Deftly mixing sports metaphors, I begin this Baseball Hall of Fame discussion by requesting a 20-second timeout to address a false allegation that has gained great currency this past week.
It is now fashionable to declare the voting system as either “flawed” or “broken.” It is neither. It is quite efficient and it has done its job, identifying the three most obvious candidates on the ballot — Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas — as worthy Hall of Famers with 97.2, 91.9, and 83.7 percent of the vote, respectively.
When I say “obvious candidates,” I mean, of course, those players not directly or indirectly associated with performance-enhancing drugs. That list includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, and Jeff Bagwell.
The voting process is not the problem. PEDs are the problem. Hey, look, every organization has its share of clowns. I cannot explain away the lodge brothers who did not vote for Maddux or who did vote for J.T. Snow.
Prior to the PED era, no one was complaining very much about the voting process. The arguments were strictly baseball arguments, and we’ll always have plenty of those.
I mean, while poor ol’ Jack Morris was minding his own post-retirement business, he became a hapless battleground on which Traditionalists waged battle with Sabermetricians over the merits of such items as wins and WAR. The Sabermetricians have won. Morris has been denied election, and his name will now be passed on to the Veterans Committee in due time. This was a new kind of baseball argument, but thank the Baseball Gods, at least it was a baseball argument.
But there is a lot of noise out there, much of it generated by Miami Herald columnist and ESPN gadabout Dan Le Batard, who outed himself as the chap from whom the inflammatory website Deadspin secured his ballot, which was then outsourced to the Great Baseball Unwashed. This was not an act worthy of incarceration, but it was disrespectful to his colleagues in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), because it implied that they were party to a “flawed” or “broken” system, simply because he favored the inclusion of PED-linked players and a majority of the voters do not. He wanted to “shine a light” on the process.
Well, yeah. So what? The fact is that many of us care about the integrity of the ballot and the Hall and are having difficulty deciding what is the right and proper thing to do. You think I’m not aware that there is a very good chance that the man who holds the season and career home run records (Bonds), a man who won a record seven Cy Youngs (Clemens), the only man who has hit at least 60 home runs three times (Sosa), and a man with both 3,000 career hits and 500 career home runs (Palmeiro) will all be denied election to the Hall because of their, shall we say, “link,” however tenuous, with PEDs? Palmeiro is already gone from the ballot, having failed to retain 5 percent of the latest vote.
How quixotic is Le Batard’s action? Consider this. Does he realize that the most vociferous advocacy group dedicated to keeping the PED-linked players out of the Hall is not a bunch of fuddy-duddy writers voting their conscience but the current Hall of Famers themselves? Well, that’s a fact. And did Mr. Le Batard listen to Frank Thomas rhapsodize about having done what he did without the aid of PEDs and how those who did not should be forever shunned?
I would have thought that the Hall itself would be concerned about the charges and countercharges surrounding its voting process, but Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson, someone for whom I have great respect, remains remarkably sanguine. He was OK with the BBWAA’s failure to present the Hall with a living candidate last year. He is quite pleased to have, in addition to the above-mentioned trio, managers Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre to induct this coming July. And whatever the voters decide on the PED lads is OK with him, too.
“We are prepared to honor the process, which we think is fair,” he says. He sees the PED controversy as a “reflection of the times.”
I think it would help the credibility of the Hall if the voting process were expanded to include broadcasters. A system put in place in 1936, when the baseball writers were the baseball media, does not reflect the media reality of 2014. I have a vote. Vin Scully does not. This is illogical. I think the BBWAA should have invited its broadcast friends into the club long ago. Would this aid the chances of Bonds and Clemens? I have no idea. But it would be the fair thing.
I also think the Hall should be proactive. I think Idelson should convene a Summit Conference of Hall of Famers, baseball executives, current players, and media to air out the PED thing, once and for all. I myself am wearying of the fight. The goal would be to establish a voting policy that would eliminate the need for a voter to be a judge and jury on cases with varying degrees of evidence.
Once upon a time, I proposed color-coded plaques, separating the most widely suspected Bad Boys from the somewhat suspicious Bad Boys from the Good Guys. Mr. Idelson wasn’t too keen on that idea. But I do have a serious proposal.
The Hall should craft a blanket statement acknowledging the evolution of the game, from the Booze ’n’ Broads Era to the Greenie Era to the PED Era, saying that everyone is here based on performance but that there was much discussion about just how the records were accomplished. If someone is so inclined, he or she should be allowed to express their personal disapproval of any Hall of Fame inductee by any means short of expectoration on said plaque. Sticking out one’s tongue, discreetly flashing a middle finger, or muttering a curse would be allowed.
Oh, in case you’re wondering, next year I’m voting for Pedro, Randy, and Smoltz. Mr. Le Batard, you got a problem with that?
Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.