Sports

Make Your Hall of Fame Ballots Public, You Cowards

There's an anonymous bloc of writers who vote overwhelmingly against Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.

by Sean Newell
Jan 23 2019, 3:17pm

Photo by EPA-EFE/Lachlan Cunningham/Pool

The Baseball Hall of Fame is good for two things: honoring and documenting the best players and moments the game has produced, and inspiring the most pointless and disingenuous arguments you will ever take part in.

On Tuesday, the Baseball Writers' Association of America inducted four players into the Hall: Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, and the late Roy Halladay. Rivera had the added distinction of becoming the first player to be unanimously inducted. Perhaps you think he deserved to be the first. Perhaps you think someone else did before him. Or, perhaps you think no one deserves to be a 100 percent inductee because "if [player x] wasn't 100 percent, no one should be." Whichever way you lean, I promise you it doesn't matter and you should go try being a productive member of society rather than gnash your teeth and rend your garments about the percentage with which a hall of famer became a hall of famer.

But that's just one kind of example of the fun chatter Hall of Fame voting provides. Another avenue for discussion is the players who didn't get in. This year, and for the next three years, the two biggest also-rans are Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.

Now, despite almost unanimously being considered the best hitter and pitcher of their generation, and possibly even of all time, both Clemens and Bonds remain on the outside looking in. You know why: they tainted themselves and, so the argument goes, the game itself by doing performance-enhancing drugs. And it would be a discredit to the Hall and the players already enshrined to have them get in. But that is only part of the story, the other part is that they were assholes to the media, who happen to hold the keys to Cooperstown.

Another asshole awaits his enshrinement as well. Curt Schilling actually received marginally more support than Bonds and Clemens yet he is an exponentially larger asshole than both. But he wasn't really an asshole to the media, and he was never associated with PEDs—he just defrauded an entire state and revealed himself to be a xenophobe—so he doesn't have the one palatable excuse to hide a non-vote behind.

And that's where this gets really sad, because writers are not just metaphorically hiding behind PEDs. In a column last night on ESPN, Jeff Passan spoke to the 60 or so voters who publicly declined voting for Clemens and Bonds. Their arguments are what they are, but here's an interesting fact: "Only 10 percent or so are full-time baseball writers."

Here's another interesting fact:

While more than half of voters have revealed their ballots publicly, 193 have not, and the breakdown of public vs. private with regard to Bonds and Clemens tells quite the story. Of the 232 who revealed their ballots as tracked by Thibodaux, 71.1 percent voted for Clemens and 70.6 percent for Bonds. Of the private ballots, 45.6 percent voted for Clemens and 45.1 percent for Bonds.

This is what induction to the Hall of Fame hinges on now: principled cowardice. Obviously neither has even the public votes to get inducted, but their candidacies have been gaining steam each year as we get further and further away from the scourge of the Steroids Era (and also as the voters get younger).

And yet here are these writers who have dug their heels so far in, and are so convinced they are in the right, that Bonds and Clemens tainted the sanctity of a beloved institution that they...can't sign their name to it. They know their opinion is unpopular, so rather than stick by it, to have the courage of their convictions, they'll just skulk around the shadows of the conversation, making it all but a lock that two baseball players who very clearly should be in the baseball museum will be left out. An argument ostensibly based on doing the right thing, and 45 percent of them don't want to take credit for it?

We have somehow gotten to the point where Harold Baines is a Hall of Famer and Barry Bonds is not. That one was elected via a different set of voters is all the more reason to knock it off with the "sanctity of the room" argument. Tony LaRussa and Jerry Reinsdorf strong-armed a committee of 16 people into voting in a really nice guy who was pretty good at baseball. That's fucking insane!

This is an ultimately stupid argument to find yourself in, but it's made all the more infuriating to have to do it against the BBWAA's version of a Twitter egg. Make your votes public, and take pride in your allegedly principled stand.