimous Acceptance From an Enormous, Homogeneous Populace. And Should They Be Anonymous?

November 18, 2015

There are two sites that I routinely check every day.  One, of course, is Bill James Online.  I like to see if there are new articles, new "Hey Bills", new entries in the Reader Posts, etc. 


The second one is Joe Posnanski’s blog.  Bill is my favorite writer, but Posnanski’s right up there too.  I enjoy reading his entries and the logical and thoughtful approach that he takes with the various subject matters, and he’s obviously very skilled at his craft. 


He writes a lot about the Baseball Hall of Fame, which is certainly one of my favorite subjects as well.  The other day, he posted some thoughts and background on a topic that tends to come up around this time every year – the fact that you never see anyone unanimously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  He’s written about this before, and it’s a popular topic. 


Actually, as he points out….it may not be technically true, because the special election of Lou Gehrig was reportedly unanimous, but there’s speculation that may not have been the case.  I don’t know if we’ll ever know for sure.  And, as I like to point out, there have been at least 3 unanimous selections to the Hall of Fame, and you know them well.  Their names are Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, and Bobby Cox.   They were named on all 16 ballots from the 2014 Expansion Era Committee. 


Of course, that’s not what everyone means.  When they refer to unanimous election, they’re talking about the BBWAA vote.  Every year, we get to hear the same complaints from people who post comments after articles like this   Paraphrasing a few sentiments from the public:


"How could Maddux not have been unanimous?  It’s an outrage"


"I guess if Mays wasn’t unanimous, no one should be"


"Someone refusing to vote for Aaron should have his voting privilege revoked".


"Maybe Jeter will be the first one to be unanimously elected!"


And on and on.  People complain about the process, about the voters, about the "keepers of the sanctity of the non-unanimous membership". 


These reactions puzzle me.  Why should we care if someone’s unanimously elected to anything?  Does that really matter?  The Hall of Fame is an honor, the highest honor in baseball.  That’s not good enough?  Do you really have to have zero dissenters to adequately honor someone?


This appears to be specific to baseball.  You don’t hear about this in any other sport.  And I think the reasons are clear:


1)      The voting in the other sports’ Halls of Fame is anonymous.  You may know who the voters are, but they tend to be committees, and the actual votes are not made public.

2)      There are many, many more people voting in Baseball's Hall of Fame election.


A while back, I wrote an article ("Rules of Enshriment") reviewing and comparing the 4 major sports Halls of Fame in terms of their election process.  Baseball stands apart from the others in many key features.  The contrast in the number of voters is striking:



National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum

Hockey Hall of Fame

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

Pro Football Hall of Fame

Current number of voters





Who votes in the main elections?

Baseball Writers Association of America who have covered the sport for at least 10 years

Selection committee made up of former players, coaches, executives and members of the media.

9-member North American screening committee and 7-member women’s screening committee submit nominees to an "Honors" selection committee of former players, executives and media.

One media member from each of the current 32 teams' regions, one representative of the Pro Football Writers Association (PFWA) plus 13 national, at-large members



549 voters vs. 18, 24, and 46.  That’s a big part of it, right there.  Do we really expect 549 voters to agree 100% on anything?


·         If you gathered 549 movie buffs in one place and forced them to watch Robert De Niro and Pauly Shore and vote on who was the better actor, I suspect a few would opine that "You know, ‘Encino Man’ is an underrated flick."


·         If you had 549 music experts listen to Ray Charles singing "America the Beautiful" and then listen to Roseanne Barr’s rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" and vote on which one is more moving, I suspect a few would say "You know, when Roseanne grabbed her crotch and spit on the ground, it brought a tear to my eye".


·         If you had 549 food critics and asked them whether they preferred to eat a nice filet mignon or Spam, I suspect a handful might opt for the one in the pull-top can.


The point is, with that many voters, unanimity becomes exceptionally tough, regardless of how strong someone’s case is.  The other sports, with much smaller voting bodies, have a much greater chance of having unanimous results.  But, again….they don’t care about that.  The votes are not disclosed….only the results are known.  When Tom Brady eventually comes up for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we won’t know if all 46 voters agree.  It won’t matter.  The only thing we’ll know for sure is that, when his time comes, he’ll be joined by somewhere between 3 and 7 other individuals that year, and he’ll become a member in good standing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  That’s all.  And no one will know or care about unanimity.


So, Baseball’s inability to provide unanimous results is embedded in the structure itself.  They could reduce the number of voters significantly.  They could make the votes anonymous, and they don’t have to announce the vote totals. 


