A few thoughts on the National Baseball Hall of Fame in light of the announcement Tuesday that it will induct Derek Jeter and Larry Walker this summer …
So we’re going to go full public-shaming on the only voter who didn’t include Derek Jeter on his or her ballot, are we? Of the 397 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who are eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame, 396 said yea for Jeter, and among some folks who should know better, the reaction to one voter’s nay has ranged from outrage to white-hot-intensity-of-a-thousand-suns outrage. There was the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, ranting that the anti-Jeter voter must “have a screw loose.” There was ESPN’s Buster Olney, all but shouting, “SHOW YOURSELF!” into his social-media apps in the hope of guilting the voter into revealing his or her identity. There was former Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes, suggesting that it was time to “fix the system” because Jeter received 99.7% of the vote and, dammit, we must have purity and agreement of thought in all things.
Hughes is right that the voting system should be fixed, but not because Jeter’s induction won’t be unanimous. The system should be scrapped altogether because, as I’ve argued previously, voting on a candidate’s prospective induction into the Hall of Fame is inappropriate for anyone who calls himself or herself a working, independent journalist. We’re supposed to cover the process – report on it, comment on it, recommend changes to it – not involve ourselves directly in it. The Hall of Fame leaves it to the BBWAA to vote on inductees, and it’s long past time for the BBWAA to say, Thanks but no thanks. We abstain. It’s your Hall. Pick your inductees yourself.
But the system isn’t changing anytime soon, if ever, and if BBWAA members are going to decide who gets in and who doesn’t, then everyone’s going to have to live with the system’s – i.e. human – imperfections. Had Jeter not received the requisite 75% of votes for induction, that probably would have qualified as an outrage, though a mild one at best. His failure to appear on just one ballot out of nearly 400 is not, by any measure, outrageous. In fact, it’s more outrageous to treat it as an outrage.
Remember: No one knows who this writer is (yet) or why he or she didn’t vote for Jeter. It’s possible the writer genuinely believes Jeter isn’t worthy of the Hall of Fame, which is a near-impossible position to defend, or just relishes being a gadfly or contrarian – though, given that the voter remains anonymous, it’s illogical to argue that he or she did it for the attention. It’s also possible that the voter recognized that Jeter would soar past the 75% threshold, reasoned that one no vote wouldn’t stop him from getting inducted, and decided to cast a ballot supporting other deserving candidates. Before sentencing the voter to 15-to-life in the Bad Opinion Hoosegow, it would be good to hear all the testimony first.
I’m not sure I’d count on that happening, however. Accountability and transparency are of course important values, but these days, demanding them can also serve as a trumpet blast to signal the forming of a mob around a heretic. All the yelling and screaming and screed-posting and self-righteousness feels good, but it can give pause to the next person who might dare to break from the herd and think independently. “The strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone,” the playwright Henrik Ibsen said. And Ibsen didn’t even have Twitter.
… could be Curt Schilling. It should have been Schilling this year. But now that he has to wait until at least 2021, the door has opened for another former Phil to get in first: Dick Allen.
Allen – a seven-time All-Star, the 1964 National League Rookie of the Year, and the 1972 American League Most Valuable Player with the White Sox – came up one vote short within the Hall’s Golden Era committee in 2014. The 16-member group, now called the Golden Days Committee, will vote again this December. We’ll learn then how much momentum Allen’s candidacy has gained and whether the man who was arguably baseball’s most productive hitter for a decade finally earns induction.