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Putting Baseball Hall of Fame Voting in Perspective
With a controversial and divisive Hall of Fame vote coming up on the heels of a controversial and divisive AL MVP vote, the questions surrounding voting processes for baseball honors have come under scrutiny—and rightly so.
The nature of the debates has shown the vulnerability—and ultimately, the fallibility—of the voting process. Handing baseball writers the keys to the proverbial car comes with obvious flaws. As with any human process there are positive and negative biases to go along with personal agendas.
In the AL MVP vote, many writers voted for Miguel Cabrera out of a genuine belief that he was the most valuable player in the league, but many also voted for him out of spite toward the stats community. A win for Cabrera was a loss for the so-called "geeks," and many columns reflected that mindset the next morning.
Now we see a new slanted contingent voting for the Hall of Fame. While several newly eligible players are certainly controversial for many reasons—be they personality or PED related—the split among voters has been interesting in its public nature. Many have been open in their outright refusal to vote for certain players because of checkered pasts.
The question here, of course, has to be asked: If writers are so openly willing to speak about their biases against players, should they still be voting?
As I’ve mentioned in this space before, the purpose of the Hall of Fame is to preserve history, honor excellence and connect generations. While the meaning of “Most Valuable Player” is inherently ambiguous—history suggests that perhaps Most Outstanding would be a better term—the onus is on Hall of Fame voters to uphold those aforementioned values, regardless of their personal motives.
The players who have been voted in already raise some eyebrows. Not because of their worthiness but, rather, the fact that they weren’t unanimous. Babe Ruth received only 95.13 percent of the vote to get in; who were the 4.87 percent of writers who thought Ruth wasn’t worthy of a Hall induction that year? Joe DiMaggio earned only 88.84 percent of the vote. Roberto Alomar received 73.7 percent of the vote on his first ballot, yet received 90 percent of the vote on his second. What made his legacy that much better later?
In any system there are going to be flaws, but perhaps it’s time to try another one. Any time you have a group of individuals who have happily accepted their role as kingmakers, you risk abuses of power. The unwritten first ballot rule, while admirable in theory, doesn’t affect a player’s status in the Hall at all. While it may be a dated example, if everyone with a vote couldn’t agree that Babe Ruth ought to be in the Hall of Fame, then we ought to find out the names of those who declined and revoke their votes.
The Steroid Era in baseball happened. There’s no denying it. The evidence is everywhere for us to see. Our individual opinions on how this ought to affect the legacies of those who indulged with PEDs is another issue.
The logical step for baseball after all that has gone on is to—colloquially speaking — own it. Acknowledge that it happened. Acknowledge that it was allowed to happen. Only then can the game move on in an appropriate way.
For writers voting on the Hall, now is not the time to make a political stand. Part of the reason the steroid problem—if we want to term it that—was allowed to grow is many writers chose not to follow up on leads they were given. To hold a flimsy standard against these players not only accomplishes nothing for baseball’s history, but also erases the notion that the media who chose to build these figures up are not partially culpable for these legacies.
The Baseball Hall of Fame seeks to preserve history, honor excellence and connect generations. The steroid era is part of its history, and glossing it over does nothing to help future generations understand what happened. While the excellence we witnessed may be an inconvenient truth for some, it happened..
The Baseball Writers Association of America is authorized to elect players to the Hall of Fame. The onus is on those writers to do justice to the excellence and history of baseball, not to bestow honors on particular players from the position of moral arbiters.
This isn’t the appropriate ballot for politicking. Own the past and move forward.
Chris is a writer-at-large and encourages you to talk baseball.
For further baseball discussion, you can follow him on twitter under @thechrislund or send him an e-mail at chris (dot) lund89 AT gmail (dot) com
Read more great baseball stuff at The Hardball Times.