The Baseball Hall of Fame's voting rules are about to have harsh consequences for one of the greatest Indians in baseball history.
On Wednesday the results of this year's Hall of Fame voting will be released. There are a wealth of interesting candidates, but many of them have been connected to performance enhancing drugs (though in some cases those connections are nothing more than unsubstantiated rumor), which will prevent a high number of voters from including them on their ballot. Without getting too far into a debate about PEDs, I'll just say that for the most part, I don't give them much consideration in weighing an individual player's case (we can expand on that discussion in the comments, if people are so inclined). To me, the idea of a Baseball Hall of Fame in which neither Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens is inducted is a Baseball Hall of Fame I have less interest in.
There are roughly twenty candidates this year I believe you can make a reasonable case for. Of those twenty, I would probably vote for fourteen of them, given the opportunity. Even if I had an official vote though, I couldn't vote for all fourteen of those players, because there is a rule that no more than ten players may be submitted on any ballot. For every year I can remember, this has not really been an issue, as there have rarely been more than seven or eight deserving candidates (and oftentimes far fewer than that). However, between many deserving candidates returning from last year and an historically rare number of deserving candidates hitting the ballot for the first time this year, the ten-player limit is suddenly a problem.
Any vote of believes eleven or more of the listed players belong is forced to choose which deserving candidate(s) to leave off. Most voters in that situation will probably attempt at least an approximate ranking of the players they'd like to support, and go with the top ten names. Craig Biggio may be hurt by this, because his vote total is likely to be very close to the 75% needed for induction, and even a few voters mentally listing him at #11 and omitting his name could be the difference. Of course, a player getting even 60% of the votes in his second year is almost a sure thing to get in eventually, so while I think it's a shame he'll have to wait, Biggio will eventually almost certainly have his day in Cooperstown.
It's near the other end of the ballot that the ten-player limit could have a more dramatic and long-lasting impact. If a player receives less than 5% of the vote, they are permanently dropped from the ballot, meaning they can never be enshrined through the BBWAA voting. If they were ever to be inducted, it would have to come through some version of the Veterans Committee, likely twenty years or so later. In many cases, such as Ron Santo, such inductions come too late for the player himself to enjoy the honor. Now, there's a case to be made that a player who can't muster even 5% of the vote probably really didn't belong, but history has shown that's not true (just two years ago, Kevin Brown, a player with a career bWAR of 64.3, received just 2.1% of the vote). In a year like this, which such a long list of arguably deserving candidates, there's an even better chance of a worthy candidate being dropped.
Which brings me to Kenny Lofton. Darren Viola, one of the fine writers at Baseball Think Factory, goes to the trouble of collecting as many writers' ballots as possible in the run up to the results being released (many writers publish their ballot ahead of time). Looking at the results of the 2013 Hall of Fame Ballot Collecting Gizmo! you can see that with ~22% of the votes accounted for (as of my linking to it), no one is projected to get in. Further down, you can see that Lofton only has 2.4% of the vote so far, meaning that unless the other 78% of the votes include his name far more frequently, he's going to fall of the ballot forever.
I don't think Lofton is a slam dunk Hall of Famer (though he would have my vote), but he had a career bWAR of 64.9, 7th highest ever, among center fielders, so even if you aren't certain he deserves enshrinement, he certainly merits more consideration that he's getting this year. There is speculation that the Hall will have to change its ten-player limit, because if the ballot wasn't already crowded enough, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, and Jeff Kent will be joining it next time around. It's possible that if the Hall makes such a switch, they'll also reinstate a few candidates, but it's also possible that it's another twenty years before there's another serious discussion about Lofton's Hall of Fame case, which would be a great shame.