But, you know what?  It’s not a bad thing at all.  I think this comes under the heading of "there is no such thing as bad press".  I suspect more is written about the Baseball Hall of Fame than the other 3 major sports’ Halls of Fame combined.  Maybe baseball fans are more passionate about their Hall than the others are.  Or, maybe the "controversies" feed that passion and shine more attention on the Baseball Hall of Fame vs. the others.  I’m not sure.


But, I am sure of one thing.  It will matter to me not one whit that, in a short while from now, Ken Griffey Jr. will end up not receiving everyone’s vote.  It’s not a standard that means anything.  It won’t matter to me whether he gets 85% or 90% or 95% or 99.9%.  The only things that matter to me is that he will be elected, and I’ll get the chance to re-live his exploits and cheer him once again.   The actual vote results…..I’ll leave that for the accountants to worry about.  I’ll be too busy celebrating his career, his successes, and his inclusion in a club that only about 1% of all of the players in Major League history have achieved. 


Congratulations in advance, Junior.  And here’s hoping that (at least) Mike Piazza joins you on the stage.








COMMENTS (21 Comments, most recent shown first)


I agree that Ken Griffey is, by all statistical evidence, an easy Hall of Famer.
I also happen not to think it's so clear now that he's a Hall of Famer.

People often look at this kind of thing from the other direction, i.e. we shouldn't view it that way unless we have some strong specific indication. That's the way I'd see it if there were a mechanism for taking people out of the Hall of Fame.

There isn't -- and so I think the burden needs to be in the first direction: You ought to want to be pretty darn sure about whatever you think is relevant before voting yes.
9:45 PM Nov 22nd
Well said, Dan. I would add this:

It's not only about whether Player X is deserving. It's also whether in the principled opinion of one particular voter he should go in now.​
8:47 PM Nov 22nd

Thanks for the feedback!


Thanks for the comments, and we definitely agree that it's not a big deal, and that we can still respect those that hold principles and positions in voting that don't align with our own.


Sorry.....but you're talking in circles. In one comment, you said that "It's good for us to see that there ARE universal truths, lots of them, and they're not as hard to agree on as we make it."

Then you said "No, truth isn't voted on. It exists in reality. Whether the Earth rotates around the Sun, or vice-versa, isn't connected to you and me signing off on it together. "

So which is it? Is a universal truth something that we do have to agree on, or something we don't have to agree on? You stated it both ways.

Between those two options, I feel you're right when you stated a universal truth isn't voted on. But Hall of Fame membership is something we vote on, because that's how we decide things in the real world. There are no universal truths regarding who should or should not be in the Hall of Fame.

Universal truths do not exist when deciding on an honor. That's why they send out ballots to writers with the boxes unchecked rather than pre-checked. If you want to set up a process by which "obvious" Hall of Famers already have their boxes checked when we send out the ballots, then go for it. That's the only way to guarantee 100%.

Or, as an alternate solution...we can run all candidates by you first to see whether or not they are deserving of unanimous status, and if they are, then we don't hold a vote on them at all. We can just send them straight to the Hall without a vote. The problem with that is, your line separating the obvious from the non-obvious isn't going to be the same as anyone else's. That's why we vote in the first establish the distinction between who's in and who's not. That's also why we don't require 100% agreement. 100% agreement, especially among a very large group of voters, is an unreasonable standard for things like this.

In order for a vote to be meaningful, it has to have 2 things:
1. There has to be a choice
2. It has to express the voter's opinion

If the only outcome that you deem acceptable of a vote is 100% agreement, then that's not a free vote....that's called a decree. And we don't need that.

Finally....are you really suggesting that a player's HOF monitor score be used to determine who should receive 100% support? I'm confident that not even Bill would suggest that his creation be used in that manner. If you don't believe me, ask him yourself. He designed the HOF monitor to quantify how likely someone is to be elected, not how deserving he is.

I would disagree with a voter that doesn't feel Griffey is a Hall of Famer....but I'd much rather have a vote with freedom of choice where unanimity is unlikely than just having a rubber stamp process. We don't need that.

7:31 AM Nov 22nd
Would add, too, that I'm all for the idea that "gray areas" exist on most Q's like these. Should the NFL be more or less violent?

OBVIOUSLY WRONG: give them maces and take their helmets off.
GRAY AREA: in between
OBVIOUSLY RIGHT: make it flag football

It's just that I hold "Griffey, HOF" as not being in the gray area. If we were talking about Jeff Bagwell? I think he's an easy call, but respect the idea that different positions are reasonable.

