Human nature and the Hall of Fame vote

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.


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Matt
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Matt

You know who is going to be shafted for another ten years? Edgar Martinez. http://www.fangraphs.com/graphsw.aspx?playerid2=1086&playerid3=860&playerid4=1010897&playerid5=1003091 shows that Edgar was more valuable than Dawson, Rice, and even Alomar. He’s good in traditional statistics too, but half of the BBWAA is going to vote him down because he was a designated hitter in Seattle. I really hope he can make it, but it’s a huge uphill battle to convince the NL writers that a DH deserves inclusion.

Matt
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Matt

I’m getting more and more convinced that Jim Rice does not belong in the hall. John Olerud’s career WAR total is about halfway between Alomar and Rice. But I mean, he played in Boston, so there you go.

Larry Granillo
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Larry Granillo

I’d say you’re preaching to the choir there, Matt. I’m not a fan of Rice’s induction, and I really want Edgar to get his due. Today’s vote wasn’t great news for Edgar, but I think it’s good enough to see him hang around for a long time, which is better than nothing.

Jeremy
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Jeremy

It will be an absolute travesty if Jeff Bagwell, one of the best 1B of the post WWII era, is held out of the Hall of Fame because of these imbeciles. He has NEVER been linked to steroids or PEDs in any way. Not even speculation on the weakest of grounds. Could someone please inform me why people believe Bagwell used steroids other than he was a (kind of) muscular guy?

Kent
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Kent
Jeremy, don’t you know that all the good players from the 1990s were cheaters?  Well, not Griffey Jr, he didn’t cheat, but all the other good ones cheated.  I don’t know why you’re so blind.  Next thing you’re going to complain to us here that Tim Raines or Buck O’Neil merit inclusion.  After all, baseball writers know more than baseball fans ‘cause they SAW players play and they KNOW that people from places like Houston can’t really play baseball.  For God’s sake man, The HOF is a virtuous place for men like Gaylord Perry and feared double play machines like… Read more »
bucdaddy
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bucdaddy
The problem as I see it is: What business do working journalists have determining who goes in the Hall and who doesn’t, and who gets to be MVP and who wins the Cy Young, given the large financial considerations? The price of Blyleven’s autograph and speaking fees just shot up, and he has the BBWAA to thank for it. How do journalists justify that, ethically? How do they justify putting themselves in position to determine whose bonus clause kicks in and whose doesn’t? It would be like city hall beat reporters voting to decide who gets public contracts and who… Read more »
Steve
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Steve
There are very good reasons certain players on the ballot today don’t get into the Hall of Fame. Bagwell has big arms. Haven’t you heard the argument? Who needs a drug test. Just measure the guy’s biceps. Isn’t that why they kept Ted Kluszewski out? Wait, steroids weren’t invented yet in the 50s. Raines isn’t in the Hall of Fame because he played in Montreal and they speak a funny language there. And if Raines got elected, we’d all be reminded about how major league baseball screwed the fans there. Alan Trammell? Barry Larkin? don’t you know that the major… Read more »
Steve
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Steve

Oh .. and Santo’s not in because he played for the Cubs and they never win and they only let winners in the Hall of Fame.

And people in New York want Steinbrenner in. Unbelievable.

Michael Caragliano
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Michael Caragliano
I hate to say it, but “punitive” was one of the first things I thought of when I saw the totals all across this year’s ballot. It really seemed that, for every Jayson Stark, Bill Madden or Tracy Ringolsby who offered a ratoinal look at the numbers in their context, there was another ballot to cancel it out either filled out in indifference or to send a message. Look at Alomar, at the top. He should’ve received that 90% last year. Never mind that he apologized to John Hirschbeck, who did accept the apology. Send a message by not making… Read more »
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