Many baseball fans are uneasy about the recent disinclination of baseball writers to muster the necessary 75 percent vote in favor of any Hall of Fame candidate. Barry Bonds, perhaps the greatest hitter in the history of the game, is widely understood to have been passed over because of his association with steroids. Drugs, whether banned by baseball or by the law, improve performance in many sports, and the players who are most closely connected to these drugs, including Bonds and Roger Clemens, will probably never become Hall of Famers under the current voting rules.
The problem is that drug use was so widespread that we are unsure whom to taint. Lance Armstrong is finally admitting to doping, but fans of cycling are also unsure whether any top cyclist was drug-free. In baseball the taint is attached to any player whose muscles appeared to fructify with age. If we had some way of knowing who used and who did not, it would be defensible to exclude from competition and from post-career recognition those who did. But in the absence of such knowledge, the best players of the generation will be excluded even though some of their remarkable performances predated their presumed drug use.
What if we were to change the terms of admission to the Hall of Fame by deploying a modest quota? If we want to identify the best players, one way to remove disagreement, bias or incomparability (as the rules of the game and its ballparks change over time) is to agree on a minimum number of players to be elected in each era. Historically, 10 to 20 players have been elected per decade. A new rule should begin in 2014 and provide that in 2018, and every five years thereafter, the five players with the most votes in that year or any of the preceding four years will automatically be elected. This will promise at least 10 players per decade. The message will be that the Hall should include the best players of each era, and perhaps the voters will mark their ballots accordingly.
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