You Can Boo, But We're All to Blame for Empty 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame Class

Adam Hirshfield@ahirshfieldFeatured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2013

I know, baseball fans. I know. 

It's tough watching our sport crumble before our very eyes. 

It seems incredibly lame and anticlimactic that the baseball writers voted a grand total of no one into the Hall of Fame this year.

But the sad truth is that we have no one to blame but ourselves. (Well, and the players. And, of course, the owners. Oh, and who could forget the writers?)


Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

So a lot of the talk the last 24 hours has been about the writers and their wide range of opinions and approaches in filling out their ballots.

How could you vote for Player X? How could you not vote for Player Y? How could you not vote for Player Z this year, but vote for him next year? Everyone is angry that some of the voters disagree with their approach. 

But every writer has his or her opinion…and that’s OK. Different strokes (or criteria) for different folks. After all, that’s why nearly 600 writers are allowed to vote: variation. People from different backgrounds with different opinions get the opportunity to vote for who they want.

That's why over 125 million Americans voted for president last November. Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike get the opportunity to vote for who they believe in, eventually electing whomever most of them agree on.

And it's much the same way with the Hall of Fame. If it was just, say, Tim McCarver picking who gets in each year, who knows what kind of disaster Cooperstown would be in for?

I’m not asking for Jayson Stark (voted for 10 players) and Howard Bryant (turned in a blank ballot) to sit around a campfire and sing "Kumbaya," but this is why so many voters—from all over the country, of varying ages, with various beats, beliefs and experiences in their pasts—get the opportunity to cast their votes: variation. And that's infinitely better than McCarver making the decision for everyone.


The Method Behind the Madness

Check out the ballots for the writers who made their Hall of Fame votes public. It’s a fascinating study in geography, sociology and, of course, psychology.

Geographically, I found it interesting, yet not at all surprising, that most of the Bay Area writers cast votes for Barry Bonds. 

Similarly interesting was that "national" writers seemed to vote for far more players than their "local" brethren. The six ESPN voters (Gordon Edes, Adam Rubin, Stark, Jerry Crasnick, Jim Caple) who made their ballots public voted for an average of nine players apiece. Among the Associated Press voters, their average was 8.3. Bob Nightengale from USA Today voted for the maximum 10 players. 

The overall average among ballots cast was 6.6.

Sociologically, I would venture to say that the more "experienced" the voter, the purer their feelings about the steroid issue. While many of the younger writers appeared to be more liberal with their ballots, many of the veteran members were notably anti-PED. Sure, there are exceptions, but see the ballots cast by "honorary" voters Murray Chass, Ken Gurnick and Mark Kreidler: one pick apiece, for Jack Morris, Jack Morris and Craig Biggio. 

Psychologically, there are loads of interesting conclusions to draw.

Take a look at the vote numbers for Roger Clemens (214 votes, 37.6 percent) and Barry Bonds (206 votes, 36.2 percent). Obviously, eight people voted for Clemens and not Bonds. If you're not voting for one because of the reported steroid/PED ties, how could you then forget about that and vote for the other? (Sure, Bonds was a jerk to writers and around the clubhouse, but does that truly influence a vote like this that writers take seriously?)

Obviously, they’re both worthy based solely on their numbers and their respective influence on the game. But it's hard to fathom how you could vote for one and not the other.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, how can we take these writers seriously when votes are cast for Shawn Green, Reggie Sanders and Aaron Sele? Come on...Aaron Sele's mother wouldn't vote him into the Hall of Fame. How could a respected baseball writer (who is apparently now too embarrassed to make his/her name public)? 

If this is a journalistic honor and a serious affair in which writers are trying to make a statement against all that's wrong with the game, how could someone in their right mind vote to put a bust of Reggie Sanders next to those of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Jackie Robinson? 

If there are any changes to the voting structure that need to be made, it's getting rid of the goofballs who make a mockery of the process by voting for players of Sele's ilk. 


The Steroid Issue

 So the writers want to punish players tied to steroid or PED use? Sure, go for it.

You want to punish jerks like Bonds by not voting them in the first time around? Why not?

"Those motherf---ers should suffer for a while," said (seemingly good-natured) filmmaker Ken Burns.

And I get it.

These players used during their careers and, for the most part, they got away with it. Because of the lack of testing at the time, there was no suspension. There was no docking of their pay. There appears to be no taking away of records, statistics, wins or losses.

The only tangible thing baseball—and, more explicitly, its writers—can do for retribution is to leave these otherwise deserving players off their Hall of Fame ballots.

"You may have messed up our game and sullied our records and made our dedicated fan base far more cynical," it's as if they're saying, "but—finally!—we can do something to pay you back."

Critics of the "I vote for no one!" approach say it’s like pretending the Steroid Era never happened, that it’s like tearing pages out of the book of baseball history.

I disagree. The era cannot and never will be redacted from the annals of baseball lore.

Shoeless Joe Jackson isn’t in Cooperstown, but somehow everyone seems to remember the 1919 Black Sox. Like the Black Sox, the Steroid Era is there. And it will always be that stain, that perceived asterisk on the players of that era.

Some fans will celebrate the players of that time, and some won’t. And each group is completely legitimate in its approach.

But at the same time, there’s nothing that says the players of that era—certainly not the ones with known ties to steroid or PED use—have to be honored with a plaque in Cooperstown.

Mike Greenberg said on ESPN's "Mike & Mike" this morning that in his estimation, it’s the baseball writers' jobs to hold their noses, grit their teeth and vote for the players who deserve to get in, regardless of the PED issue. That’s fine for him. But other writers aren’t able to do that. And they shouldn't have to.

Many writers have said there’s something special about a player being a first-ballot selection—that it should be reserved only for the greatest of the greatest greats of all time—and that they’re sending a message to those guys involved with steroid/PED allegations by not including them the first time around. Again, that’s fine.

But will the Barry Bondses and Roger Clemenses of the world eventually get into Cooperstown? Probably.

Wow, what a strong message you writers have sent.

Yes, as a baseball fan, the whole thing stinks to high heaven.

But the players brought it on themselves. The writers are left to pick up the pieces. And the fans are left to feel bewitched, bothered and bewildered about the history of their game, the one the players disrespected. The one at which the writers (and fans, to be fair) conveniently turned their backs when steroid questions arose.

We are all to blame for this. And we all deserve whatever happens to our game.


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