The changes, specifically, are two: first, you have to sign a conduct clause in order to cast a ballot and second, you now get 10 years instead of 15 years on the ballot. The first rule is to prevent the Dan Le Batard scenario from occurring again, obviously. Sadly, the conduct clause includes nothing about denying votes to the sort of people dumb enough to not vote for Greg Maddux.
It’s the second change that’s getting the press, and rightfully so. Whether you take the Let’s Go Tribe approach (“shorter period = quicker access to the Veterans committee”) or the Sports on Earth approach (“shorter period = fuck the steroid era guys”), it’s going to be an adjustment. In the short term, it will only affect two players — Alan Trammell (who should get in) and Lee Smith (who shouldn’t, probably). It theoretically would affect Don Mattingly (shouldn’t get in either), but he’s already in year 15. I very much doubt this decision was made about any of those three players, though. It’s about, for either good or bad, cycling through candidates as quickly as possible.
Here’s my take. The steroid era is a fart in a closed room with no windows. We have to pass through the room, even linger in it, to get to the “post-steroid room” on the other side (which is presumably a less flatulent room). The question for us is this: how bad is the fart? We could install a window and let the fart out of the room. We could hold our breath. We could spend our time worrying about who farted. We could ignore the room altogether. Or, we could recognize it’s not that bad, we’re all mature adults, and can handle a bit of fart if the stuff in the room is worth it (and it is).
In my metaphor, here are the possible solutions:
1. “Installing a window.” Directions from the Hall of Fame remove the mystery from the process; instruct voters that, barring an actual positive test or suspensions, allegations of steroid use cannot be used as grounds to deny a player entry.
2. “Hold our breath.” This is what most voters are doing now, and this is what the new decision seems to indicate as far as the expected outcome. If we can just hang on, holding our breath, for a few more years, we can all pretend the steroid era didn’t happen. It’ll work itself out.
3. “Worrying about who farted.” The witch-hunt solution. Determine who is to blame for the problem (spoiler alert: it won’t be ‘baseball writers’) and place it all on them. ‘The players’ is the current en vogue solution.
4. “Ignore the room.” Everything and everyone in the steroid era is tainted, either by actual guilt or through association, so the only logical solution (according to this theory) is simply to write it off as a bad job.
5. “Recognize it’s just a fart.” The steroid era is unpleasant; it is not the end of the world. Judge players based on the evidence (shocking concept, I know) and not random guesswork.
My preferred solution is #5, but I think the BBWAA is about 90% #2 and 10% #4 right now. Recognizing that reality, I support the decision to reduce the period, if only because we’ll be holding our breath for less time.