The popular argument is that this is silly. If a player is a hall of famer on Ballot 3, he should be a hall of famer on Ballot 1.
I, perhaps indefensibly, disagree.
We can all agree the Cooperstown voting process is imperfect. A lot of it is arbitrary and based on, to gaping extents, feelings. There aren’t hard rules governing the voters and some voters may be morons, but this remains unclear because no one’s developed a Voight-Kampff test for morons.
But while it isn’t intentional, or in any way an official, universally applicable standard of judgement — it just kind of works out this way — the first-ballot guy vs. the I-waited-a-few-years guy helps, informally, delineate greatness.
The obvious examples are Bert Blyleven and Jim Rice. They got elected in their 14th and 15th years on the ballot. Seems about right. Previously, a player could remain on the ballot for 15 years. Now it’s 10. Does that say anything about Blyleven and Rice? Total speculation based on feelings: maybe.
The any-ballot-guy-is-the-same-as-a-first-ballot-guy argument works only if all hall of famers are equal. They are not.
Election wait time — or EWT, if ever adopted by Cooperstown’s aristocracy — could be used as a way to tier greatness and also maybe undercut the hagiographing of older players, i.e., “the older I get, the better I was.”
Some of those who argue that “making a guy wait is stupid” already use the “first-ballot hall of famer” superlative to describe certain players. This undermines their point.
I don’t know if BBWAAers vote with tiering in mind, but the way it’s set up — with a 500-plus deep electorate that helps neuter the moron factor — it just works out this way. And so we have spheres in the baseball hall of fame.
If the hall of fame really wanted to fix this problem, it would kill the 10-year rule and make it a one-year rule. Then everyone would be a first-ballot hall of famer, equals in immortality, and baseball would be rid of its unintentional castes of greatness.