Griffey? He has 235 of 100 points on the HOF Monitor scale, hit 630 homers, etc. If there was no such thing as "the judgment of a reasonable man," we wouldn't convict murderers. You could always argue that you might be wrong, no?

These writers HEAR the arguments back and forth. And they were the ones who held up their hands, ME! ME! LET ME VOTE! So let's encourage them to vote reasonably.

- Jeff

11:11 PM Nov 21st
No, truth isn't voted on. It exists in reality. Whether the Earth rotates around the Sun, or vice-versa, isn't connected to you and me signing off on it together.

Again, if an HOF voter "sincerely and honestly" rates Griffey as non-HOF caliber, then he should probably reconsider his career. You do realize that writing baseball is his chosen profession.

The steroids asterisk isn't what the article was about. And it isn't a *complex* question, like is the planet warming. If we can't agree that Clayton Kershaw is more deserving of a Cy Young vote than Vidal Nuno, then we should back up the truck and deal with other problems before presuming that we can award a Cy at all :- )

10:55 PM Nov 21st
Is it a universal truth if you and I don't agree that it is true?

Thing is, HOF voters operate on principles that they hold, sincerely and honestly. Bob Gregory, whom I respect as much as I do anybody on this site, holds to a principle about first-time candidates from the PED era. I don't agree, but I respect it.

Pedro Gomez of ESPN has declared that he won't vote--ever--for anybody who has been suspected of PED use. I don't agree--in fact I disagree violently--but I try to respect it, though with difficulty.

A few voters won't vote for a first-time candidate, period. Seems perverse to me, but WTF.

What I do agree with is Dan's statement that it ain't a big deal.
5:27 PM Nov 21st
Oh, I dunno. The basic sound bite is that "everybody's entitled to their opinion," that values are relative, that we must "tolerate" any claim even if it is nonsense, etc.

It's good for us to see that there ARE universal truths, lots of them, and they're not as hard to agree on as we make it.

10-year-olds know that Kobe Bryant is a Hall of Famer. College seniors aren't as able to commit. At a certain point, we forget that open-mindedness is a means to find truth, not the other way around.

There is no failing to vote for Ken Griffey on a HOF ballot. It's UNFAIR to do so.


2:59 PM Nov 21st
DMB: I think you're working too hard in the rebuttals. I think those posts about "zero" meaning unanimity were at least half smirky and tongue-in-cheek; in fact, let me clarify that: I think they were half smirky, and the other half tongue-in-cheek. :-)
If not, they should have been.
11:53 AM Nov 21st
Hi Jemanji,

See my earlier comment on that observation a few posts down. Having 100% of the voters pass on non-entities on a ballot is not unanimity in the same way as getting 100% of the voters to vote in favor of an individual. You see the former all the time.....the latter is a much different and tougher standard.

If a committee in a community was considering several sites on which to build a new school, and one of the sites was a swamp which was quickly dismissed as an option, would anyone characterize that as "the committee has unanimously decided not to build on the swamp"?
6:35 AM Nov 21st
++On that same ballot, Ken Forsch, Garry Maddox, Ben Oglivie, Pete Vuckovich, John Denny and Gorman Thomas received zero votes. 430 out of 430 BBWAA members unanimously agreed that none of those six players were worthy of being immortalized in Cooperstown. ++

What a great counter :- )

1:55 AM Nov 21st
P.S. I got curious about what Mick's % was. I had no idea but figured it had to be up in the 90's.

Sure, that's high. But it's low.

After all, remember Hornsby's scouting report on him, circa 1961: "Looks like a major league ballplayer." :-)
2:06 PM Nov 20th
Reasons not to have voted for Willie Mays:
-- Not that great an interview.
-- Wasn't as good as Mickey Mantle.
-- I, uh, don't really like people of his, uh, color.

Reasons not to have voted for Mickey Mantle:
-- Wasn't as good as Willie Mays.
-- I don't like people from Oklahoma.
-- Sometimes blew me off for an interview.
-- Struck out sometimes.​
12:26 AM Nov 20th

Correct, Tom Seaver came very close, as did Ryan (6 votes shy), Ripken (8 votes shy) and several others. Many have been close, but none unanimous.

As to the other point….well, virtually every year (in fact every year since 1999) there are very ordinary players on the ballot that don’t get any votes, typically several of them. That’s not “unanimous agreement” of anything. That’s simply a group of voters collectively bypassing ordinary players while in the process of trying to identify who is worthy of an extraordinary honor.

