Monday, December 21, 2015

My Baseball Hall of Fame voting credentials dilemma reaches a criticial late-inning debate

For the first time since I became eligible in 1998 to vote on induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, I am beginning to wonder if I have done something as wrong as Steve Harvey.
I’m not sure how to vote anymore. I suddenly have doubts. Not about whom I believe should be in the Hall of Fame, but whether the Hall of Fame Committee truly appreciates, respects, and values my qualifications to remain a part of the voting process.
Last July, the HOF Committee created new electorate rules. It now requires 10-year Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) members to meet one of three criteria to receive a Baseball Hall of Fame vote in the subsequent year. BBWAA members must either be: 1) Active card-holding members; 2) No more than 10 years removed from holding an active card by the BBWAA: 3) Show that they are covering the game in a meaningful way in the previous year, if more than 10 years removed as an active member.
Basically, in my opinion, the HOF Committee is bowing to voting critics – namely the talking heads on TV who don’t have a vote and continually lambaste and discredit longtime sportswriters who do as if we are the First Order in baseball’s galaxy. It is my contention that the HOF Committee is attempting to phase out Honorary BBWAA members such as myself from participating in HOF voting solely based on arbitrary numbers. My last year as an active card-carrying BBWAA member was 2009 – when I was laid off from my previous job – so because of my new job it severely limits my chances “to cover the game in a meaningful way” like I’m Han Solo and have gone back to a life of scavenging.
Knowing full well that the newspaper business is in such demise that freelance writing opportunities for Honorary BBWAA members hardly exist anymore, the HOF Committee has figured out a way to appease critics and ignore the wisdom of experienced sportswriters, the vast majority of which take this responsibility and honor seriously and study all the candidates. The HOF Committee’s decision is unfortunate and unfair.
Let me put this in another context: I have closely and carefully watched the career of Red Sox DH David Ortiz and actually covered him in the playoffs and two World Series yet, by the time he becomes eligible to be placed on the Hall of Fame ballot sometime around 2021, the HOF Committee is determining that I will not be worthy or qualified to vote on his induction into the Hall of Fame.
I suddenly am viewed as competent to vote on induction into Cooperstown as Donald Trump is to be inaugurated into the White House. WTF.
Essentially, the message I received is the HOF Committee at some point will no longer value my ability to vote based on an arbitrary number that has nothing to do with my knowledge and experience and passion for the game. By their guidelines my time is up in 2019 or if they determine I no longer “cover the game in a meaningful way.”
Frankly, thanks to MLB.TV, ESPN and other cable TV networks, I watch more baseball now than I ever did as a sportswriter. That is where I hear the talking heads suggest that older Hall of Fame voters, like myself, do not attend enough baseball games in person to offer a valid judgment anymore to determine who should or should not be voted into the Hall of Fame.
Most of these talking heads (yes, I’m talking about you Brian Kenny) rely heavily on sabermetrics and analytics to form their opinion of who should or should not be in the Hall of Fame. If they had their say the Hall of Fame would be watered down to a Hall of Very Good. A Hall of Fame player should be incomparable at their position, not comparable. I do not dispute that sabermetrics/modern analyitics is a valuable tool to measure and compare players’ statistics, but if we all rely sabermetrics for comparisons than there is no need for anyone anywhere to determine anymore with their own two eyes who deserves to be in Hall of Fame because sabermetrics is all about numbers. It’s like determining who should be admitted to an Ivy League School simply and solely based on their SAT scores. There is more than meets the eye.
I hope you understand my frustration and dilemma.  I covered major league baseball regularly from 1981-2009 and personally watched numerous star players compete in the prime of their careers but, when it comes time to vote on them for induction into the Hall of Fame, the HOF Committee is now putting a time limit on my evaluation. I'm what they call "an older voter."
I covered Ken Griffey, Jr. and Trevor Hoffman in their prime. They are on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year and I consider both to be Hall of Fame worthy players.
Junior was a 13-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove-winning centerfielder. In 1997, he was the American League Most Valuable Player Award after batting .304 and leading the league with 56 home runs, 147 RBI, 125 runs scored, 393 total bases and a .646 slugging percentage. He finished in Top 10 of AL MVP voting six other times. He is sixth on the all-time home run list.
Hoffman is among the most reliable pitchers of all-time, ranking second in big league history in games saved (601) and posting at least 30 saves in 14 of 15 consecutive seasons. He is a seven-time All-Star and was twice runner-up in National League Cy Young Award voting. I strongly believe the mark of a Hall of Fame caliber player can be revealed in longevity, consistency, and respect among his peers in his particular era and the number of All-Star Games he participated in and his rankings in post-season awards, not how he performed in post-season games which is sample size of his career.
I also will continue to vote for Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines and Jeff Kent, the all-time leading home run hitter for second baseman if nothing else.
That’s six players marked on my 2016 ballot. I am allowed to vote for up to 10, yet never have to this point. However, the Hall of Fame Committee has signaled me that my time is running out and there is nothing I can do about it.
So what am I to do? Spite the HOF Committee’s new guidelines and use my ballot like a stubborn fool to protest and make a statement by voting for, say, David Eckstein, Randy Winn, Brad Ausmus and Mark Grudzielanek, all first-timers on this year’s ballot who are unlikely to garner five percent of the vote necessary to see Year Two on the ballot? That surely would bring attention to my plight and the plight of dozens of other Honorary BBWAA members who vote for the Hall of Fame and are in the same predicament as I.
Or do I vote with my head and heart? My head would say look at their statistics and ignore the noise and HOF's so-called "character clause" and vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire, who is on this ballot for the last time. My heart would say these guys did it fair and square and respected the game so vote for Curt Schilling, Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez, and Alan Trammell, who is on the ballot for the 15th and last time.
Or does my vote really matter?
I think it does. I hope it does. The Baseball Hall of Fame has given me the honor, privilege and responsibility to maintain and uphold the high standards it created decades ago for induction into Cooperstown. My ballot may be lighter and my standards may be higher than others and that may be wrong or unrealistic in this day and age, but I have faithfully and consciously tried to make the best decision with my experience, knowledge and research. I try to first compare HOF candidates with their contemporaries in their playing era, not how they stack up by modern anayltics versus players already in the Hall of Fame who they never played with or against.
Make no mistake that it is their Hall of Fame and the Hall of Fame Committee can do as it pleases. I heard Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson say last month that Major League Baseball has its set of rules and the Baseball Hall of Fame has its set of rules, which includes clauses about character and integrity. Yes, the Hall of Fame is a museum and all great players and feats are recognized inside those walls, but there is only one giant, hallowed room with plaques reserved for the very best of the best who played the game to the best of their ability on an even playing field.
If character and integrity are written into the voting rules and are part of the pillars for admission into the Hall of Fame, I would hope that the Hall of Fame Committee would honor them in determining the voting process.
My 2016 HOF ballot is cast and, who knows, it could be my last. If so, you could say I went down swinging.
Baseball is more meaningful to me than ever. I have no doubt about that.


Blogger Ryan Thibodaux said...

Great piece, Dave. I'm sorry to hear your time as a voter may be coming to an end.

Are you planning on sharing what your final decision was? After the results are announced? (Part of me hopes you went down REALLY swinging. Someone has to!)

December 21, 2015 at 4:32 PM  

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