Cast Your Own Ballot For Baseball Hall of Famers

A week from today, the Baseball Hall of Fame's class of '97 will be announced in New York City. Selection will bestow the sport's highest honor upon a chosen few, or perhaps, as occurred last January, on no one at all - or at least none of the listed candidates.

For many casual fans, the election process carried out by the Baseball Writers Association of America remains a mystery.

Perhaps a do-it-yourself ballot and a little background will help clarify what happens and prepare readers for the Jan. 6 announcement.

Although baseball's origins date to the 19th century, the sport did not have a hall of fame until 1939, when a shrine was opened in Cooperstown, N.Y., once thought to be the game's birthplace.

In 1936, five players - Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, and Christy Matthewson - were elected as charter inductees. Today 228 players, managers, umpires, and contributors are enshrined. Most players are elected by baseball writers, but old-time players and nonplayers are selected by special committee.

Unlike the All-Star Game, fans do not vote on the greats. This is not a popularity contest, and a player with unquestioned qualifications can count on being elected regardless of his poor relations with sportswriters. Pitcher Steve Carlton was selected in 1994 despite a history of not speaking with reporters.

Following are more ins and outs of the election process:

Voters

Members of 10 years standing in the Baseball Writers Association of America. A total of 470 ballots were cast in last January's election. Members must cover a team for a daily newspaper.

Player Eligibility

Players whose careers lasted 10 or more years become eligible five years after they retire. A committee of writers screens out those with no real hope of election.

Needed for Election

A player must be named on 75 percent of the ballots cast. Most years only a few players are elected, and last year for the first time in 25 years, the writers failed to enshrine anyone.

Safety Net

If a player is not elected after 15 years on the ballot, his name is removed. However, a Committee on Veterans is allowed to separately elect retired executives, managers, umpires, or players no longer eligible for the ballot. Four former greats were selected by committee last year: pitcher Jim Bunning, manager Earl Weaver, Negro League star Bill Foster, and turn-of-the-century manager Ned Hanlon.

Last Year's Top Vote Getters

Phil Niekro - 321 votes (353 needed for election)

Tony Perez - 309 votes

Don Sutton - 300 votes

What Voters Look For

Historically, any player with 300 or more pitching victories or 3,000 or more lifetime hits is in automatically. Voters also like to see a .300 career batting average, possibly a few batting titles, several Gold Gloves for fielding, and possibly a Most Valuable Player selection or two. Integrity, character, and sportsmanship are also nominal requirements.

Hotly Debated Omissions

Roger Maris, Bill Mazeroski, Don Larsen, Nellie Fox, Gil Hodges, and Pete Rose (banned from baseball) are among the notable players not in the hall.

Be an Informed Voter

"Total Baseball," the official encyclopedia of major-league baseball, is an excellent source for checking player statistics. Internet users may visit the library section of the official Major League Baseball Web site at www.majorleaguebaseball.com.

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