On Hall of Fame voting

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.


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Keith
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Keith
Someone doesn’t need to be in the HoF to transcend generations, and their impact is still as important on the history of the game (See: The Black Sox). I do agree that the punishing aspect of the voters is growing out of hand. Alomar is a HoFer, and there’s no doubting it. He had the spitting incident so the writers took it upon themselves to shame him by denying him passage on his first ballot. How absurd. I also don’t understand how a player that has never been above 26% can suddenly climb enough to earn enshrinement in their fifteenth… Read more »
philosofool
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philosofool
I disagree with this. From the BWAA: “5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” When a subset of players subvert the rules—and steroids were against the rules from 1990 or 91 onward, contrary to a popular myth—to direct fame and money themeslves and away from their non-cheating peers, it is *arguable* that they don’t deserve recognition for their achievements. Obviously, we must evaluate the severity of the violation and the degree of the effect as well as the intent. Is there one… Read more »
David P Stokes
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David P Stokes
There are at least 3 problems that I see with the idea of not voting for anyone who used steroids. First, we don’t apply that standard to players who at some pointed cheated in some other way.  Gaylord Perry didn’t get kept out of the Hall for throwing spitballs, and who knows how many HoFers used a plugged bat at some point.  Perhaps most problematic, there are a lot players from roughly the late 60s to late 70s who used amphetimines who the writers didn’t see fit to punish for using PEDs by not voting them into the Hall. Secondly,… Read more »
philosofool
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philosofool
@David Factual point: steroids have been explicitly against MLB policy since the 1991. So pretty much all the guys we’re talking about right now were violating the rules. I don’t understand the amphetemines analogy, as baseball had no drug policy before the 1980’s. Similarly, when someone cheats you at cards by pocketing the ace of spades in one deal, that’s cheating, and when they do it by setting up a system of mirrors so they can see every hand you have, that’s cheating. But it’s just simple minded to pretend like these are similar instances of cheating. Likewise, we must… Read more »
Paul E
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Paul E
Stoker and Fool:   I’m an anti-steroids guy who believed it ruined the game – but only as a fan who was subject to 3 1/2 – 4 hour 9 innining marathons loaded with unintentional intentional walks and pitching changes as managers and pitchers lived in abject fear of the 210# middle infielder who was now suddenly capable of 25 HRs and 70 extra base hits. Yeah, it’s cheating – plain and simple.   An amnesty program for active and retired players would be a joke as they would no longer be viewed as heroes. God bless Ken Caminiti –… Read more »
Free
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Free

@ Paul E

Re: Bagwell – that’s exactly why steroid era protest votes are so dim-witted.

David
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David
Two things.  First, @Paul E., if steroids “ruined the game,” why do you care anymore?  The game is ruined.  Steroids didn’t “ruin the game.”  They may have sullied your enjoyment of it, they may have forced you to give up a childlike assumption that men who hit baseballs are better human beings than the rest of us, they may have forced you to confront the fact that pro sports are more business than game, or they may have caused you to question the validity of some of the hallowed records in baseball.  But the game is just fine – both… Read more »
abarnold2
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abarnold2

Amphetamines are controlled under the Drug Abuse Control Act of 1965 and under Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Jon G
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Jon G

@ David, well said. I grew up in the ‘70’s and have never been to the Hall of Fame, but if I ever were to go I would love to see a plaque for Pete Rose. I know he broke the rules, but there can’t be much doubt that his career warrants induction. I feel the same way about Bonds, Clemens, et al.

philosofool
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philosofool

@David

Since the MLBPA basically insisted, for good reasons, on being allowed to voluntarily comply without invasive testing for the sake of avoid saiding invasive testing (and using testing as a bargaining chip later) I think players had an obligation to act in good faith on the policy without enforcement. Those who acted ingood faith were cheated out of millions of dollars by those who did not.

Mark
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Mark

Forget steroids for a moment.  I would like to see the writers write in Marvin Miller.

bucdaddy
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bucdaddy
“Handing baseball writers the keys to the proverbial car comes with obvious flaws.” I raise the seemingly obvious question of whether working journalists should be voting for honors and awards at all. This is lifted straight from the APME code of ethics: “Special favors and special treatment for members of the press should be avoided.” Such as getting to decide who is MVP, or who goes into the HoF and who doesn’t? “Journalists are encouraged to be involved in their communities, to the extent that such activities do not create conflicts of interest.” Such as voting for MVP and Cy… Read more »
David E
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David E
For the record, I’m against the cheaters making the HOF.  However, one thing that really irks me about it is that I would like to see more ownership of the situation on the part of the media.  It seems they let this carry all those years and very little was written or said about it until Canseco’s book came out.  At least certainly much less than should have been.  They consider themselves experts at the game, have close access to players and lockerrooms, profess their love for the sport, and most of them swung and missed at reporting accurately what… Read more »
philosofool
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philosofool
@Dave E I agree completely. Both the media and MLB—the franchises and commissioner’s office—have managed to do a lot to shift all the blame onto the players, but it clear that reporters didn’t report on things that they knew and front offices didn’t act on their knowledge either. If anyone was in a position to prevent those not using steroids from having their contracts deflated by enhanced competitors, it was the media, But they wanted to report on 60 home runs instead of cheating. Chasing Roger Maris’s single season record did a lot to rehabilitate public interest in baseball after… Read more »
David P Stokes
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David P Stokes

@ philosofool:  Yes, baseball had a policy against using steroids—a policy with no enforcement provisions or penalties.  Which is the same as no policy.

philosofool
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philosofool

Many agreements with no *explicit* enforcement mechanism work. They work because we all understand that if people defect on an agreement that has no explict enforcement mechanism, we’re allowed, within the law, to punish people for their transgression. (This was, in fact, John Locke’s whole basis for government.)

“I didn’t think cheating my fellow players out of millions of dollars was a big deal” is a flimsy excuse for doing it in my opiniion. When the effects of your actions are very damaging to others, you’re liable whether you know you were doing it or not.

Largebill
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Largebill
“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?” I highly doubt anyone thought Ruth was unworthy of induction. He was elected in the first year of voting. You had everyone who ever played the game eligible that year and he and four other men garnered well north of 75%. That is amazing! Considering how many greats were eligible during that first election the voters should be applauded for getting that vote right. Of all the elections, that was… Read more »
bucdaddy
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bucdaddy
“who were the 4.87 percent of writers who thought Ruth wasn’t worthy of a Hall induction that year?” I’m guessing old grumps who thought the Babe ruined “scientific baseball” with all that home-run hittin’. The deadball era had only been dead for about 20 years, plenty of curmudgeons likely still around. The question, to me, for the coming logjam is this: Why is the voting system a zero-sum game? Why is a vote for Mike Piazza a vote taken away from Craig Biggio? One’s candidacy doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the other’s, yet they are forced to… Read more »
Paul G.
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Paul G.
On a practical level, the inconsistent consideration of steroids in HOF voting will cause problems down the road.  As Stokes notes there are only 10 places on the ballot and the more backlog of “obvious choice if not for steroids” candidates the harder it will be for ANYONE to get voted in.  Too many candidates makes it very difficult to build a consensus except for the most elite players.  This snarl has happened to the Hall of Fame elections in the past for various reasons and we do not want to revisit the mess than ensued.  For the roid generation,… Read more »
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