Sports Outside the Beltway

Baseball Hall of Fame Nonsense

Bob Ryan, the Dean of Boston scribes, is shocked, shocked, that some members of the BBWAA, the organization that votes for players to be included in the Baseball Hall of Fame would not consider Cal Ripken Jr., and Tony Gwynn as obvious members of the Hall of Fame.

I am currently carrying card No. 151 in the Baseball Writers Association of America. Yes, I voted in the most recent Hall of Fame election. And, yes, I am deeply ashamed because, once again, two obvious candidates were denied the honor of being a unanimous choice of the voting body to receive baseball’s highest honor. What if someone actually thought I were one of the eight who didn’t deem Cal a legit Hall of Famer or the 13 who didn’t think Gwynn had done enough to get in? I may not leave the house without a bag over my head.

Ryan acknowledges the fault in the balloting system, and shines a bright light on the biggest issue facing Baseball’s shrine of legends. It’s not Pete Rose. It’s not Mark McGwire and the players of the so-called steroid era. It is the method of selecting Hall of Famers, and the poisoned pens that use the ballot not to elect players to the Hall, but instead to make a point about this that or the other thing that is right, wrong or needs to be fixed in baseball. As written previously, the pretensions of sports writers reflect a moral preening that is as ridiculous as it is phony.

Sports writers work in the press boxes and the clubhouses. They have sources who tell them things that teams and players don’t want to come out. A number of them are equal in the complicity of the steroids scandal. As are the television networks Fox and ESPN, who paid baseball billions to broadcast the games. When sports writers and television pundits say that “baseball” turned a blind eye to the growing steroids scandal, they are in fact talking about themselves as well.

Ryan continues in discussing the lack of a unanimous first ballot Hall of Famer

[S]ome members of the voting body have a personal policy not to vote for someone the first year he is eligible. I cannot begin to comprehend the depths of such idiocy. I fear a few of these Neanderthals are still entrusted with a vote, and it’s their intellectual company I do not wish to keep.

A good question to ask is whether Ryan wants to keep company with the voting bloc that declares they are the moral arbiters of the Hall of Fame. Largely the sports writers have never played the game, they have only watched it year after year after year. And in addition to watching the game, they have dealt with players in the course of doing their jobs. They need interviews. Players can either be accommodating or difficult. When they are difficult, hard feelings happen.

Will Manny Ramirez, who is building a solid case for Hall of Fame inclusion, be a first ballot Hall of Famer? Probably not, because he is a paint o try to get an interview from. If his performance on the field merits inclusion, then what justification can be used by the writers who vote against it? Here comes the tired line: “He’s not a first-ballot Hall of Famer.” And on that basis, voters continue to impose their narrow minded baseball view on fans. Either someone is a Hall of Famer or he isn’t.

Whenever an institution gets head scratching comments from the audience it seeks to woo, the institution needs to rethink its policies. Baseball’s Hall of Fame is not about the players. It’s not about the writers. It’s not about the game. It’s about the fans. The history of the game of baseball is only interesting if there are people who love the game. Whether a guy belongs in the Hall is a question not just for the writers and even the Veterans Committee. A better solution incorporates current and retired players, writers, baseball historians, and of course fans.

The initial phase will be the nomination process. Fans, players, both active and retired, and historians will submit nominees to a panel composed of players and historians appointed by the Hall of Fame. The panel will winnow the field to a ballot of 10-20 players, primarily the recently retired, but also deserving players who were overlooked in their initial balloting. (Think Alan Trammell and other players who did not get enough votes to stay on the ballot, but posted career numbers worthy of inclusion) The ballot will be submitted to the writers who will vote in the customary fashion, with the 75% threshold in effect. After the announcement of the writer’s vote, the remaining players on the ballot are voted on by the fans, at major and minor league games, as well as with an internet vote. Voting will last for a total of ten weeks and players who are named on 75% of all ballots will be enshrined. And in both sets of voting, blank ballots will be discarded.

This is hardly a perfect system, but neither is the system that currently exists. The baseball community needs to move more in the direction of improving a system that is growing more and more flawed. That starts with the Hall of Fame itself and its commitment to the history and heritage of the game.

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