Every year after the World Series, there is a certain lull in baseball activity. As the Hot Stove season is still not quite yet ready to boil over with free agent frenzy, attention turns to the Hall of Fame. Situated in Cooperstown, New York the Hall is the final destination of the game’s greatest contributors. Most fans are at least vaguely aware of the election process. The Hall mails out their ballots at this time of year, and asks that they be returned by a specific date near the end of December, in order to announce it’s selections in the first week of January. This, in turn leads to induction weekend in June.
Cooperstown and it’s voters have a unique relationship in sport. The ballots are mailed out to members of the Base Ball Writers Association of America, who are not themselves employed by, or in any way compensated by the Hall itself. Those writers must be in good standing with the BBWAA, and have actively covered baseball both for at least 10 years, including sometime in the last ten years. The relationship has been in place for a very long time. The conclusion that one would draw from this farming out of the vote is that the Hall is seeking a knowledgeable, diverse, and unbiased voting body in order to determine who is worthy of enshrinement. Certainly, once the initial qualifications are set out, it is a good way to encourage an impartiality in the voting process.
That appearance is paramount in continuing to bolster the legitimacy of the candidates, and of the Hall of Fame itself. Those who truck on down to a little baseball field in New York state every June and join the very exclusive fraternity with plaques in the hall. There are only 220 players who have ever met the exacting criteria required to get into the Hall. It has come to pass in the last few years, though, that the Hall does not respect the wishes of the BBWAA, the institution that it has, itself, chosen for the honour of selecting candidates.
In 2014 the Hall reduced the number of years of eligibility from 15 to 10 for former players who continued to recieve the 5% minimum vote threshold to stay on the ballot. Then in 2015, the Hall forced the ballot out of the hands of older members of the BBWAA, declaring their formerly lifetime privileges invalid. Writers would now only have 10 years after stepping away from covering the game. Then the sun would set on their ballot casting days. The BBWAA requested an expansion of the vote in 2016 from 10 names to 12, and was denied. The writers voted and agreed in 2017, (with 90% approval) to have their votes released publicly after the numbers were all in, and be held accountable for their picks. They were denied by the Hall, who will keep the names to themselves after the votes are tallied.
Finally, and most egregiously, in 2017, just as the voting period began, Joe Morgan (already enshrined in Cooperstown) emailed BBWAA members from a Hall of Fame associated account to explain how they should vote properly on reported PED using members who were on the ballot. Joe Morgan, a man who has made the case that his teammate Pete Rose, who is explicitly banned for life from baseball, should make the Hall, is now the taskmaster to bring the unruly writers in line. I could go into great detail about why that seems like a pile of “fertilizer”, but Jeff Passan, (who has one of those Hall ballots), does it very nicely for me right here.
The Hall of Fame has a really, really big problem brewing. It isn’t about the credibility if Cooperstown has plaques with steroid users on it. It’s about the credibility of a place that claims to want to preserve and celebrate the history of the game. Bud Selig, who presided over the game during the time when MLB acted like it couldn’t read the labels on the containers in Mark McGwire’s locker, just coasted into the Hall without so much as a peep from the Board of Directors. Why? Does looking the other way for five or ten years not make the problem worse? With stringent testing, perhaps we don’t have players who ‘never failed a test’ sitting on the doorsteps of the Hall with no evidence to keep them out, only rumors and hearsay.
Ultimately, the problem is this: The Hall can print whichever names it wants to on the ballot every year. Strictly going by the rules, any player with 10 years experience can appear on the ballot. Often there are obvious “one and done” players included as a nod to their longevity in the game. Sometimes fans note players who do meet the 10 years service criteria, but have been mysteriously weeded out by the selection committee. Why some are on and some are off is nver explicitly stated. The Hall is not owned by MLB. If they wanted to put Pete Rose on their list, his ban from working for MLB teams would not affect that choice, in fact, they didn’t even make a rule about banned players until 2 years after Rose’s lifetime suspension. So we look to this year’s ballot in one hand, with Sosa and Bonds and Clemens and Manny (suspended twice for steroids!) Ramirez on it. And in the other hand, we have Joe Morgan’s letter on the equivalent of company letterhead, urging us not to check their names. The writers didn’t put them there, Joe.
The Hall clearly has a vision of the place it wants to be, but its motto is “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations.” Curiously, it does not include “and making sure the uncomfortable bits don’t make it in through the front door.” If the Hall wants to control what is and is not remembered about the game, it is welcome to do so. It is not fair to ask the writers to do it for them though and then beg off questions about bias. It’s hard not to see the whitewashing when they misrepresent what baseball fans really watched in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. If the Hall wants an arm’s length relationship with what it curates, it needs to stop trying to manipulate those to whom it has delegated the task. Alternately, if it wants to shape the story and intentionally bias the historical record, it needs to cut the BBWAA out of the process and take responsibility for the lack of credibility that will follow.
Which brings us to the really shameful reality of all this manipulative garbage. You are much more likely to have read something about Joe Morgan’s letter this offseason than you will have about any of the players hoping to be inducted into the Hall this year. Johnny Damon, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen, Johan Santana, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel are, for the first time in their lives, about to be considered for baseball immortality. Look up their names and take a walk down memory lane, because they were all great players and bring back memories of a game that so many people love. Do it before the powers that be at in Cooperstown change the rules again.
Lead Photo Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports