View From Lodi, CA Pittsburgh, PA: Time For Changes In Cooperstown!
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I have a proposal that would not only make the Baseball Hall of Fame annual voting more interesting but will make the Hall a truly select place for the game's greatest players.

What I suggest is to cap Hall of Fame membership at a specific number—let's say 300 players.

Once the number hits the 300 maximum, the membership also becomes frozen by position. If there are 20 first basemen, then at no time can there be more than 20. The same ceiling would be set for the rest of the position players as well as starting and relief pitchers.

Once the upper limit of allowable players has been met, every time the Baseball Writers' Association of America votes to elect a player into the Hall using the standard 75 percent margin, another player must be voted out.

Let's say, for example, the BBWAA elects San Francisco Giant favorite, shortstop Omar Vizquel. If my concept were adopted, along with the vote that puts Vizquel in another shortstop from a previous era must be voted out by, for the sake of the debate, a 50 percent plus one margin.

Would it be the 1902-1912 Chicago Cubs' Joe Tinker? Or would it be Rabbit Maranville whose career spanned two decades with the old Boston Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Robins, St. Louis Cardinal and the Cubs?

Here's the crux of my plan. If writers don't agree on who exits, then no one enters! Thus the Hall remains reserved for the absolutely best players who ever took to the field.

My variation on Hall of Fame voting does two things, both good for the game.

First, it makes the annual selection process more interesting. Earlier this week, for example, the Hall announced that Oakland A's Rickey Henderson and the Boston Red Sox Jim Rice were elected. 

Henderson stole 1,406 bases, 468 more than any other player, scored 2,295 runs which also ranks first, collected 2,190 walks, second on the career list, and had 3,055 hits. Because of his accomplishments Henderson, who played mostly left field during his career, was a shoo-in.

But, using my standards as a guideline, for Henderson and Rice to get in, two left fielders must go. Might it be the Cards' Chick Hafey from decades ago or from more recent years the Cubs' Billy Williams?

Since Henderson was an automatic choice, he would definitely replace a previous member. But what would happen to Rice? He may have gotten voted in but whose slot would he take?

In short, using my upgraded standards, the Hall of Fame vote becomes two-dimensional.

And the debate surrounding the election becomes twice as intense since two questions would be under consideration.

Second, my system would keep the Hall permanently reserved only for baseballs' best.

As the years pass, the quality of the players remaining among the 300 in the Hall would keep getting better. No matter how much time went by, the BBWAA would never kick out Babe Ruth, Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle.

As it stands today, with smaller parks, longer seasons, the designated hitter and computer print outs of batter tendencies, amassing impressive career statistics is easier than ever.

Obviously, each player added makes the Hall less exclusive. What began in 1936 as a strictly elite club with five members (Ruth, Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, Honus Wager and Christy Mathewson), the Hall of Fame has moved away from cream of the crop only status.

My process would avoid the embarrassment of allowing anyone but the most outstanding all-time players.

Currently mentioned as Hall after their post-retirement five-year waiting period elapses are Roberto Alomar, Mike Mussina, Fred McGriff and John Smoltz.

All are great players that any manager would covet. But if they make it to the Hall, most fans would agree that they represent second tier players, not worthy of mention in the same breath as Ruth, Williams, Johnson or Mantle.

Under my system, none of them would ever get in Hall because they would never replace anyone who is already there.

Eventually, some Hall icons might be displaced: Sandy Koufax, Reggie Jackson and Willie Stargell are three whose credentials are disputable.

Don't worry about what will become of those who might have to step aside.

Their plaques could be moved to a new Cooperstown wing constructed for the very purpose of honoring their baseball contributions.

Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.

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