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On Hall of Fame voting

Barry Larkin at his induction
Barry Larkin at his induction
Jim McIsaac

It's hard for me to get worked-up over Hall of Fame voting.  The process is broken and has been for awhile.  And I can still go to the Hall of Fame and see and learn about all the great players, with or without a plaque  It's also hard to avoid the commentary/outrage this time of year over the voting.

But it did at least pique my interest when I read that the first writer revealed publicly that he did not vote for Greg Maddux. Given past votes, I knew Maddux wouldn't be unanimous. There's always a few who don't vote for the no-brainers. I was sure it would at least give me a chuckle.

And it did. Ken Gurnick,'s Dodgers beat writer, voted for Jack Morris. And no one else. His justification?

Morris has flaws -- a 3.90 ERA, for example. But he gets my vote for more than a decade of ace performance that included three 20-win seasons, Cy Young Award votes in seven seasons and Most Valuable Player Award votes in five. As for those who played during the period of PED use, I won't vote for any of them.

The Twittertariat quickly and predictably blew up over this. And fellow writers came to his defense:

These really encapsulate the entire problem with the BBWAA being the voting bloc. Gurnick "earned right to vote" and "is entitled to his opinion".  And the lawyer in me was interested.  Let me preface the next few paragraphs with the observation that any electorate is susceptible to the following and they would be concerns, to some degree or another, with any group the Hall of Fame chose to make the selections.

First, the writers with votes feel they're entitled to them. Forever. They feel that it's a right that cannot and should not be taken away because...I don't know. They've been anointed the Guardians of Baseball or something.  I'm going to get semantical here, and people can feel free to disagree with my use of these words, but it's really more of a privilege (and should be thought of in that way). The Hall of Fame could decide after this election that the BBWAA isn't the electorate anymore. The BBWAA could easily change, and has in the past changed, its criteria for which members of its association can vote.  And people who abuse a privilege certainly can and should have it taken away from them, or otherwise curtailed.  (That applies in large measure to rights, too.)  If you suck at being a Guardian of Baseball, you're not going to have the job forever.

Second, and less formalistic, if not his vote, Gurnick is obviously entitled to his opinion. That's sort of a throwaway, irrelevant point to make. What people are complaining about is not his opinion, it's that his opinion translates to his votes.  And votes for the Hall of Fame should not be abused.  And I find it difficult to believe that his ballot is not an abuse of his right/privilege to vote.

The voting criteria issued by the Hall of Fame:

Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

A blanket "no" to players from an entire (ill-defined) era violates that criteria. Voting is based upon the player.  An era is not on the ballot, the player is. An individual evaluation of a player is required by the Hall of Fame.

Also obviously implied in the criteria is that one cannot simply just make shit up about the player and his characteristics. Paul Loduca didn't have the playing ability of Johnny Bench just because you make that up in your head. That's not reasonable. If someone wants to say that use of PEDs disqualifies a player based on "integrity, sportsmanship, character", I would say that's a defensible position.  Provided that there's some reasonable basis for that opinion. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens? Yeah, you have a reasonable basis. On the other end of the spectrum, Greg Maddux? No, you don't have a reasonable basis.

There are reasonable things we (including the writers) can disagree on. Like, Jack Morris being a Hall of Famer. Or, as mentioned, if PED use disqualifies a player. But then it follows that there are reasonable things that cannot be disagreed with.  Like, if you think Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer, you have to be consistent and think that a whole bunch of other pitchers also qualify (and for whom you probably didn't vote).  Or, you have to have some persuasive evidence that a player you disqualify based on PED use actually used PEDs.

Voters like Gurnick eat away at the legitimacy of the BBWAA as the Hall of Fame electorate. Other writer-voters like Rosenthal and Heyman further eat away at that legitimacy by supporting Gurnick as it makes them seem tone-deaf and blindingly approving of nonsensical, irrational votes - if not votes contrary to the rules they are supposed to abide by in voting.  And, if the writers want to keep their "rightful" votes, they should be cognizant of that. The Hall of Fame isn't for them. As Brandon McCarthy pointed out, 8-year-olds going to Cooperstown don't ask their father to tell them stories about Ken Gurnick or to see his plaque in the BBWAA Hall of Fame Voter wing. They ask about Greg Maddux and want to see the exhibits about baseball players.  The Hall of Fame is for the players and baseball fans.