It’s about time for baseball to begin its annual passion play, a test of intellectual honesty and moral values.
Front and center will be the Baseball Writers Association of America, not the usual guys but a more limited group of journalists who actually cover the game.
There are more than 700 BBWA members even as the number of newspaper journalists is declining in drastic proportions. (I am among them, although I never was a sportswriter. I did edit in the Akron Beacon Journal’s sports department for about eight years.
For background about BBWA, here is their website.
Here is how the BBWA defines it’s Hall of Fame voters;
“In order to be eligible for a Hall of Fame vote, a writer must be an active member of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years. Once a writer receives a Hall of Fame vote, he is eligible to continue voting even when he is no longer an active member of the BBWAA, provided he becomes a lifetime honorary member.”
The group goes on to add its members can vote even after leaving baseball coverage:
“The BBWAA trusts that its voters take their responsibility seriously, and even those honorary members who are no longer covering baseball do their due diligence to produce a thoughtful ballot.”
I used to know a former sports editor who continued to vote long after he quit covering games and even after, he left the sports department. He was never the regular baseball writer.
There is no empirical basis for election to the Hall. Hitting 500 home runs is no guarantee and winning 250 games is not a sure thing, either. It’s a subjective decision, as it should be.
There was a time when baseball writers were clearly best qualified for the choices. Long ago, the writers were among the select few who saw every game a team played. Even the wealthiest fans could not pay to travel to and see every contest, and a majority of games were not televised. Even then, National League writers could go an entire year without seeing anything more than select highlights from the American League.
Today, anyone with an Internet connection, a television and about $150 can see every game, every day, although that is not recommended by marriage counselors.
Some newspapers even tell their writers to decline their Hall of Fame vote, or participation in selections of any other honor, for that matter. They reason that the people covering the athletes as journalists should not be bestowing honors on them.
On the other end of the moral spectrum are those writers who relish in their ability to create their own imperatives to judge players. They will write things like: “If Joe Dimaggio was not a unanimous selection, how can we give that honor to Cal Ripken? He won’t get my vote this year!”
More troubling is the decision by many writers to be both judge and jury on controversial aspects of players’ lives.
These same writers rarely used the word “allegedly” when exploring the possible use of steroids or other bad behavior. It didn’t matter to them that the facts came largely from hearsay, leaked reports and broad inferences. They often say it is naïve to point out that most players have never been convicted of steroid use. They claim that facts that could never convict anyone in a real court are valid when casting a vote that characterizes a player for all time. From their lofty perches, they feel empowered to draw conclusions the cast aspersions on real human beings and carry real weight in the way these men will be viewed for generations to come.
Even Barry Bonds can claim that he was never convicted of steroid use. He was indicted and convicted of obstruction of justice but later cleared.
I don’t consider myself naïve but my sense of fairness prevents me from denying an honor to a man who was never convicted. Baseball had every opportunity to prove drug use and remove players from the ballot. It never happened.
Plenty of other great players cheated. Standouts including Hall of Famers have been candid about adding substances to the ball, taking amphetamines, corking bats and other illegal acts. None of them were excluded from the ballot.
Exclusion was reserved for a few players who faced what baseball considered due process, most notably Pete Rose and Joe Jackson.
We also must be frank about character issues on the part of the players and writers.
Barry Bonds does not appear to be a very nice man. The same can be said about some of the writers. Some of them are great, people, of course. Some are not.
Anyone who reads the history of the game knows there was some outright hatred between the athletes and the writers. In some cases, the writers clenched their teeth and voted based on accomplishment. Others cited the character qualification for the Hall and voted no.
So here is where I stand. I would allow the commissioner to exercise his right to disqualify players based on the evidence and the fairest judgment he can render.
My judgment would be based on this qualities:
Is the player famous? I would exclude some HOF members who never made much of a name for themselves outside their own city. If I had a vote, Roger Maris would get in. Nestor Chylak and Phil Rizzuto, you’re out!
Does inclusion of the player enhance the Hall’s ability to tell baseball’s story? You can’t write baseball’s history without telling the story of Cool Papa Bell or Satchel Paige. It’s hard for me to judge who was NOT famous in the past, but I have my doubts about Pete Hill and Chick Hafey.
Was the player excellent? This is the most subjective of the three points. Some players are excellent in all areas (Aaron, Ripken, Mays). Some qualified based on just one or two skills (Luis Aparcio, Ozzie Smith). Still more were good in many ways, but not necessarily superb, for a long time (Yount, Fisk).
So here is my 2015 ballot, feel free to disagree.
Ken Griffey, Jr.
I do not suggest this list is in any kind of order.