HOF Vote: On the BBWAA plantation, privilege is in the eye of the beholder

Dan Le Batard, sent to bed without his supper for saying Big Daddy's been foolish . . .

Dan Le Batard, sent to bed without his supper for saying Big Daddy’s been foolish . . .

I can admit when I’m wrong. I thought the Hall of Fame-voting writer who turned his ballot over to Deadspin, vowing to cast his ballot according to how Deadspin readers voted, might have opened the proverbial can of worms. A can at least as putrid as that which surrounds the farce of most years’ All-Star Game voting, where fans can vote multiple times and often use the game for the Hall of Fame’s purpose, a kind of lifetime achievement award even if the players for whom they vote are not having All-Star worthy seasons.

Well, I was wrong. The Deadspin readers who partook voted for Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Edgar Martínez, Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Curt Schilling. Nine out of ten ain’t bad at all. It’s an honourable result. (It also alludes to how much more difficult the DH bias is going to be to keep against Martinez now that Thomas is in.) And Deadspin and the writer in question proved a pretty point. It’s cost the writer his head on a plate, so far as his Hall of Fame voting privileges in the Baseball Writers Association of America are concerned.

The writer is Dan Le Batard, a Miami Herald columnist who also acts as a host for ESPN television and tradio. Disgusted by the trending of the Baseball Writers Association of America voting over the past few years, Le Batard decided to mount a protest by offering his vote for sale to Deadspin—which reports that Le Batard actually took nothing in exchange for allowing his ballot to be decided by participating Deadspin readers.

You’d think the BBWAA were the sons of the owners who sacked arbitrator Peter Seitz for ruling as he had to rule in the Messersmith-McNally case almost forty years ago. (When Seitz handed down his ruling, owners negotiator John Gaherin promptly handed Seitz a letter declaring him pinked.) The BBWAA stripped Le Batard of his Hall of Fame voting privileges and suspended him from membership for a year. That’ll teach him to take a stand for integrity.

“The BBWAA regards Hall of Fame voting as the ultimate privilege, and any abuse of that privilege is unacceptable,” said the writers’ statement announcing Le Batard’s deep-freezing.

Ken Gurnick, who's learning that guilt by association is acceptable so long as you don't call Big Daddy a big dope . . .

Ken Gurnick, who’s learning that guilt by association is acceptable so long as you don’t call Big Daddy a big dope . . .

Let’s see. The BBWAA behaves as though Hall of Fame voting is its God-given right, rather than the privilege that it truly is. They stand pat for the most part (there are exceptions) when, say, Ken Gurnick commits privilege abuse by refusing to vote for any player except Jack Morris (who didn’t make it and now drops off the ballot after his fifteenth trhy) because he refuses to vote for anyone who played during the era of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances . . . whether or not a single iota of suspicion or a single shred of evidence exists against a particular player.

But Gurnick remains a BBWAA member in good standing with Hall of Fame voting privileges intact, while Le Batard stands as a pariah. The evidence continues to mount that the BBWAA should no longer be the sole arbiters (other than assorted Veterans’ Committee subsets) of who should or should not be elected to the Hall of Fame. Yes, they actually managed to get it right by electing Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas on their first ballots this week. Whether they got it right in spite of themselves is the question before the house.

Because Craig Biggio missed by a single vote (Gurnick’s?) this time around, and he absolutely deserved to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer last year. The crowded ballot is one thing, and that’s why the BBWAA (appropriately) is reviewing the ten-candidate vote limit. But Biggio also got socked by nothing more than innuendo regarding actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, I suppose, because he played with a Hall of Fame-candidate teammate, Jeff Bagwell, who’s also been socked by nothing more than the same innuendo. When innuendo becomes evidence it’s as sorry as guilt by association.

Because Curt Schilling, the very essence of the big-game pitcher in recent times, also wasn’t the first-ballot Hall of Famer he deserved to be last year, and actually lost votes this year. Not to mention that six players including Schilling lost votes from last year’s tally, led by poor Lee Smith—the relief bellwether might have retired with the all-time saves record long since broken, but now he holds the dubious record for most votes lost from ballot A to ballot B: 106. Now unless Smith got into fifty-plus games in 2013 in fifty-plus save situations and blew every last one of them, I don’t know how you become 106 votes worse from one year to the next when you’ve been retired since 1998.

