The National Baseball Hall of Fame announced one of the most significant changes to voting in its 80-plus years, as longtime Baseball Writers Association of America voters will no longer have a lifetime right to vote.
The Hall announced that, beginning with the upcoming election, voters will have to be active BBWAA members or have held active status in the past 10 years. BBWAA members become eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame once they been BBWAA members for 10 years. In the past, those voting rights remained until death unless voters opted not to vote. While there have been other changes to Hall of Fame balloting, this is the first significant change in BBWAA voters’ eligibility since it was decided in 1947 to limit the vote to BBWAA members with 10 years or more of membership.
Last year, the Hall of Fame added a requirement that BBWAA members agree to a code of conduct, register to vote and agree to have their names publicized as having voted for the Hall. Members are not required to publicize who they voted for.
Currently 650 BBWAA active and retired members hold Hall of Fame voting rights. It is not clear yet how many voters will be affected by the decision. Voters will now have to register to vote and will then be told if they are eligible. Voters who are declared inactive and ineligible can appeal and be reinstated to vote based on their coverage of games in the past year.
"The Board feels that the changes enacted over the last two years ensure that the highest levels of integrity are maintained in the voting process, with the most active electorate possible considering candidates for Hall of Fame election," said Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the board of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
The Hall of Fame voting rules have changed regularly over the years. The rules for various veterans committees and voting on Negro League greats has changed so often as to be difficult to fully catalog.
There were times early in the voting when voting happened more sporadically (every three years during World War II and then in alternate years from 1957-1965). The eligibility rules for who can be voted on have changed from immediate eligibility to a one-year waiting period to a five-year waiting period. The five-percent cutoff, which dropped players who appeared on less than five percent of ballots, was added in 1991.
But the past two years have seen some of the most significant changes in decades. The 2015 election saw recently retired players see their eligibility cut from 15 years on the ballot to 10. Players once were eligible to remain on the ballot for 25 years (1956-1961), which was then cut to 15 years (1962-2013) and now 10.
The news would potentially increase the chances for players from the recent “steroid era.” Players who played in the late 1990s-2000s have generally fared poorer on the ballots of voters who do not publicize their ballots. Voters who do not publicize their ballots have appeared by comparison to the overall list of voters to more likely to be inactive BBWAA members.