Renaming the Spink award, revisited

Claire Smith

Claire Smith at her Hall of Fame induction. The Spink Award deserves a better re-naming than “Career Excellence.” Smith would be one viable candidate for whom to re-name the award appropriately.

The good news, in case you missed it as I did, is that the Baseball Writers Association of America last February removed the name of J.G. Taylor Spink from the award that enshrines baseball writers in the Hall of Fame. The bad news is that the BBWAA re-named it the Career Excellence Award.

That’s the kind of name you affix to a retirement party and a gold or platinum watch to someone who’s spent his or her life with the company without having been particularly above and beyond the simple call of duty. It’s not the kind of name by which you honour the best of your best.

When first we learned the writers were considering the purge of Spink’s name from the award, I was (and remain) all in. Spink may have published The Sporting News for almost half a century, but he also opposed “organised baseball’s” racial integration. Ironically enough, the Spink Award was established in 1962—the year in which Spink himself passed away but Jackie Robinson was elected to the Hall of Fame.

“In August 1942,” noted Daryl Russell Grigsby in Celebrating Ourselves: African-Americans and the Promise of Baseball, “[Spink] wrote an editorial saying that baseball did not have a color line, but that segregation was in the best interests of both blacks and whites because the mixing of races would create riots in the stands . . . Spink’s defense of segregation was largely not based on fact but on fear and prejudice.”

There have been fan riots in the stands, of course, but unless I’ve missed one the customary causes seem to have been copious alcohol (Ten Cent Beer Night is only the most notorious of that lot) or large enough contingents of opposing teams’ fans in the home ballparks.

You’re far less likely to see a fan brawl inspired by race than you are by, say, a not-so-friendly argument between Cub and White Sox fans during interleague play. Heaven help Chicago if the Cubs and the White Sox ever tangle in a World Series for only the second time in their history. (The first: 1906—when the Hitless Wonders, the White Sox whose .230 team hitting average was the American League’s lowest, beat the 116 game-winning Cubs in six.)

When the BBWAA first announced they would remove Spink’s name from the award in question, I noted a Spink Award Hall of Famer (oops! now we call her a Career Excellence Award Hall of Famer), Claire Smith, telling USA Today baseball columnist Bob Nightengale the previous summer, “If this is the time of introspection, if Mississippi can change the flag, and Confederate statues can be removed from state capitals, we can do this.”

They did half of “this.” The other half should be considered un-tenable. Those baseball writers deemed worthy of Cooperstown enshrinement deserve far better than being called mere Careers of Excellence. (While we’re pondering, when will now-retired Thomas Boswell receive his due election to the Hall of Fame?) For whom, then, should the award really be re-named?

I thought almost a year ago that re-naming it for any of the following would be proper. I haven’t changed that thought since. Let’s revisit, in alphabetical order.

Roger Angell—The first non-BBWAA member elected to the Hall. He wasn’t a daily baseball beat writer, which blocked him from BBWAA membership. It took San Francisco Chronicle writer Susan Slusser, when she was a BBWAA president, to nudge and push the BBWAA into recognising Angell’s oeuvre as long overdue for honour. Yet again, with the same feeling: Angell isn’t baseball’s Homer; Homer was ancient Greece’s Angell.

Alison Gordon—The first lady to be sent onto the baseball beat, in 1979, covering the Blue Jays for the Toronto Star. Said she, a well regarded humourist when handed the Blue Jays, and who died in 2015: “You had to have a sense of humour to cover the Blue Jays, at least in the first few years.” Said one-time Jays outfielder Lloyd Moseby: “A lot of women that are in the profession right now should be very thankful for what Alison did and what she went through. She took a beating from the guys. She was a pioneer for sure.” She also went on to write some fine crime novels hooked around baseball.

Sam Lacy—One of the first black members of the BBWAA. Lacy was to the Chicago Defender and the Baltimore Afro-American what Wendell Smith was to the Pittsburgh Courier, a consistent but prudent pressure point upon major league baseball to end segregation in the game once and for all. It’s a shame that he could and did write a fine memoir but his baseball journalism, so far as I know, remains un-collected.

Jim Murray—The Los Angeles Times fixture (1961-1998) was what Fred Allen would have been, had Allen chosen to become a sportswriter instead of a transcendent radio comedian. Murray was actually awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1990, about which he rejoined the committee gave it to the wrong man: he said the award belonged to one who brought a corrupt government down, not one who quoted Tommy Lasorda correctly.

Shirley Povich—The grand old man of Washington sports journalism. Which is very good for a grand old man who became the Washington Post‘s sports editor at the ripe old age of 20 and raised that sports section all by himself. “Shirley Povich is the only reason I read your newspaper,” Richard Nixon once told then-Post publisher Katherine Graham. Well.

Damon Runyon—He may or may not be remembered more on Broadway, but Runyon is actually a Hall of Fame baseball writer (elected posthumously in 1967) who’s credited with being perhaps the first to highlight the unusual, the eccentric, the weird, and the surreal, on field or in the stands. (If you don’t believe me, you might have a gander at Guys, Dolls, and Curveballs: Damon Runyon on Baseball.)

Claire Smith—The Padres tried to manhandle her out of their clubhouse after Game One of the 1984 National League Championship Series. Padres first baseman Steve Garvey said not so fast, then buttonholed Smith to give her an interview. It provoked then-commissioner Peter Ueberroth to rule equal clubhouse access for writers regardless of gender. From the Hartford Courant (the first woman assigned to the daily Yankee beat, in 1983) to the New York Times, from the Philadelphia Inquirer to ESPN (she was a news editor before the network included her among 300 staff cuts in 2020), Hall of Famer Smith’s career can be described in two words: baloney proof.

Red Smith—He may have been as close to a poet laureate among daily baseball writers as the art got. Winning his Pulitzer Prize in 1976 helps his case. So does being big enough to do what the comparative few have done, admit when he got things wrong in the past, whether it was coming to see baseball’s owners weren’t exactly among the pure or whether it was seeing the International Olympics Committee was (and too much remains) a 19th Century relic.

Wendell Smith—He was the first black member of the BBWAA, not to mention the first black sportswriter to be enshrined in Cooperstown. His writings for the Pittsburgh Courier carried the heaviest water on behalf of ending baseball segregation. He also planted the name of Jackie Robinson into Branch Rickey’s ear, when Rickey seized upon Kenesaw Mountain Landis’s death to put into motion what he’d long wanted, bringing black players to the “organised” game. Smith’s criminally un-anthologised; the Hall of Fame has a considerable collection of his thanks to his widow’s donation, but this Smith deserves far deeper recognition and honour.

That might be a far tougher group from whom to choose renaming the BBWAA’s Hall of Fame award. But on this we might agree once and for all: “Career Excellence Award” simply swung and missed.

Fixing the Hall of Fame vote, revisited

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. It’s time to look again at how to fix the Hall of Fame’s voting processes.

Last year’s Hall of Fame vote by the Baseball Writers Association of America was troubling enough, for more reasons than just Curt Schilling falling short sixteen votes and Schilling’s demand to be removed from their ballots. This year’s vote could prove just as big a pain in the rump roast.

It’s the last roundup for a few players thanks to the ten-year limit on the BBWAA ballot. Schilling is one of them. Others include some with that storm cloud of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances still hovering above them. (Good morning, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.) It’s also the first roundup for a couple of players above whom the cloud hovers (Alex Rodriguez) or gets pulled (David Ortiz).

Whatever those issues truly are, I’m still convinced we can agree upon this much: Something is still drastically wrong with the Hall of Fame vote. The vote still needs to be fixed. The question remains how to do it. The answers won’t be any more simple now than last year. But they’re worth revisiting.

Last year, the big sub-issue was the blank ballot. There was too much talk about some voting BBWAA members turning in blanks. What I said then still holds: how many blanks came in isn’t as relevant as thinking that, if you do submit a blank ballot, you should lose your Hall vote a spell.

What I didn’t suggest was how long following such a submission. Maybe losing your next two Hall votes should send the message: This isn’t the presidential election where, in some states, you’re entitled to answer to no parties producing candidates to your taste with a) the write-in vote; or, b) the ballot choice “none of these candidates.”

I’m not all that willing to allow the voting baseball writers a write-in vote. Some of their published arguments for or against certain Hall candidates cross into Cloud Cuckoo-Land as it is. But if a voting writer submits a complete blank, he or she should be blanked from the next two Hall votes.

At least, so long as the foolish ten-year limit for BBWAA ballot candidates remains in place. The far better course would be to re-open the eligibility window. It used to be fifteen. Why not make it twenty? You’d run far less risk of ballot logjams that might squeeze a Hall-worthy player out of the running through no fault of his own.

All that said, let me repeat what I wrote last year: Voting for the Hall of Fame isn’t exactly a right. The Hall gave the writers the privilege almost a century ago. With privilege comes responsibility, regardless of any controversies attached to any Hall candidates. The responsibility still includes the one holding the voting privilege doing his or her job—thinking hard, and voting.

It would be far simpler to exercise that responsibility without the ten-year eligibility limit. So here’s hoping the BBWAA thinks that one over and re-opens it to fifteen or twenty years’ eligibility.

Every year, the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America sends its membership a ballot for the Hall of Fame. Yes, it’s only symbolic, since the Hall of Fame doesn’t recognise us as a voting entity. No, the vote isn’t simple, cut, dried, or pre-natal surgery.

When I get my IBWAA Hall ballot, I take some time to think it all over. Then I vote. I even write about how and why I voted for the players I choose. I might now advocate returning the fifteen-year eligibility period or making a twenty-year period for candidates, but the flip side of that coin is that the BBWAA asked for it with the ten-year period—and, if I can do my symbolic job, they can do their real ones.

The ten-year maximum eligibility was imposed in the first place out of concern to do whatever the writers could think to keep those nefarious suspected users of actual/alleged PEDs from getting through. Aside from that jet taking off decades ago (greenies, anyone?), the bullets with which they shot themselves in the proverbial foot traveled far enough to delay or torpedo entirely more than a few legitimate Hall of Fame cases thanks among other things to several jammed ballots.

Kenny Lofton surely wasn’t the only man wondering why the number ten center fielder ever to play major league baseball can’t be in Cooperstown (pending a future Era Committee consideration) except as a visiting customer.

Everybody still with me? (All ten of you?) Good. Now hear (well, read) this. If we really want to fix the Hall of Fame vote, the Hall itself should step up, step in, and decide the BBWAA has played enough games for long enough. It’s time to broaden the Hall vote. It’s time for the BBWAA and the assorted Eras Committees to have company among those conferred the privilege of voting for the Hall of Fame.

Who else should be invited to the party? I had some ideas about that last year, and they’re worth revisiting with a couple of adjustments:

1) The living Hall of Fame players and managers themselves. No one should feel funny about allowing such as Jeff Bagwell, Johnny Bench, Craig Biggio, George Brett, Bobby Cox, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Tom Glavine, Ken Griffey, Jr., Vladimir Guerrero, Rickey Henderson, Whitey Herzog, Trevor Hoffman, Derek Jeter, Randy Johnson, Chipper Jones, Sandy Koufax, Greg Maddux, Willie Mays, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Cal Ripken, Jr., Nolan Ryan, Mike Schmidt, Ted Simmons, Ozzie Smith, John Smoltz, Joe Torre, and Larry Walker, to name a few, voting for successors worthy of joining their fraternity.

Some of them get to be part of assorted sixteen-member Eras Committees, of course, which also include “executives, and veteran media members” according to the Hall itself. We can adjust that reasonably: The living Hall of Famers should have to choose whether to vote concurrent to the BBWAA or as members of one or another Era Committee considering overlooked/snubbed BBWAA candidates—but not both.

Left to right: Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons. Why shouldn’t they and their fellow living Hall of Famers have Hall of Fame votes?

2) The living Ford C. Frick Award winning broadcasters, and those currently working in major league broadcast booths. They see as much of the games as the writers do. The Hall would not be disgraced by the like of Marty Brennaman, Joe Buck, Chip Caray, Bob Costas, Jaime Jarrin, Jim Kaat, Brian Kenny, Buck Martinez, Tim McCarver, Al Michaels, Jon Miller, Vin Scully, Bob Uecker, or Suzyn Waldman, among others, having a vote.

3) The statistics mavens, since statistics remain the life blood of baseball.  No, ladies and gentlemen, it would not be a travesty for Allen Barra, Bill James, Keith Law, Rob Neyer, or the folks at Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Reference, FanGraphsretrosheet, and The Elias Sports Bureau to be included in the Hall of Fame vote. So much of their work has provoked re-assessments of several subsequent Hall of Famers as well as incoming Hall candidates. They should not be regarded as voting interlopers.

4) Those writers/historians who were never admitted to the BBWAA ,but who’ve established themselves long and with particular distinctions as blessings to the game. Find us a valid reason for ageless Roger Angell plus Paul Dickson, Richard Goldstein, Peter Golenbock, John Helyar, Donald Honig, Peter Morris, George F. Will, or plenty of the fine excavators of the Society for American Baseball Research, just for openers, to be excluded from the Hall vote. You’ll have a simpler time finding Atlantis.

5) Umpires with above-average ratings. (God and His servant Doug Harvey only know you don’t even want to think of bringing Angel Hernandez or half the arbiters who worked this year’s postseason into the voting fold.) Those people had the second-best views of Hall of Fame candidates for themselves. (The first-best is probably a tossup among several.) The best umpires didn’t just call the pitches or the plays, they developed particular appreciation for players who strove for and achieved Hall of Fame-level excellence.

They would not lack credibility as Hall voters if allowed the chance. Should a voting umpire lose his (or her, in due course?) above-average rating, their Hall vote can be suspended for that year.

6) How about the IBWAA? As in, members not concurrent BBWAA members (we do have a few, including Spink Award Hall of Famer Jayson Stark) but whom the IBWAA leadership deems by their actual works to be worthy of a Hall of Fame vote to exercise wisely and diligently. (Fair disclosure: I’m not an IBWAA leader or officer yet.) The IBWAA is not just another gaggle of fans ranting our heads off. We’ve got some excellent observers, analysts, commentators among us who have earned the chance.

7) Establish a Pioneer Committee. This would be a group considering and giving due to those people—players, executives, statisticians, others—whom we’d consider to have changed the game profoundly in ways other than how they played or managed or administered the game. (It wouldn’t have let Marvin Miller wait until death did he part for his well-deserved Cooperstown enshrinement, either, if it lived while he did.)