But it seems none of that will matter half as much as that the BBWAA closed ranks (presumably including Gurnick, though he’s said nothing I know of on the matter thus far) and taught Le Betard a lesson he (and any other prospective apostate) will never forget.

“He didn’t, so far as we can tell, violate any rule relating to how the Baseball Writers’ Association of America elects ballplayers to the Hall of Fame,” writes Deadspin‘s Tim Marchman. “He also didn’t, in giving his vote over to the public, do anything many other writers hadn’t done before. All he did was crowdsource his vote and then write us an email about the problems he has with the Hall of Fame election process—the sanctimony of a significant bloc of voters, the foolishness of not allowing voters to vote for as many players as they’d like, and the issues inherent in restricting voting to veteran writers.”

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports is now on record favouring, among other things, removing votes from BBWAA members who haven’t covered baseball regularly in a very long time. That would be one step. But it would open the door, appropriately enough, to acknowledging that there are numerous reputable people covering and observing the game far more regularly who don’t work for daily newspapers or news agencies who don’t have a Hall of Fame vote. And that those people ought to have one, on the grounds that they are at least as qualified—perhaps more so—as any voting BBWAA member.

Let’s put it this way. Come July, along with Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, and managers Bobby Cox (how beautiful is seeing two teammates, Maddux and Glavine, enter the Hall with the man who managed them for the bulk of their careers?), Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre, the Hall of Fame will enshrine, for the very first time, a J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner who never worked for a daily newspaper or news agency.

Once more around the park: Roger Angell isn’t baseball’s Homer, Homer is ancient Greece’s Roger Angell. And Angell’s going to be a Hall of Fame writer who has never had the privilege of a Hall of Fame vote, never mind that his erudite New Yorker essays have contributed far more to the enduring coverage and literature of the game than perhaps seven-eighths of the carping vigilantes who’ve stripped Le Batard for a far lesser crime than the one leaving Gurnick unscathed.

That by itself should tell men and women of sound reason that, if nobody wants to strip the BBWAA of its Hall of Fame voting privileges, at the very least they should no longer be one of the only two arbiters of who is or isn’t a Hall of Famer.

I’m on record already as agreeing with a plan once enunciated by Bill James (doesn’t it still strike you as bizarre that the founding father of sabermetrics—which has helped buttress several once-unlikely Hall of Fame cases—doesn’t have a Hall of Fame vote, either?): Players (active, retired, or ten-years-plus minor leaguers) should make their nominations in August. Fans (on condition of a $10 entry fee with a formal, verifiable agreement to one vote per fan and no ballot-box stuffing) should makes theirs in September. The media —unrestricted to daily newspapers and news agencies, and including commentators, play-by-play men, magazine writers, etc.—should make theirs in October; baseball scholars, in November; baseball professionals (say, umpires and managers) and executives, during the winter meetings. With no limit on nominations. Then, all five groups cast voting ballots, and those appearing on four out of the five voting ballots become Hall of Famers.

It may not be finally and absolutely perfect, but it would probably be several sights better than what we have now: Restricted ballots, recalcitrant voting writers, and, apparently, selective in-house punishments for writers daring to act upon their feelings that, yes, the Hall of Fame voting system as now constituted is broken, and the repairman should have been called several years ago.

2 thoughts on “HOF Vote: On the BBWAA plantation, privilege is in the eye of the beholder

  1. There are those of us who would love to be in the BBWAA, while there are others who have the privilege of voting for players for Hall of Fame admittance and turn in ballots with only one name, no names or sell their right to vote to a sports website like Deadspin. Then there is Corky Simpson who didn’t vote for Ricky Henderson on his ballot.

    • Remember-Le Batard didn’t take anything in return for Deadspin polling its members for his vote. It’s cases like the other two—Gurnick and Simpson—that really give one pause.

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