We live in what we like to think of as a “free” country in which every last one of us has a right to speak his or her piece. First Amendment rights are supposed to cover it. Just don’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater and we should all be OK.
We are free to dissent. No one need fear punishment or retribution for offering an opinion that differs from the majority view.
Yeah, well, whatever . . .
There are exceptions. Just about every December, a situation arises in which certain people test our patience to such a ridiculous degree by their action — or, in this case inaction — that punishment really is needed. These people need to be taught a lesson.
I am speaking, of course, of that annual exercise known as voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
If a 78-year tradition holds true, a few someones in possession of a ballot will not mark an “X” in the box next to the names of Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. This refusal to acknowledge the unquestioned greatness of these magnificent pitchers will ensure that in the entire history of the process not a single player will have been a unanimous choice.
I say enough is enough. I say we expose these frauds. After we hear their feeble explanations and after permanently expelling them from the Baseball Writers Association of America, I say we take their large-screen TVs to the dump. I say we revoke their driver’s licenses. I say we confiscate their passports. I say we make them perform 100 hours or so of community service.
That’ll teach ’em!
This nonsense began in 1936. Four of the original 226 voters decided that Ty Cobb was not worthy of a vote. Even more startling to me was the viewpoint of the 11 voters for whom Babe Ruth, the biggest of all sports stars in the entire 20th century, did not pass muster.
The precedent had been set. The years rolled on and the likes of Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Brooks Robinson, and Johnny Bench failed to receive every available vote.
The highest percentage of all vote-getters was a very good, no-questions-asked Hall of Fame pitcher: Tom Seaver. He received 425 of a possible 430 votes when he was first eligible in 1992. Being No. 1 on this list is quite an honor, but in his case it’s a dubious one. Seaver, as good as he was, should not be No. 1. He should be No. 15 or 20, perhaps, but not No. 1.
I have maintained for years that somewhere between 50 and 75 players have deserved the honor of being unanimous. In other words, you cannot possibly look me in the eye and say that you honestly believe that so-and-so is not Hall of Famer.
I mean, who were the 20 people who didn’t vote for Williams in 1966, the 23 who didn’t vote for Musial in 1969, the 23 who didn’t vote for Mays in 1979, and the nine who didn’t vote for Aaron in 1982? Were they beyond stupid? Or were they the sort who refuse to vote for anyone the first year his name appears on the ballot?
Now comes the painful discussion.
Voting for the Hall of Fame was always fun and challenging when it was simply about baseball. The Jack Morris argument was a classic example. Either you put stock in his 254 wins, his postseason exploits, and the fact that he was regarded as such an “ace” that he started 14 consecutive Opening Days, or you didn’t.
Either you were put off by his 3.90 career ERA, which would have been the highest among any Hall of Fame pitchers, or you weren’t. That’s before we get to WAR, or any other modern measuring stick. It was about baseball, baseball, baseball, baseball, period.
The candidacies of such high achievers as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro (since dumped from the ballot despite 3,020 hits and 569 home runs) do not revolve around baseball. Their discussion is about alleged or suspected use of performance-enhancing drugs. It has changed the nature of the dialogue, because it’s about philosophy, about how a voter feels about their methodology, if indeed you really and truly know what it was.
Voters who have taken this PED issue into consideration have come under attack as being, well, self-righteous. As one who has not yet — yet — voted for any of the above-named individuals, I take offense.
I take my voting privilege seriously. I like to think I have been preparing to take part in this exercise since I was about 7 years old, which was about the time I began reading everything about baseball and its rich history I could get my hands on.
Believing, as I do, that baseball is the greatest game ever to spring from the mind of mortal man, to find myself involved in the voting process of the most prestigious and debated of all our sports Halls of Fame is an enormous thrill. I want to do the right thing.
I care about the sport and the voting process. I don’t like being attacked simply on the basis of caring. Say I’m stupid because you disagree with the conclusion I’ve reached. That’s fair. But to be criticized because I care about what I perceive to be the integrity of the Hall is totally unfair. What would be the point of taking part in any such process if someone didn’t care, and care deeply?
I offer a solution.
I believe the Hall of Fame should take complete charge of the issue. The Hall should instruct voters to do so strictly on the numbers and accomplishments. Voters should factor out the possible intrusion of PEDs.
The Hall should create a committee whose function is to draft a disclaimer that will hang prominently in the Hall and it should . . .
. . . say there was a time when baseball was known to have been infiltrated with PEDs.
. . . say many people accumulated numbers and awards while under suspicion of using PEDs, but that since it is impossible for anyone to be judge and jury and determine which juiced pitchers pitched to which juiced batters, how many home runs would have been warning-track fly balls and how many whiffs would have been batted balls, it is fruitless to make an accurate appraisal of the PED effect.
. . . say that every fan is free to feel however he or she does about the individuals in question. Utter a silent epithet as you stand in front of the plaque. Vent internally. Then go have a beer.
Do that, and I’d vote for all of them.
Which, before it’s all said and done, I may anyway. I’m working on it.
And for the record, I, Bob Ryan, am voting for Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. So don’t blame me when, well, you know . . .
Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.