The Pioneer Committee could begin with considering Curt Flood, who kicked the door to free agency open just enough with his reserve clause challenge. It could consider Andy Messersmith, who shoved the door open all the way by finishing what Flood started and prevailing right to the end. It could consider Tommy John, who enjoyed a long, distinguished second act after undergoing the first of the ligament-replacement elbow surgeries that’s long since borne his name.

They didn’t quite post Hall of Fame playing careers, but they all changed the game profoundly, and irrevocably. There should be a place in the Hall of Fame for all three.

This Pioneer Committee should also consider those such as Allan Roth, arguably the godfather of deep statistics. Bill James, who picked up where Roth left off, all but invented sabermetrics, and sired subsequent generations of deeper analysts many of whom came to play key roles in re-developing baseball organisations. Bob Kendrick, whose administration and representation of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum does invaluable work advancing the Negro Leagues legacy not as mummified artifacts but as a just portion of living, breathing major league baseball history.

If those are unworthy of consideration for having Hall of Fame votes, remember that my Antarctic beach club has yet to find a buyer.

8) Dump once and for all the prejudice against first-time votes/first-ballot Hall of Famers. If you think a player or manager belongs in the Hall of Fame, vote him in the first time. (Again, raising the eligibility limit back to fifteen years or all the way to twenty years should help.) You don’t need reminders of how many Hall of Famers you assumed to be locks waited five or more times to get their due. Or, of how often you wrote fuming over that sad fact.

People still think it’s more than a little surreal, if not insane, that Yogi Berra, Craig Biggio, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Hank Greenberg, Lefty Grove, Vladimir Guerrero, Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, and Cy Young aren’t first-ballot Hall of Famers. Even if things worked out well enough for Ford that he got in on his second try, the following year—next to his old running mate Mickey Mantle, on Mantle’s first.

By now you’ve probably noticed no mention of Joe and Jane Fan into the Hall vote discussion. There’s one bloody good reason not to even think of handing them a Hall vote: the hash they’ve made over All-Star Game votes, too many times, either with ballot-box stuffings or choosing to confer gold watches.

The All-Star Game vote needs a complete overhaul, too, though that’s still a subject for another day for now. But do you really want to know how much worse Joe and Jane Fan would make the Hall than the Today’s Game Committee that decided Harold Baines deserved a platinum watch?

Portions of the foregoing essay have been published previously.—JK.

A few ways to fix the Hall of Fame vote

This year’s Hall of Fame vote by the Baseball Writers Association of America is troubling, for more reasons than just Curt Schilling falling short by sixteen votes and Schilling’s demand to be removed from the writers’ ballots. Something is wrong, drastically so, with the vote. For the sake of the Hall of Fame, it needs to be fixed. But how?

The answer isn’t simple. But there’s one sub-issue to consider at once: the blank ballots. How many the writers submitted is less relevant than the thought that, perhaps, if you submit a blank ballot, you should lose your Hall vote for a spell.

Voting for the Hall of Fame isn’t exactly a right. The Hall conferred the privilege upon the writers almost a century ago. With privilege comes responsibility, no matter the controversies that do or don’t surround a particular year’s candidates. The responsibility includes the one holding the privilege to do his or her job, think hard, and vote.

If assorted BBWAA members thought it was difficult to impossible to resolve certain questions around certain players while considering their Hall ballots, they don’t always seem to find it too difficult to write magnificent ravings about those questions and players when the occasion arrives.

As a life member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, I cast votes for the IBWAA’s Hall of Fame roll every year since becoming such a life member. Such votes are neither simple, cut, dried, or prenatal surgery. Last November, I voted, citing why I voted for this player or didn’t vote for that player. If a man can do that in what amounts to a symbolic Hall election, surely the BBWAA can do theirs in a real one.

The writers might consider that blank ballots are simply not acceptable regardless of the moment’s controversies. They might also consider that those submitting blank ballots should have their Hall vote privileges suspended. It might convince the blankers to think twice, thrice, as much as it takes.

The Hall of Fame itself should step up, step in, and decide the writers have played enough games for long enough, it’s time to broaden the Hall of Fame vote. You can pick numerous instances if you like, this year and in years past, but perhaps it’s time the BBWAA and the Eras Committees are no longer the only groups privileged to vote for the Hall.

Come to think of it, the former Veterans Committee really put its own foot in it (hardly for the first time) when they enshrined former comimssioner Bud Selig. We should have expected certain ramifications and after-effects, when players indulging actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances pre-testing still tie the BBWAA up in knots but the old Veterans Committee elected the commissioner who let the so-called Wild West Era run wild.

Who else should be invited to vote for the Hall of Fame? I have a few ideas:

1) The living Hall of Fame players themselves. No one should feel funny about allowing such as Jeff Bagwell, Johnny Bench, Craig Biggio, George Brett, Dennis Eckersley, Ken Griffey, Jr., Rollie Fingers, Vladimir Guerrero, Rickey Henderson, Randy Johnson, Chipper Jones, Sandy Koufax, Greg Maddux, Willie Mays, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Nolan Ryan, and Ozzie Smith, to name a few, voting for successors worthy of joining their fraternity.

Some of them get to be part of assorted sixteen-member Eras Committees, of course, which also include “executives, and veteran media members” according to the Hall itself. We can adjust that: The Hall of Famers should have to choose whether to vote concurrent to the BBWAA or as members of one or another Era Committee considering overlooked/snubbed BBWAA candidates—but not both.

Why shouldn’t such Hall of Famers as Ken Griffey, Jr., Johnny Bench, and Rollie Fingers, among others, have Hall votes?

2) The living Ford C. Frick Award winning broadcasters and those currently working in the broadcast booths. They see as much of the games as the writers do. The Hall would not be disgraced by the like of Marty Brennaman, Chip Caray, Bob Costas, Ray Fosse, Jaime Jarrin, Jim Kaat, Buck Martinez, Tim McCarver, Jon Miller, Vin Scully, Bob Uecker, or Suzyn Waldman, among others, having a vote.

3) The established statistics mavens, since statistics remain the life blood of baseball.  Please tell me you don’t think it would be a travesty for Allen Barra, Bill James, Rob Neyer, or the folks at Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Reference, retrosheet, and The Elias Sports Bureau to be included in the Hall of Fame vote. If much of their work has provoked re-assessments of several subsequent Hall of Famers, they should not be regarded as voting interlopers.

4) Those writers/historians who were never admitted to the BBWAA but who’ve established themselves long and with particular distinctions as blessings to the game. Find us a valid reason for ageless Roger Angell, Peter Golenbock, John Helyar, Donald Honig, Richard Goldstein, George F. Will, or plenty of the fine excavators of the Society for American Baseball Research, just for openers, to be excluded from the Hall vote. You’ll have a simpler time finding Atlantis.

5) Umpires with above-average ratings. (God and His servant Doug Harvey only know you don’t even want to think of bringing Angel Hernandez or Country Joe West into the voting fold.) Those folks had the second-best views of Hall of Fame candidates for themselves. (The first-best is probably a tossup among several.) The best umpires didn’t just call the pitches or the plays, they developed particular appreciation for players who strove for and achieved Hall of Fame-level excellence.

They would not lack credibility as Hall voters if allowed the chance. Should a voting umpire lose his (or her, in due course?) above-average rating, their Hall vote can be suspended for that year.

6) How about the IBWAA? As in, members not concurrent BBWAA members but whom the IBWAA leadership deems by their actual works to be worthy of a Hall of Fame vote to exercise wisely and diligently. (Fair disclosure: I’m not an IBWAA leader or officer yet.) The IBWAA is not just another gaggle of fans ranting our heads off. We’ve got some excellent observers/analysts/commentators among us who have earned the chance.

7) Establish a Pioneer Committee. This would be a group considering and giving due to those people—players, executives, statisticians, others—whom we’d consider to have changed the game profoundly in ways other than how they played or managed or administered the game. (It wouldn’t have let Marvin Miller wait until death did he part for his well-deserved Cooperstown enshrinement, either, if it lived while he did.)

The Pioneer Committee could begin with considering Curt Flood, who kicked the door to free agency open just enough with his reserve clause challenge. And, Andy Messersmith, who shoved the door open all the way by finishing what Flood started and prevailing. And, Tommy John, who enjoyed a long, distinguished second act after undergoing the first of the ligament-replacement elbow surgeries that’s long since borne his name.

They didn’t quite post Hall of Fame playing careers, but they all changed the game profoundly, and irrevocably. There should be a place in the Hall of Fame for all three.

This Pioneer Committee should also consider those such as Allan Roth, arguably the godfather of deep statistics; and, Bill James, who picked up where Roth left off, all but invented sabermetrics, and sired subsequent generations of deeper analysts many of whom came to play key roles in re-developing baseball organisations. If those are unworthy of Hall consideration, remember that my Antarctic beach club has yet to find a buyer.

The BBWAA should also re-consider the ten-vote maximum on the Hall of Fame ballot. The max was imposed in the first place out of concern to do whatever the writers could think to keep those nefarious suspected users of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substance from getting through.

Aside from that jet taking off decades ago (greenies, anyone?), they shot themselves in the foot with the limit. The bullets traveled far enough to delay or torpedo entirely more than a few legitimate Hall of Fame cases thanks among other things to several instances ballot jam. Kenny Lofton surely isn’t the only man wondering why the number ten center fielder ever to play major league baseball can’t be in Cooperstown (pending a future Era Committee consideration) except as a visiting customer.

Raise the ballot max back to fifteen. Maybe that wasn’t perfect, either, but it might return the writers a little more of the proverbial wiggle room to cast thoughtful, reflective votes that, among other things, won’t leave enough of the Loftons as baseball’s wronged men to be done right at some future date if at all.

While they’re at it, they should dump once and for all the prejudice against first-time votes. If you think a player belongs in the Hall of Fame, vote him on the first ballot. You don’t need reminders of how many Hall of Famers you’d assumed Cooperstown locks waited five or more ballots to get their due, or how often you wrote fuming over that very sad fact.

(People still think it’s more than a little surreal, if not insane, that Cy Young, Lefty Grove, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Craig Biggio, and Vladimir Guerrero aren’t first-ballot Hall of Famers. Even if things worked out well enough for Ford that he got in on his second try, the following year—next to his old running mate Mickey Mantle, on Mantle’s first.)

So why not invite Joe and Jane Fan into the Hall of Fame voting discussion yet? There’s a very good reason not to. They’ve turned All-Star Game voting into ballot box stuffings or gold watch honoraria. (The All-Star Game vote system needs a complete overhaul, but that’s another day’s subject right now.) Do you really want to know how much worse they might make the Hall than did the Today’s Game Committee that decided Cooperstown should be Harold Baines’s gold watch?

On Schilling wanting off the Cooperstown ballot

Why should members of a profession for whose lynching Curt Schilling once called want to vote him into Cooperstown?

The Hall of Fame pitching a shutout in this round of Baseball Writers Association of America voting wasn’t really that big a surprise. Curt Schilling’s post-results tantrum after he fell short by a measly sixteen votes was, somewhat. What to make, then, of Schilling’s demand that the BBWAA remove him from its ballot for what would be his final bid for Hall of Fame election by them?

The bad news, for those who’ve come to consider him poisonous entirely by way of about 95 percent or more of his infamous tweets, is that neither the BBWAA nor the Hall of Fame can just send him off the ballot with a single finger snap. Yet. The BBWAA’s ballot rules enjoin against it, and the Hall of Fame may be likely to reject it on those very grounds, no matter what Schilling has asked of the Hall in that regard.

But perhaps the BBWAA should find a way to amend its rule and grant Schilling his request. Maybe the best thing would be for a future Eras Committee to contend with his candidacy. If Schilling thinks his “peers” would be more likely to elect him, someone might remind the former righthander that one of his own general managers (Ed Wade, Phillies) once called him “a horse every fifth day and a horse’s ass the other four.”

Schilling’s rant included referencing his own having won a few humanitarian awards during his pitching career, but there have also been references over the years to his not quite having been the most popular or respected man in his clubhouses, too. When he teamed with Hall of Famer Randy Johnson on the 2001 World Series-winning Diamondbacks, a member of the organisation told baseball writer Joe Posnanski, “[W]ith Johnson, teammates hated him on the day he pitched, loved him the other four days. And with Schilling, teammates loved him on the day he pitched, hated him the other four days.”

I’m not a member of the BBWAA. I don’t have an official Hall of Fame vote. I am a life member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, however, and every year we, too, conduct votes symbolically for our own Hall of Fame. Sometimes, we’ve elected people before the BBWAA. We pitched a shutout this time around, too.

Back in November I wrote about my own IBWAA ballot choices and what the thinking was behind it. My choices did include Schilling. (For the record, I also voted yes on Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Scott Rolen, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner.) In the passage I wrote on behalf of that vote, I concluded, “I don’t have to love or respect Schilling as a person to respect what he did on the mound. When you take your children to Cooperstown, and you see Schilling’s plaque, just tell them he isn’t the first and won’t be the last to be a Hall of Famer at the ballpark and a Hall of Shamer away from it.”

Immediately preceding that, I cited Jay Jaffe’s essay on Schilling in The Cooperstown Casebook: “I wouldn’t invite Schilling into my own home, and I wouldn’t encourage anyone to view him as a role model, but in my view nothing in his career leaves a doubt that he belongs in Cooperstown. He ranks among the all-time greats via his run prevention skill, his dominance in the game’s most elemental battle of balls and strikes, and his repeated ability to rise to the occasion when the on-field stakes were highest.”

Jaffe has since changed his mind, and not just because he knows that those who think denying Schilling his Cooperstown plaque comes purely from his support for Donald Trump aren’t thinking. Mariano Rivera made no secret of his own support for Trump before his own unanimous election to the Hall, but neither is The Mariano on record as supporting among other Schilling positions the lynching of journalists.

“[A]s a first-time [Hall of Fame] voter,” Jaffe wrote after Tuesday’s Hall shutout, “I avoided invoking the character clause . . . on the grounds that the clause was conjured up by a commissioner (Judge Landis) who spent his entire 24-year term upholding the game’s shameful color line. I viewed my omission of Schilling as a protest against the notion that he’s owed any deference for his hateful post-career conduct; if he’s ever elected, it won’t be in my name. More than ever, I stand by that decision.”

Writing as I am about to write is painful enough. I watched Schilling pitch over many years of his career. I saw how great he was on the mound, I saw the way he dominated batters whether pitching for also-ran teams or World Series champions. I saw the ways he lived for and triumphed in the biggest of the big games, sometimes despite his body attempting sedition. I also knew Schilling had (and has) a love of the game so deep he never forgot being awed at Frank Robinson managing him early, or getting to pick the brains of Hall of Fame pitchers, or admitting he’d watch Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez when they were teammates “because any day they pitched could be history.”

“He’s a horse every fifth day and a horse’s ass the other four.”—Ed Wade, Schilling’s GM with the Phillies.

I was too willing to overlook too much simply because by the record alone, the eye test and the deepest statistical look alike, Schilling belongs in the Hall of Fame. He may be the greatest or at least the toughest big-game pitcher who ever took the mound. I’ve seen a boatload of pitchers, Hall of Famers and otherwise, who stood tall and delivered big when the biggest of the big demanded it; I’ve seen a boatload of pitchers, Hall of Famers and otherwise, who didn’t. (Conspiracy theorists, if you still believe the Bloody Sock Game was fraud, you can still buy my beach club in Antarctica.)

But I’m familiar, too, with the wisdom projected in 1949 by an essayist not remembered much today outside the intellectual circles of those who believe, as I do, in something not much discussed or pondered over the past decade plus: freedom. The essayist was Frank Chodorov, today unsung often enough as a bellwether of the freedom philosophy. Writing in his one-man broadsheet analysis about the leaders of the Communist Party USA brought to trial under the Smith Act, in May 1949, Chodorov demurred from such a prosecution, despite being a staunch anti-Communist himself:

The danger, to those who hold freedom as the highest good, is not the ideas the communists espouse but the power they aspire to. Let them rant their heads off—that is their right, which we cannot afford to infringe—but let us keep from them the political means of depriving everybody else of the same right.

Schilling’s political opinions are one thing. So is criticising journalism with which he disagrees. His approval of lynching journalists (recanted swiftly enough, but hardly forgotten), and for things that would indeed amount to depriving others of their rights or at least compromising them in broad sweeps, are something else entirely.

There are journalists who dishonour their profession and our intelligence in ways too numerous. I’ve had a career as a journalist in regional daily newspapers, regional daily news radio, and trade journalism. I’m too well aware that there are and have always been such journalists. They didn’t begin or end with, for one grotesque example, Walter Duranty’s notorious use, misuse, and abuse of his New York Times berth to propagate on behalf of one of history’s bloodiest tyrannies.

There’s no such thing as the perfect, fault-free journalist, whether a straight reporter, an analyst, or a commentator. The day I claim to be one now or to have been one then, just shoot me dead. But the flip side to the precept that “fake news” is news someone (usually in authority) doesn’t want to hear or doesn’t want known is that there has been fake news as long as there’s been news at all.

If it was purely a matter of rejecting Schilling’s political opinions that would be simple business. He has the same mere right to be wrong as anyone else, regardless of what today’s “cancel culture” left, right, or over-under-sideways-down would argue to the contrary, regardless even of some of Schilling’s own remarks that imply merely being wrong should be a punishable crime.

“To be sure,” Chodorov also wrote, “our history is not free of political efforts to put limits on what people may think . . . authorities [have] sought to get at ideas by inflicting punshment on those who held them . . . It is to the credit of the American genius for freedom that ultimately the right to think as one wishes prevailed, even though too often some were made to suffer for it.”

Hall of Fame debaters, who are legion, remind others that the Hall itself hardly lacks for honourees of dubious character or thought. Such honourees are not generally known to have called for the execution of the journalists with whom they often disagreed, sometimes appropriately, sometimes inappropriately, sometimes violently. Baseball players have never been immune to testy relations with writers who covered them. Testy relations didn’t exactly equal wanting to speed the writers’ deaths, either.

It’s not just Hall of Famers incumbent or in waiting who’ve found the baseball press equal to a castor oil over the rocks. But even Jason Vargas threatening to knock a writer the [fornicate] out for daring to question then-Mets manager Mickey Callaway over a dubious non-move that cost the Mets a ball game late wasn’t quite threatening to knock the writer the [fornicate] into the cemetery.

Let Schilling rant his head off, wherever he pleases, to whomever he pleases, from whichever forum allows, until or unless he violates that forum’s rules flagrantly enough. That is his right, which we cannot afford to infringe, and his right to rant his head off holds hands with anyone else’s concurrent right to ignore or denounce his rants. Let us just keep from him the political means of depriving everybody else of the same right.

Let us also not insist that a certain group of journalists should yet confer upon him an honour for which they have the privilege of voting since he is on the record as approving their profession’s dates with lynch mobs. Not even if giving him 71 percent of their Hall of Fame vote this time equals their telling him, “Thank you, sir, and may I have another.”

On renaming the J.G. Taylor Spink Award

A Red Smith Award or Wendell Smith Award for Hall of Fame writers?

