How Does MLB Hall of Fame Voting Work?

Baseball is the oldest organized sport in the U.S., with a history dating back as much as 144 years. Since 1936, the MLB has honored its very best players by inducting them into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Earning a spot among those all-time greats remains one of the biggest aspirations of all MLB players.

Getting into the Hall of Fame is also one of the hardest of all baseball accomplishments, with odds of around 70-to-1,¬†according¬†to How Stuff Works. Getting voted in during the first year of eligibility is an even more difficult feat to achieve. Let’s look at the mechanics of Hall of Fame voting.

Player eligibility requirements

The rules governing player eligibility have changed many times over the years. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll consider only current eligibility requirements. To begin with, a player must’ve spent at least 10 years in the MLB to qualify for the Hall of Fame. A player must be retired for at least five years before eligibility begins.

The only exception to this five-year rule: Deceased players who meet all of the other requirements. In such cases, the player may become eligible in the next election held at least six months after their death. Until recently, players who retired more than 15 years before are no longer eligible for the Hall of Fame election.

Starting in 2014, however, the MLB amended the eligibility window to just 10 years. In other words, once a player becomes eligible for Hall of Fame induction, they may continue to appear on the ballot for only 10 years. After that, the player’s eligibility window closes. However, they can still enter the Hall of Fame via the election of the Era Committees.

Voter eligibility requirements

Mariano Rivera puts on his Hall of Fame cap during the 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame press conference
Mariano Rivera at the 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame press conference | Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images

Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) cast the Hall of Fame votes. Yet not all BBWAA members are eligible to participate in the yearly vote. Only baseball writers who have been active for at least 10 years — and who are members of the BBWAA — receive eligibility to vote.

Originally, only newspaper baseball writers could join the BBWAA. However, the association loosened its restrictions in recent years, recognizing that an increased number of journalists write exclusively online content. In addition to active BBWAA members, honorary members participate in the Hall of Fame voting process.

The voting process itself

The voting process begins with the BBWAA Screening Committee. Any player nominated by at least two members of this six-member committee will make it on the ballot. The committee also includes any players who received at least 5% of the votes on the previous year’s ballot, provided such players still meet the eligibility requirements listed above.

Once the ballot is made, all of the BBWAA members proceed to vote. Each elector can choose a max of 10 players from the ballot. There is no minimum. In fact, many electors vote for only a handful of top choices, leaving the rest of the ballot blank. Voters can’t write in nominations.

At the end of the election, the votes are tallied by player. In order for a player to enter the Hall of Fame, at least 75% of the electors must cast a vote for them. Players who fall below this threshold do not get in. Likewise, players who don’t receive at least 5% of the vote will not automatically appear on the following year’s ballot.

There is no shame for players who fail to get into the Hall of Fame on their first ballot. In fact, only around one of every seven Hall of Famers got in on their first try.