What to Make of Cooperstown and The Hall of Fame No-Vote
A friend writes: "Did you see Tyler Kepner's proposed reform for the HOF voting process in the NY Times today? I largely agree with him, with one big exception: he wants to keep all the voting secret. Sorry, we're not electing a president or a pope here. I say voters should not only have to make their votes public, but they should be required to write something defending them." That was from Kevin Baker, the novelist, political pundit and baseball writer--and sometimes Village Voice contributor.
I'm with him on this. To take just one example, if all Hall of Fame voters had to use their names and justify their picks, both Marvin Miller, the late founder of the Players Association, and Pete Rose would have been inducted long ago. Why? For the simple reason that no rational argument can not be made for not electing them.
Yesterday the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America couldn't think of a single player worthy of being voted into Cooperstown. This is largely because of the ongoing performance enhancing drugs controversy--not only did Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Mark McGwire not get the votes, but neither did Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza, players who have sometimes been connected to rumors of PED use but have never been charged.
Actually, it was worse than that. ESPN.com's Howard Bryant didn't vote for anyone and turned in a blank ballot. Here's his justification.
Bryant is a superb writer and analyst, but I'm baffled by his logic here. If I'm reading him correctly, the controversy over PEDs and the HOF has soured him on the subject: "I considered adopting the position of my ESPN colleague T.J. Quinn and simply stop voting altogether, and perhaps that is the proper course. I know that, for the first time, I did not open my ballot with great anticipation and a sense of humility and honor when it arrived in the mail. Instead, the entire process has gone joyless and sour."
Though I don't vote for the HOF, I understand Bryant's feelings. One of the worst legacies of the PED era is this endless, unresolvable swarm of debates arguing about what stance writers should take towards players known to or believed to have used PEDs. There is no satisfying conclusion that anyone can reach.
But a refusal to vote is simply kicking the can down the road. Moreover, it lacks genuine moral force - how is it right to not vote for players who might have used PEDs but okay to continue to write about other players who might be using PEDs on a daily basis?
A bigger problem, though, with using a no-vote as a protest is that it leaves many fine players who have never been associated with PEDs in baseball limbo. If you want to make a protest about Barry Bonds, simply don't vote for him. But why should that have anything to do with the worthiness of Craig Biggio? Roberto Alomar was voted in two years ago, and there isn't a baseball analysts I know who doesn't regard Biggio as the equal to or superior of Alomar. (Bill James in his Historical Baseball Abstract thought that Alomar was the 5th greatest second baseman in baseball history. How good a recommendation is that?)
There's enough controversial subjects for HOF voters to consider without throwing PEDs into the mix. The Pete Rose issue becomes a bigger running sore as time goes on, not a smaller one. Dick Allen and Tim Raines are much better players than most who have been voted into the HOF in the last 30-35 years. Why is no one taking up their cause?
In many ways arguments for these players could be seen as a moral issue, and moral issues are precisely where you need people of integrity to speak up. A blank ballot is a vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does the Hall of Fame.
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