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Human Nature Gets in the Way of Hall of Fame Voting

Ed Price, a BBWAA member at AOL Fanhouse and Hall of Fame voter, recently wrote an article in which he declared he would no longer publicly announce the players for whom he was voting. He wrote:

“Unlike the annual BBWAA awards, Hall of Fame voting is by secret ballot. And while in the past I have published my vote, I no longer believe I should.

And that's because I don't believe it's fair to publicly accuse someone of using PEDs without some evidence. If I reveal my ballot, and it doesn't include an obvious choice, then I am, in effect, accusing that player because I have made it known I will not vote for a player if I believe there was a reasonable chance he used PEDs.”

The reaction to Price’s piece has been rather strong, with many, such as SI’s Joe Posnanski, taking offense to Price’s notion that “this isn't a court of law” and that “innocent until proven guilty does not apply.” The effective outcome of this policy—that Price can withhold a Hall of Fame vote to an otherwise worthy candidate on any PED speculation no matter how weak without having to justify it—has also stirred some outrage.

The sense seems to be that, by not voting for these worthy candidates, Price and voters like him are punishing the players. Price doesn’t believe so—“I believe getting in the Hall of Fame is a reward. But not getting in isn't punishment.”—but his detractors don’t see it that way. Hall of Fame ballots only allow for a “Yes” or “No” vote, after all. When the “Yes” vote isn’t cast on a deserving player, the voter is saying “No” instead. If that “No” vote comes out of merely suspicions, it can easily feel like a punishment.

The problem, as I see it, is that the Price detractors are missing something important about human nature here. It’s true that the Hall of Fame ballot is technically a boolean choice—either “yes” or “no”—but fans rarely, if ever, treat it as such. Distinctions are made all the time: first-ballot guys, second-ballot guys, guys who deserve to stay on for all fifteen years but who shouldn’t be elected, guys who you hope get a handful of votes even if they have no right to be elected, guys who shouldn’t be on the ballot at all...there are a lot of shades of gray that we fill in ourselves whenever we look at a player’s career in terms of the Hall of fame.

Single votes have a little gray to them as well. A writer may not feel a particular player is deserving enough of his vote that year, but might be deserving the next year. And while his lack of a “Yes” vote would effectively be “No,” he would actually be saying “Wait until next year.” The risk of dropping off the ballot would be there, of course, but that wouldn’t change his intention with the vote.

When I read what Price said, I get upset, too. It is not how I would vote, and I find it very hard to agree with his position. But if we allow for some shades of gray in his ballot, his position starts to make sense. He is now saying, “I have enough suspicions about this player that I don’t want to give him a ‘Yes’ just yet, but, until the suspicisons are proven or disproven, I can’t give him a ‘No’ either.” It may not be something that everyone can agree with, or that even makes sense logically, but it is certainly in line with human nature.

We’ll find out this afternoon at 2 p.m. just how widespread sentiments like these are, when the Hall of Fame results are announced. With Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven as the only expected inductees this year (as Chris Jaffe so wonderfully demonstrated), it doesn’t look good for Jeff Bagwell and other players suspected of PEDs, no matter how superficial the suspicion. We must hope, then, that the process works well enough to give all worthy candidates a fair shake throughout their time on the ballot.

Larry Granillo writes the blog, where he hopes everyone appreciates Charlie Brown, tater trots and whatever random baseball thoughts he has that day.

Read more great baseball stuff at The Hardball Times.


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