Having 100% of the voters routinely bypass ordinary players within the process is not on the same level as reaching unanimous agreement in favor of a qualified candidate for the sport’s highest honor. Those two are not the same standard.

As far as Willie Mays goes….yes, of course, anyone who knows anything about baseball absolutely should have voted for him for the Hall of Fame. But the fact that he or anyone else didn’t receive every possible vote isn’t important to me, and I don’t understand why it’s important to anyone else.

12:11 AM Nov 20th
"Do we really expect 549 voters to agree 100% on anything?" Actually, yes.

When Tom Seaver appeared on the 1992 BBWAA ballot, he received 425 out of 430 votes, or 98.8%, the all-time record. Only five experienced baseball journalists failed to vote for Seaver.

On that same ballot, Ken Forsch, Garry Maddox, Ben Oglivie, Pete Vuckovich, John Denny and Gorman Thomas received zero votes. 430 out of 430 BBWAA members unanimously agreed that none of those six players were worthy of being immortalized in Cooperstown. There wasn't even one bozo who thought that Garry Maddox' seven Gold Gloves in a key defensive position, even without much hitting, was worth a vote.

So, yes, I think that 100% of people who know who Willie Mays is and how he played should give him a Hall-of-Fame vote.

3:23 PM Nov 19th
About twenty years ago Ontario legislated that school-organized recitation of the Lord's Prayer each morning was too close to state sponsorship or endorsement of a particular religion to be allowed to continue. Morning prayer was okay, but everybody had to get a chance to provide the prayer...

Anyway, the ultimate authority for ending the practice in schools rested with the local school boards. After due consideration - and rejection of any proposal to allow non-Christian texts into the morning prayer - our small town board entertained a motion to do away with the morning recitation of the Lord's Prayer.

All the trustees agreed it was the only responsible thing to do... But it turned out there were one too many 'make a point' nays, and the resolution died.

One trustee told me afterward: "If I had known the motion was going to be defeated, I never would have voted against it."

I knew just what he meant....
11:31 AM Nov 19th
Sorry, I only got part way through this. I was eating a Spam sandwich while watching Encono Man with the sound off and listening to a high res download of Roseanne Barr singing the national anthem. But I liked what I read.

Now I a, contemplating if MarisFan61 truly gasps the difference between (b) and (c). (Smiley face thing)
9:12 AM Nov 19th
The real reason no vote is unanimous is that some people like the idea of "nobody's perfect," and will vote "NO" on someone whose candidacy they personally support (as long as they're assured the person will be elected by others anyway) just to preserve that principle.
8:20 AM Nov 19th
Nice article. The headline writer should be fired.
6:36 AM Nov 19th
It does mean something whether someone gets elected on the first try or not. It does mean something if someone is elected by the BBWAA or a Hall of Fame committee. We are free to give those distinctions what we think they are worth - just as we are free to believe Alan Trammell was a better shortstop than Travis Jackson. But since Willie Mays wasn't a unanimous choice, I choose to agree with you that unanimity in the Hall of Fame vote means nada. It don't mean a thing if it aint got his swing!
11:51 PM Nov 18th
Bill had a great quote on this, years ago: "The Hall of Fame can no longer honor a player like Henry Aaron; it can only insult him."

Personally I don't think it's any more reasonable to argue against Ken Griffey Jr's HOF election than it is to argue that Mike Trout is not a star.

We don't always have to justify the minority view in the name of open-mindedness. If somebody honestly does not realize that Griffey is not Pauly Shore, that somebody could be doing something with his life other than writing baseball.

Or, if the ballot is being used as a way to make a political statement, rather than to vote on the HOF, then somebody ought to write a book about the politics of the Hall of Fame :- )

Just my $0.02. Nice work on the article!


11:36 PM Nov 18th
I think 'everybody' will like this article. :ha:

I also never understood the obsession and upset-ment over whomever not being unanimous. I would never have expected any player to be unanimous in 500+ ballots (except maybe when Nikita Khrushhev or Saddam Hussein is running), because:

(a) You can never get 500 people to agree on anything. Ask 500 people whether breathing is important, and I'm sure at least a couple of people will either say no or not feel comfortable committing themselves on the issue.
(b) Some people are assholes.
(c) Some people want to "make a point."
(I might have included this under 'b' except that sometimes I want to 'make a point.' :-)
(d) Some people are stupid.
(e) Some people don't understand the question.
(f) You can never get 500 people to agree on anything.
10:54 PM Nov 18th
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