What Oscars Can Learn From the Baseball Hall of Fame

The Hall instituted voting rules changes similar to the Academy’s last year

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hopes that fewer Oscar voters will lead to more diverse nominees. The organization announced last week the plan to modernize its voting ranks — part one a purge of members not actively working in the movie business, part two increasing the number of women and people of color in the Academy.

The Academy’s target for doubling its diverse membership is 2020. But rule changes that would keep out most members who haven’t worked in 10 years will affect the 2017 Oscars.

Anyone trying to predict the purge’s impact next year can look to an unlikely place for an example — the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Last year, the Hall in Cooperstown, N.Y., announced changes to its voting rules similar to those put in place by the Academy. Since the Hall’s founding in 1939, members of the Baseball Writers Association of America held lifetime privileges to vote on annual inductees. The 2016 election, held this month, was the first limited to writers who have covered the sport in the last 10 years.

Academy chief Cheryl Boone Isaacs made it plain last week that the Oscars rules changes were meant to yield more diverse nominee classes. But Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson has not staked out a particular voting result as a goal.

“We just feel that it should be more of a peer-to-peer review, that those who are on the ballot and being considered should be considered by those who covered them or who recently retired from covering those candidates,” Idelson told TheWrap.

But the effect on Hall of Fame voting was obvious. Former New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza was finally elected after being passed over for three straight years. Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell saw his percentage of the vote increase dramatically. Both players have long been dogged by rumors of performance enhancing drug use. Tim Raines, a player whose legacy has been burnished by the popularization of advanced statistics, also saw his vote percentage increase. And Seattle Mariners outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. was elected with the highest percentage of the vote ever.

“Some guys on the ballot made significant jumps,” Idelson said. “It’s certainly reflective of the current voting membership, but it’s also maintained the standards.”

The results bear out perceived biases among older Hall voters — against PED users, against advanced stats and against any player being voted in unanimously.

The Academy wants to weed out similar biases.

“These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition,” Boone Isaacs said in a statement when announcing the rules.

How large that immediate impact is will depend on how many voters are ejected from the roll. But the new Academy rules have loopholes built in for Oscar winners and longtime members. And the Academy has assured members that their voting status will remain secret.

The Baseball Writers are less secretive. For the 2016 election, 109 Hall of Fame voters were dropped — a 20-percent decrease in the number of ballots and a shrinking of the pool enough to get Piazza to the percentage of the voted needed to put him over the top.

Whether the Academy’s changes will yield the desired result — and be enough to avoid another #OscarsSoWhite protest — won’t be known until next year. For Idelson, modernizing his organization’s voting system was worth weathering the complaints of those cut out of the system.

“Understandably, when you take something away from someone, there’s a feeling of ‘perhaps I’m not good enough to do that anymore,’” he said. “It had nothing to do with that. It’s about relevance.”