Great power, great responsibility and the BBWAA

Last week, a little place called Cooperstown experienced a not-so-little amount of drama. Maybe you heard about it.

It’s no secret that inductions into the National Baseball Hall of Fame have come under heavy scrutiny during the past few years. It’s almost like being in high school: who’s in, who’s out, who totally wore the wrong shoes to prom and — above all — who calls the shots.

This year, the powers that be chose to bestow the highest of honors upon Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. According to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, Hall of Famers are to be chosen “based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.” By these standards, Maddux, Glavine and Thomas, all first-timers on the ballot, were exceptional and obvious choices for the Hall. Of course, the issue du jour is that they are not the only ones on the ballot.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and a host of other suspected steroid users were — and still are — eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame. Though Bonds is technically the all-time home run leader and Clemens won seven Cy Young Awards, they received just 34.7 and 35.4 percent of the vote, respectively.

It seems the association — or at least 65 percent of it — has spoken: cheaters do not belong in the Hall of Fame. Of course, when Bonds and Clemens will reappear on the ballot next year, the opposing school of thought — the “Let Them All In” approach, if you will — might prevail.

So the issue then is one of integrity versus records — or is it? Perhaps even more reviled than steroid use is the voting process itself. A group of 571 privileged sports writers get to choose up to 10 players each, and players that get at least 429 votes can join the ranks of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Ty Cobb. Obviously these writers have great power, but that hardly means they’ll handle it with great responsibility.

Much of the association is dissatisfied with the whole Hall of Fame process, but the writers’ very public attempts to fix or protest it fall profoundly short. Ken Gurnick refused to vote for anyone from the steroid era — including Maddux — while Murray Chass openly intended to vote out of spite.

And of course, there’s Dan Le Batard. Le Batard turned his vote over to Deadspin, which polled its readers to fill out the ballot. It was a cute move — the benevolent rebel, assisted by the average Joe, sticks it to the man — and it acknowledged the fact that, yes, there are baseball fans out there who really do know the game. But turning the Hall of Fame vote into a social media contest — #halloffame2014 — is just plain scary.

The next question, then, is who are these sports writers and why do they get such power?

Well, I’m a sports writer. I know baseball, I love baseball and I write about baseball, but I will never play a single game in the MLB — damn you, gender restrictions. I don’t know the story behind every other writer for The Cavalier Daily, much less the association, but I do know this: none of us play in the big leagues.

The folks over at the association not only decide the Hall of Fame inductions, but also the MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year awards. To hand over the biggest honors in baseball to a bunch of people who don’t play the game — and who, by the way, have the most hilariously outdated website in sports — seems a little odd. Here’s a thought: let the men who play the game determine the integrity of the game.

Okay, I agree, no one wants Alex Rodriguez in charge of the Hall of Fame, but Rodriguez is one in a sea of many, and perhaps, within that sea, are the people best equipped to determine what integrity in baseball means.

The risk, of course, is that maybe every man who has ever played Major League Baseball thinks that steroids are perfectly acceptable, but this seems unlikely. The steroid era is on its way out. More players are clean and playing the game the right way, and they look down on their peers who cut corners — remember Chris Davis chasing Roger Maris and not Bonds?

Maybe it’s overly optimistic to think it, but if all the active players and especially the thousands of MLB alumni — operating according to their own standards and not some outside force’s — had some control over the Hall of Fame, it seems like a known cheater would have a hard time getting in.

But what do I know? I’m just a sports writer.

Published January 12, 2014 in Sports

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