With Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines, and maybe even Trevor Hoffman about to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, we have re-entered the hellish debates about who should vote, and why they should vote, and whether needles are good or bad and whether both are trumped by cashing the checks those needles made possible and why being transparent about their votes is good and why being transparent about their votes is actually bad.
In other words, the Hall of Fame isn’t actually about players any more. It’s about the voters.
The Danes call this “rampant narcissism.”
We have danced around this central fact for years now, hiding behind debates about performance enhancing drugs and the profiting thereof, voting limits and their degree of strangling artificiality, and the new writers vs. the old veterans, and who should be vilified, justifiably or otherwise, by whom.
Yay hatred by proxy!
But the process arguments ultimately aren’t the central point here. The argument is really about something more basic.
Are voter/journalists supposed to help enhance the mythology of the sport, or dispassionately tell its story? Who are they working for when they vote?
To that end, every vote tells a story well beyond the names checked off or the blank ballots submitted. One man, Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs, to you), has been invaluable in delving into the voting minutiae from the growing number of voters who release their opinions early. But, and he’ll admit this if you strike him often enough, that’s still a process discussion, and the core of the debate is found elsewhere.
Baseball writers are like football writers and basketball writers and hockey writers and curling writers and blah-blah-blah-de-blah-blah, in that they are prone to love the sports they cover beyond their journalistic mandate. That’s probably true of most journalists in most fields, but baseball has the Hall of Fame outlet to allow this internal debate to play itself out before our faces.
So the question becomes whether their votes are the representation of dispassionate analysis, or a defense of the mythos of the sport and the concept of the Hall itself. Boiled down to its essence, who are the voters defending here, the sanctity of the myth, or the ugliness of the reality?
The answer, as it usually is, is, “Depends on who you talk to.”
Hall of Fame debates usually lump all voters into one amorphous blob, a level of lazy and stupid thinking that should in a more perfect world be punishable by death. Okay, we kid. Life on a Louisiana prison farm, with parole after 25 years.
In fact, voters cover a fairly wide swath of opinion, and for whatever perceived shortcomings they might have, there are enough of them (about 450) to be a fairly accurate measure of the diaspora of baseball opinion across social, cultural, sporting and chronological lines.
But the argument about whether an individual voter feels more responsible to the job he or she is paid to do or to the game he or she covers as part of that job remains largely unconsidered, or at the very least masked by other considerations.
This manifests itself all the way down to the hot-pocket word “cheating.” Baseball is about cheating, and about honor. It’s about racism, and trying to overcome it. It’s about greed, and selflessness. It’s a sport, and it’s a business. It’s America, in all its glorious and hideous manifestations. To employ “cheating” as a word is in itself dishonest, and given that everyone got rich off the PED era and kept all the money they made makes PED use a de facto workplace condition approved by management and labor.
That may be unsavory, and it certainly is illegal without a proper doctor’s prescription, but because by their inaction the owners decided not to punish it (and in fact chose to reward it with contracts and extensions for users even after testing was instituted), it isn’t “cheating.”
And even if that argument doesn’t heat your rec room, it isn’t the role of the writer to punish it. It is the role of the writer to reveal it by journalism means, but that’s where the journalist’s role ends. The people who ran baseball took the journalism, acknowledged it, and did nothing until it ramped up detection and did little other than blame the union for a failing that both sides share equally.
So in the end, Raines’ votes or Barry Bonds’ votes or Curt Schilling’s votes or Edgar Martinez’ votes are fun to debate, but they aren’t the issue. It’s whether the voters think when they sit down and confront their ballot every year who exactly they’re working for – the job, or the sport.
And yes, I vote. Voted for the maximum 10. You’ll find out tomorrow the contents of my ballot. Then you can make that a process story, too.