A few months back, Deadspin announced that it was trying to buy a vote for the 2014 baseball Hall of Fame ballot. It didn’t take long for them to find a willing partner, as the site announced last week that an anonymous member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, which controls the process, had agreed to vote the way Deadspin’s readers wanted him or her to.
Of course, the baseball press immediately fired up its outrage machine. The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaugnessy called Deadspin’s writers “weak fanboys.” The San Francisco Chronicle’s Vlae Kishner pushed the Hall of Fame vote to the level of a presidential election, saying, “It should be obvious to anybody, even the editors of Deadspin, that buying and selling votes in any election is wrong.” The Buffalo News’ Mike Scarrington called it “pure scumbaggery,” The Sherman Report’s Ed Sherman accused the vote seller of “stabbing your brethren in the back.”
There’s really no way to verify that Deadspin actually procured a vote, since they’re keeping it secret until after the voting process ends, but I don’t doubt that they did, given their promises to reveal the details of the whole thing after voting is over. And it’s easy to see why that scares the BBWAA, which now faces the possibility that the process it already takes far too seriously is now fully corruptible. One vote won’t change any outcomes, but it can make the BBWAA look bad. In fact, making a mockery of the BBWAA and its protected process was precisely the point.
That process includes about 600 current and former baseball writers who have covered the sport for at least 10 years. As a result of the honorary lifetime memberships, many people who no longer cover baseball still have votes. Those requirements also exclude many people who have written about, analyzed, and worked in baseball in both traditional and non-traditional media roles (like legendary broadcaster Vin Scully or baseball stats pioneer and writer Bill James, for example), so those voices are totally shut out, as if their opinions don’t or shouldn’t matter. There’s also very little transparency in the process, since writers don’t have to make their ballots public.
But really, Deadspin is only adding to the mockery the Baseball Writers Association of America has already made of its process and the Hall of Fame itself. This, I’ll remind you, is the organization that didn’t vote a single player into the Hall of Fame in 2013 even though there were plenty of qualified candidates. It’s the organization that maintains an inexplicable tradition of avoiding unanimous votes for even the most obvious Hall of Famers — this year, for instance, someone will vote against Greg Maddux, a player everyone who’s ever watched baseball agrees is a Hall of Famer, just because they don’t want anyone to get in on a unanimous vote. Maddux will, of course, still qualify for induction, which makes the entire ordeal farcical. This is the organization that penalizes players because they have salty personalities (hi, Jim Rice), not because of anything that happened on the actual field. This is the organization that, as veteran writer Bill Madden noted in decrying Deadspin’s buying the vote last week, that thinks its process, not baseball, is the reason people love the Hall of Fame.
And this is the organization, remember, full of writers who cheered on the heroics of the steroid era but now rail on about how anyone accused of using drugs ruined the sanctity of the game. So by the end of this voting go-round, we’ll probably still have a Hall of Fame without Barry Bonds, the guy MLB recognizes as both the game’s single-season and career home run leader and who was an obvious Hall of Famer sometime around the middle of his career in 1995. We’ll still have a Hall of Fame without Roger Clemens, one of the most dominant pitchers to ever live, a guy whose workout regimens and physical fitness were hailed by Baseball Writers even while he was using steroids. And we’ll still have no real rhyme or reason for why they aren’t there.
The Hall of Fame itself is at best a partial remembrance of baseball history, one that doesn’t have room for the guy with the most hits in baseball history or the labor lawyer who ushered in the modern era of Major League Baseball. Hall of Fame status didn’t change whether Ron Santo was a great ballplayer and a lack of it won’t make the memories or importance of Bonds and Clemens go away, bad as baseball might like them to. The building in Cooperstown is just a monument to the game’s history, which makes the stuffiness around the entire Hall of Fame process all the more ridiculous. It doesn’t need to be safeguarded. It just needs to tell a story. That’s something the BBWAA should be well-equipped to do, and yet it instead acts like it’s guarding the gold at Fort Knox.
That the baseball world, myself included, takes the Hall of Fame as seriously as it does is already incomprehensible; that the BBWAA takes the Hall of Fame voting as seriously as it does is especially so. But because we do care about these things, the process matters, and baseball’s process right now just doesn’t make any sense. So good on Deadspin for, in the most Deadspin way possible, trying to make a total mockery of it in a way that could force changes. I just hope that while they’re at it, their readers remember to vote for Tim Raines.