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Gary Armida's Blog
The Simple Fix for CooperstownPosted on December 27, 2012 at 12:03 PM.
Voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame has always been something of a convoluted process. But, that process encompassed everything fans loved about the sport. It resulted in debate, some crusades, and even a little bit of injustice. A group of writers from the Baseball Writers Association of America are charged with submitting ballots each season. Those writers have a responsibility to submit a ballot that could possibly enshrine a player to sportís best collection of greatness.
There is a certain regalness when it comes to Cooperstown. As much as the National Football League has taken over television ratings, baseball is still the sport that connects generations. It is still the sport where the stars of yesterday are celebrated, talked about, and passed on to new generations. It is quite common for a baseball fan to talk about the greatness of a player he never saw play. It is those stories, those bonds, and that reverence that makes Cooperstown so much different from Canton or Springfield.
That is why the responsibility of the BBWAA is so heavy. The writers do know that they have a great responsibility when it comes to honoring the game. It is that responsibility that makes this yearís ballot the most complicated in the Hallís history.
This was the ballot that every writer was dreading. This is the ballot with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the two greatest players from the past generation. No hitter and no pitcher dominated like Bonds and Clemens. But, they are also the symbol of what went wrong with Major League Baseball. The steroids era has permanently stained the trust between the fans and the game. It hasnít broken that trust, but there will be a pause before anyone is anointed as the next home run slugger or if someoneís longevity is celebrated.
Muddling through all of that is what a voting member of the BBWAA has to do in order to cast a ballot. It is a difficult task and one with no solution that leaps off the table. Adding the human element into the equation also makes it for a difficult for a writer to separate his feelings for being duped from the task at hand.
When home runs were flying all over the ballpark, we all bought in. McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, all of them. We watched with a look of awe in our eyes. Writers penned columns regaling the modern day athletes as better trained, better skilled, and just better at baseball. And, when the truth came out, everyone retreated into a corner to gather themselves. Once it was all processed and we saw the bloated caricatures for what they were, we got nasty. Fans rebelled a bit. Writers wrote venomous columns condemning the cheaters.
Itís all normal. Once we find out that we missed something, we attack. But, after awhile, that pain goes away. Fans never really left the game, but they bought in again. Baseball will always have us.
Major League Baseball has consistently proven one thing since it began: it is an institution of survival. It has survived gambling and cheating. It survived the Black Sox. It survived deaths on the field. It survived racism. It survived a cocaine scandal, the Pete Rose saga, financial problems, collusion, and steroids. The game is greater than any controversy it faces. It has a hold on us and we can always move on. The reason is quite simple. The game always gets us. The play on the field is still great. There is drama. During the season, there is always a game. There is time to talk about whatís happening on the field and compare players from different eras. The conversations, even more than actual play, are what keeps us glued.
But, the writers have a different task. Since the beginning of time, writers have felt the responsibility to guard the sport. Every writer feels that responsibility. Itís one of the reasons why writers write. The written word has always been a way to inspire, to highlight a problem, and to protect. Baseball writers are no different. With a passion for the sport and the mentality of a writer, there is always going to be the need to protect.
That need to protect is also what is hurting the voting process. The voting writers are missing the obvious. They cannot keep the Hall of Fame pure. It is a task that is impossible. It is a task that they already failed at.
The idea of keeping the Hall of Fame pure is a result of the 1945 change in the voting criteria. In 1945, the Hall of Fame instituted a character clause. The following is printed on every ballot:
The answer is simple. It always has been.
Writers simply need to vote based on performance on the field. They could also look at integrity based on the definition that the Hall of Fame provides. If a player was caught cheating, then a non-vote is understandable. Rafael Palmeiro was suspended for a failed drug test. Manny Ramirez failed twice. Alex Rodriguez admitted to cheating. Mark McGwire admitted to cheating. The four players have Hall of Fame worthy statistics, but they were caught cheating. If a voter doesnít want to cast a vote for players like those four, they are properly invoking the integrity clause. And, thereís nothing wrong with that because there was proof and/or there was a confession.
But, a non-vote based on innuendo is patently wrong and a thought process that could only be embraced by Joseph McCarthy or someone who lived in Salem hundreds of years ago.
It does lead to some ill feelings about casting a vote for someone like Bonds or Clemens. Everyone feels that they know the two cheated. But, the United States government spent quite a bit of money trying to prove the two used drugs. It failed in both cases. With no proof, the two have to be included on the ballot as two of the greatest to ever play the game.
That thought process will allow someone like Jeff Bagwell to get the proper attention he deserves and not be labeled a cheater because of his body type. Or, it will allow someone like Mike Piazza to move past baseless, factless accusations and take his place in the museum as Baseballís greatest offensive catcher. Without proof, there should be zero exclusion. If the voters exclude based on personal feelings, the Hall will be stained worse than if a player was put in and later proven to be a cheater.
The simplest way to change the voting process would be to take away the doubt. An addendum to the voting rules could be made to state something along the lines of a player must either admit to drug use or to have been punished by Major League Baseballís drug testing protocol in order to be excluded from the Hall of Fame. That would allow writers to vote based on performance without the need to safeguard the legacy of the Hall of Fame.
The fans can handle the legacy part. Fans always have. Ty Cobb is in the Hall of Fame yet was one on the worst human beings to walk the earth. As fans walk through the plaque room, stories of Cobbís achievements are told, but there is also mention of his callous treatment of people, how he intentionally injured players, and how even his own teammates didnít like him. Fans pass those stories down. Fans will pass down the stories of the steroids generation. Bonds and Clemens should have a plaque with their accomplishments on it. The two accomplished so much. They should be honored for it. Fans will then walk by their plaques and tell stories of their greatness. But, theyíll also pass on the stories of suspected cheating. Everyone will know.
The simplicity will allow writers to submit a ballot with a clear conscience. A voter can submit their 10 player ballot (the maximum votes permitted) based on baseball performance. It will allow the Hall of Fame to continue to be what it always has been: the greatest collection of athletes in professional sports. If a writer wants to be a guardian of the sport, he simply needs to be vigilant while a player is active. But, he cannot be retroactively protective without facts. That is wrong and does more damage. Voting should be based on facts. Voting should be based on the interpretation of performance on the field. That interpretation is what sparks the passion and debate. And, that is what the Hall of Fame voting should inspire, not witch hunts, self serving columns, and ignorance.
The sport is filled with great players. Its Hall of Fame should be as well. The fans will take care of the important stuff.
BORN: April 17, 1975 (38)
JOINED: Oct 26, 2003 (9 years, 212 days ago)
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JOINED: Oct 26, 2003 (9 years, 212 days ago)
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