Did you forget that the Baseball Writers Association of America is thinking of changing the name of another award, too? Much was written and said over taking Kenesaw Mountain Landis’s name off the Most Valuable Player award, and the BBWAA also ponders taking J.G. Taylor Spink’s name off the Hall of Fame award given to a distinguished baseball writer every year.

Being a baseball writer myself if not a member of the BBWAA, I have particular interest in the Spink Award, even if I have more chance of winning the Howitzer Prize for Extinguished Commentary than the Spink. The BBWAA wants to change the name because Spink himself, the longtime publisher of The Sporting News, opposed “organised baseball’s” integration, and they are not wrong.

“In August 1942 [Spink] wrote an editorial saying that baseball did not have a color line, but that segregation was in the best interests of both blacks and whites because the mixing of races would create riots in the stands,” Daryl Russell Grigsby reminded us in Celebrating Ourselves: African-Americans and the Promise of Baseball. ” . . . Spink’s defense of segregation was largely not based on fact but on fear and prejudice.”

Claire Smith, an African-American lady and the first of her gender to receive the Spink Award, has nailed it herself. “If this is the time of introspection,’’ she told USA Today baseball columnist Bob Nightengale last summer, “if Mississippi can change the flag, and Confederate statues can be removed from state capitals, we can do this.” If Landis can be removed from the MVP award because of his active enforcement of baseball’s old and disgraceful colour line, then yes, Spink can be removed from the Hall of Fame honourarium still bearing his name.

The BBWAA is voting on that as I write. Remove Spink’s name, though, and for whom would you re-name the award?

With the MVP the choices may be simpler. You can choose Happy Chandler, the commissioner who refused to disallow Branch Rickey signing Jackie Robinson and breaking the colour line at last; you can choose Rickey himself. You can choose instead the African-American player who remains the only one to win the MVP in each of the National and the American Leagues, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.

The choices to re-name the Spink Award? One can think of quite the handful, Spink winners all, including a Pulitzer Prize winner or three while thinking.

There’s Red Smith, as close to a poet laureate of daily baseball writing as the game has known from his years with the New York Herald-Tribune and the New York Times. There’s Jim Murray, the Los Angeles Times fixture whose wit made you think he was what Fred Allen might have been if Allen had chosen sportswriting instead of radio comedy. There’s Shirley Povich, the grand old man of Washington baseball, who practically raised the Washington Post‘s sports section by himself. Practically.

There’s Damon Runyon, who wrote eloquently, edgily, and wittily about baseball when he wasn’t celebrating Broadway. (You really should hunt down his anthology, Guys, Dolls, and Curveballs: Damon Runyon on Baseball.) There’s Ring Lardner, baseball storyteller and reporter alike, at least before the Black Sox scandal put the first serious dent into his love of the game. (The live ball era finished what the Black Sox started for Lardner.)

There’s Wendell Smith, whose reporting for the Pittsburgh Courier was a phenomenal pressure point toward baseball’s integration, which also begs the question why the best of his baseball writings haven’t been anthologised for today’s generations who need to know the arguable most powerful black press voice toward Jackie Robinson’s advent.

There’s Smith’s African-American colleague Sam Lacy, who did with the Chicago Defender and the Baltimore Afro-American what Smith did with the Courier. He became one of the first black members of the BBWAA while he was at it. (Lacy published a memoir, but his baseball and sports journalism, too, has yet to be anthologised so far as I know.)

And, especially, there’s Roger Angell, about whom it’s been said (by me, to a fare-thee-well, but tough tarantulas) that he isn’t baseball’s Homer, Homer was ancient Greece’s Roger Angell. He was also the first non-BBWAA member and first non-daily baseball reporter to be honoured with the Spink Award.

Any one of those writers’ names would absolutely grace the award. But I have another dog in the hunt, by way of a journalism legend named Murray Kempton.

Kempton once attended the Meyer Berger Award luncheon at Columbia University. His Newsday colleague Jim Dwyer heard him say, “You know, I never won the Berger Award.” A New York Times honouree, Sara Rimer, said, “Murray, you just won the Pulitzer!” The courtly Kempton reminded her, “The Pulitzer is named for a publisher. The Meyer Berger is named for a reporter.”

In 1993, Kempton told David Remnick for a New Yorker profile (which included the aforementioned tale), during one of New York’s too-frequent tabloid wars, “In the end, my view of this so-called tabloid war is that I just don’t consider the character of publishers. I’m rooting for my friends—the reporters.”

(Harking back to a 1962 issue of Sport, Kempton wrote then of the Polo Grounds’ re-opening with the birth of the Mets: The return of the Polo Grounds to the National League was like the raising of a sunken cathedral. It is a place sacred in the history and hallowed in the memory. Christy Mathewson used to make his home on the bluff above the Polo Grounds. When he was working, Mrs. Mathewson could look out her window at the scoreboard and, when the seventh inning came, put the roast in the oven secure in the knowledge that her husband would be finished and showered and home from the plough in an hour.)

For re-naming the Spink Award, I’m rooting for my kindred, too—the reporters.