The Room Eleven Hall of Fame Ballot

Buckeye: Reading column after column from many corners detailing the charade of pretentious moral handwringing that is the Baseball Hall of Fame voting process can grow tiresome and irksome after a while, yet still I keep reading about it. kyra keeps tabs on this embarrassment at least as much as I do, for the NSA could peek through our text conversation yesterday and easily discover our cruel laughter at the disservice done to Craig Biggio, who fell two votes and two-tenths of a percentage point short of induction to Cooperstown. We didn’t bother discussing the even lower vote totals for some other worthy candidates—all returning candidates’ share dropped, except for Biggio’s and Mike Piazza’s—because, frankly, what the hell is the point of discussing Barry Bonds anymore, when everything about him already has been. Nothing we say is going to stop some crotchety old men from bitching now as recompense for their failure to cover and investigate a topic twenty years ago, nor will it keep them from treating the “steroid era” (etched in stone as 1994–2004, with anyone who had muscles or back acne during that time a Proven User) as different from all other stat-skewing eras—like when great black players weren’t allowed to compete in the league, when the mound was raised, and when players were using steroids well before 1994!

Luckily there are some sane voices that at least balance out the noise coming from the the public spectacle of sportswriting sanctimony (or is it santimony—looking at you Jon Heyman!) from people who apparently don’t know what that word means, though many of them, like SI’s Jay Jaffe, who created the JAWS metric that evaluates candidacies, or Keith Law, or Dave Cameron, or Jonah Keri, are yet to have a vote. And some wise words have been spilled in favor of ballot reform—lift the ten-vote maximum (that kept Biggio out and depressed others’ percentages), expand the voting body to baseball-knowledgeable non-BBWAA members or lower the ten-year membership tenure required for a vote (OVER MURRAY CHASS’ COLD DEAD BODY), or even lower the threshold needed for induction from 75%. I don’t reflexively support all of these changes, but changes are needed, as proved by the Deadspin ballot—a bunch of informed, snarky sports fans can submit an objectively better ballot than many Serious Baseball Writers, like fucking Dan Shaughnessy.

For the record, my ballot, if I had to adhere to the ten-vote maximum: Jeff Bagwell, Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Frank Thomas, Larry Walker (I’ll explain why—it’s pathetic that game theory is currently part of voting for the Hall). Though of course I’d also vote for Edgar Martínez, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, Piazza, Alan Trammell and, in a charitable mood, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa.

So, kyra, what would your Hall of Fame ballot look like, and what’s your general response to the sad, maddening hilarity of Cooperstown voting?

kyra: The MLB Hall of Fame is one of those things you care a lot about when you’re young. Each January brings a new crop of baseball’s elite into the fold, and as a kid you look at these players in awe. These are the guys with eye-poppingly huge numbers like 3000 hits, 500 home runs, and 300 wins. They are the guys who defined eras, with names like Ruth, Williams, Mays, Schmidt, and Koufax.  With those guys in, surely the standards must be maintained incredibly high right?

Well I’m here to tell you that the biggest problem with the Hall of Fame is that the guys who choose who gets in still view the Hall like children. It’s as if they are doing God’s work protecting the Hall, which features such deities as noted assholes Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby, from noted assholes Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro. Why? Because the latter guys did something the writers didn’t like and this is their mature way of collectively farting in their general direction.

Granted, there is no objective criteria for the Hall of Fame. It’s not like if you batted below .250 you are barred entry, nor are you guaranteed it if you hit over 60 home runs 3 times in your career and yet didn’t lead the league once (Sammy Sosa). Voters can choose any reason they like to vote for a player or not. The problem though, is that the Hall is supposed to both represent the best players in the game AND be a history OF the game, and many voters explanation for their ballots makes no fucking sense.  They are often hypocritical (if you refuse to vote for any player who played during the steroid era, how can you justify voting for a manager who managed during that era?). PLENTY of writers take the Hawk Harrelson TWTW approach and ignore not just advanced metrics, but basically any stat beyond AVG / HR / H for a hitter and ERA / W-L / K for a pitcher, which is why Tim Raines still hasn’t gotten in even though he’s probably the best leadoff hitter of the past 30 years other than Rickey Henderson. It goes on and on.

I don’t understand how keeping Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame makes it a more pure community. How do you explain it? Buckeye already covered how cheating has been around since the dawn of baseball. There was amphetamine usage, pitches being doctored, and who knows what else. The key to evaluating players is to compare them to others in their OWN ERA. I know, I know, baseball begs for you to argue who was better, Bonds or Ruth, but it’s not a fair comparison to either player. Shouldn’t we have a place that acknowledges they were both incredible? The steroid era should be evaluated as its own unit, and within it, there were certainly those who excelled.

So much ink has been spilled railing against the Old Guard of the BBWAA that it honestly saps my soul’s energy to write about it at all. Having said that, Buckeye and I haven’t had a good rant in a while. I would essentially vote for everyone you listed, so I won’t write the names again. Nor will I adhere to the arbitrary 10 vote rule because it’s stupid and makes no sense. It implies there can never be more than 10 deserving eligible people at one time, which is simply wrong. The dirty little secret of the Hall is that there are plenty of guys in it who weren’t incredible players, so to keep out the people you mentioned is a travesty.

Buckeye: I’m glad we share the same cluelessness at the utter ineptitude of the voting process and of a vocal portion of the voting body, some of whom will admit to casting ballots out of spite for BLOGGERS/MOM’S BASEMENT NERDS, despite the fact that many online analysts have an intuitively better understanding of statistics and comparisons between players and across areas than lots of beat reporters tasked with gauging clubhouse mood after a game and breaking roster changes before they’re asked to study statistics to evaluate a current player against another who might’ve played in a different time zone ten years prior. And they do so, moreover, despite the fact that these spiteful curmudgeons all write on the Internet these days because they have to, upset that their old boys’ club is dying out, resorting to lame nostalgia.

I think it’s the combination of half-assed voting and hypocrisy—kyra mentioned both, among other reasons—that bothers us; Ken Gurnick of voted for Jack Morris and nobody else, because STEROID ERA, suggesting the guy would rather submit his ballot instead of bothering with actual research, and as Dave Cameron and Jeff Passan have noted, while voting is quite subjective, logic doesn’t get to have a different definition from person to person. Something is either logical or it isn’t, and Dan LeBatard letting Deadspin readers complete his ballot was on paper at least as logical as writers voting based on gut feelings—some writers even crowdsource their votes on Twitter or among colleagues, which is, well, exactly what LeBatard did—and in outcome, more so.

To me the Deadspin result points to two reforms I think would be beneficial: raise or eliminate the ten-vote cap, and change the pool of voters by getting rid of writers who no longer cover baseball regularly and by making it easier for non-beat writers, broadcasters, and even the fans in a limited capacity, to vote. Regarding the cap, the Deadspin ballot indicates that we shouldn’t necessarily be worried about a glut of new entrants. To wit, only five players cleared 75% of the voting—the three inductees plus Piazza and Biggio—and while every player except Jack Morris (hysterical) earned a higher percentage from Deadspin than from the BBWAA, none of the superfluous candidates were anything more than a blip on the radar. This shows that there’s a modicum of objectivity to the process—Biggio and Piazza are most likely to eventually get in anyway (they’re the only two who saw their percentage increase in this year’s glut), and if only 4.2% of Deadspin readers are voting ‘Yes’ on Armando Benitez, I don’t think we should be that concerned (though I might recommend raising the 5% threshold needed to remain on the ballot as a counter to this). Additionally, I wouldn’t have to worry about not including Larry Walker as part of my theoretical ten for fear that he would fall off the ballot.

As for who gets to vote—if Deadspin is going to produce as good a ballot as you can find, and one that’s better than most, that’s all you need to argue that the voting bloc needs some reimagination. Lower the ten-year requirement so people like Jay Jaffe can vote; it’s the dude’s life’s work, for God’s sake. And are you gonna tell me that Vin Scully, Bob Costas, or Brian Kenny shouldn’t be able to vote, just because their coverage of baseball doesn’t require them to type? And clearly, a sizeable portion of fans can do a solid job with a fractional voice. But the BBWAA says fuck the fans, and fuck everybody else, because, tautologically, they aren’t ten-year BBWAA members. In other words, it’s exactly what you’d expect from an organization clinging to something that’s long passed them by.

Are there any other suggestions you would have to reform the process, kyra? Or are you even more anarchical?

kyra: The Deadspin ballot leads me to much the same idea, namely, to increase the voting pool. Hopefully this can counteract the old, increasingly senile guard who have dug in their heels. I don’t have much else to add, only to say it is depressing to see that the BBWAA chose the greatest penalty without allowing LeBatard to defend himself. Way to make yourself even more hated.

The Pete Rose Question

kyra: You may be wondering whether or not I would vote for Pete Rose. The answer is that I would not. That is because he broke the cardinal sin of the game: do not bet on it. While doing steroids or other drugs or something to the ball may affect statistics and outcomes based on those numbers, betting destroys the integrity of the game. I don’t care whether or not he only bet on his team to win, the minute you lose the public’s trust in what they are watching not being predetermined, you have lost. I think a lifetime ban is a necessary deterrent for gambling, which is why I sadly would not vote for Pete Rose.

Buckeye: Completely with kyra, here. We go to and watch sporting events, essentially, to see one team win and one team lose; on this given day, the question goes, were you better than your opponent? And gambling on games you play fucks that equilibrium right up—it gets to that predetermination point kyra just made. Of course, gambling was always explicitly prohibited by the powers that be; steroids, while illegal to take without a prescription, weren’t—there was just an expectation created out of thin air after some players starting using them and after we decided that we liked the numbers (755, 61) that we were used to. It would be naive to think that every player would adhere to some unspoken, completely theoretical maxim, especially when drug use had been common and in a sport where cheating is sometimes encouraged (stealing signs).

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