Surely by this point, with the big reveal of the Baseball Writers Association of America voting coming on Wednesday, you have been exposed to one, or a handful of ghoulish ballots submissions from the margins of the sportswriting world. Why, there are writers who clearly haven’t covered baseball regularly, writers who responded the difficulty of the selection process by submitting blank ballots that unwittingly sabotaged everyone’s candidacy, and writers so mad at PED users that they can’t see straight, etc.
Yet, the 2013 ballot still offered an absolutely loaded class of candidates, to the point where when Nick, Matt, and I did our Hall of Fame roundtable, we all longed for more spots to fit all the worthy candidates. But rather than create a glut of new inductees, it appears the opposite will take place from this wave of new eligibles. Tyler Kepner of the New York Times predicted based on his publication’s polling and ballots published that not a single player will reach the 75% needed for induction. It looks as though most writers didn’t share the same crisis of conscience as our staff.
In @leokitty’s exhaustive tracker of published Hall of Fame ballots, only 17 of the 79 sampled voters have voted for the maximum 10 players. Exhausting all spots appears to be something voters are fairly hesitant to do. Indeed, the Daily Herald’s Mark Imrem–who did vote for 10–said it was his first time doing so in over two decades as a voter.
Because of this hangup, the large number of worthy candidates works against everybody. Staunch anti-PED zealots resign themselves to just a few hand-picked candidates they’ve convinced themselves are clean, those that do not care mainly stick with just the hyper-qualified Bonds and Clemens with few others, and the pair of blank and single-candidate votes each drag down the percentages for everyone in an already divided voter base. Not to mention the fact that some voters have an extra-layer of scrutiny for first-ballot Hall of Famers, as the Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein admits to own.
Tim Raines and Craig Biggio are doing the best out of the revealed ballots, each sitting at 69.6%. Jeff Bagwell is next at 62%, Jack Morris bid to defy his career statistics looks to be losing steam at 58%, and Bonds, Clemens, and Schilling are all sitting around in the mid-40’s. Julio Franco, David Wells, Bernie Williams, and even my pet case, Kenny Lofton, look to be one their way off the ballot completely with under 5%.
This is obviously frustrating. There is the immediate concern of the lack of any inductees being deleterious to the local economy of Cooperstown and to the Hall itself, but also the implication that large segments of this class are at risk of being lost as the consensus over how to handle this era historically shakes itself out.
Much in the way MLB took a hands-off approach to regulating PED-use during their height, there is no direction for how to treat players in retrospect, and writers are scrambling for what to do. The Tribune’s Mark Gonzales–who states “The criteria for the Hall of Fame include judgments about integrity and character. Until that changes, I will continue to abide by those rules.”–represents one interpretation, and Buster Olney, who cited the MLB lack of disciplinary action towards Bonds, Clemens, et al., as precedent for how he should act, represents another.
No resolution is in sight.
The quality of baseball analysis has increased to the point where Hall of Fame voting is essentially unnecessary.
— Christopher D. Long (@octonion) January 7, 2013
That quote from a Senior Quantitative Analyst for the Padres is not the prevailing attitude, but that can always change with time. With the breadth of coverage and writing on the sport, there are methods of memorializing the worthy that will exist outside a Hall of Fame voting method that’s threatening to isolate itself via its own eccentricities.
Hopefully, this year represents a tipping point, resulting either in stronger restrictions on what constitues an active voting member, or simply guidelines making clear the costs of submitting blank, or protest ballots have on players.
Of course, it’s also important to remember, that a process of upheaval takes time. Many great, forward-thinking baseball writers are being added to the BBWAA every year, and are slowly creeping toward the 10 years necessary to start changing the scene.
And soon enough, they’ll be relics too.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan