It’s time, once again, for an annual tradition here: the annual savaging of the Baseball Writers Association of America!
This year, they’ve managed to outdo themselves–and that’s saying something!–by not electing a single fricking candidate to be inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame this summer. The closest to the magic 75% threshold was more-than-worthy nominee Craig Biggio, who only managed to play exceptional defense at three key positions, rack up more doubles than any second baseman in history and has over 3,000 hits to his name. No small contributor to this year’s model of the BBWAA’s signature abortion of sports justice was the impending eligibility of several actually, supposedly and later-rumored-to-be-but-never-were-seriously-considered-to-be-at-the-time tainted erstwhile stars of the game, including Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens. Returning candidates Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro added to the baggage.
No one denied or continues to deny the difficulty this year’s ballot posed: certainly, the ethical questions and ramifications of who to and not to check off are myriad. A conversation regarding this amongst baseball aficionados, writers and other media members has been simmering ever since the aforementioned players hung up their cleats and/or committed perjury in front of a government subcommittee or grand jury. The response, by at least a small, but remarkable cross-section of the electorate was to return their ballots blank. Howard Bryant, talented ESPN writer and naif, most prominently disclosed his decision via an article posted online earlier today, while colleague Jayson Stark, ever the voice of common sense in ESPN’s writing cabal, came out and condemned the association to which he belonged, calling the process–and, without question, his peers–a mess. Sports Illustrated‘s Tom Verducci offered the most even-handed and thoughtful response for the side that says absolutely no cheaters in the Hall. Joe Posnanski, also at SI, apparently never wants a ballot, which is a shame, because he really should. (For the record, I do heartily recommend each of them for their writing. I don’t always agree with them, but they’re great at what they do.)
Seldom does the United States Congress look like a Wisconsin family reunion in the Lambeau Field parking lot on opening day, but the BBWAA has managed to make the fiscal cliff negotiations look like Rotary Club brat fry.
Once again, I remind you that THE SPORTSWRITERS TURNED A BLIND EYE TO EVERYTHING THAT WAS GOING ON AT THE TIME STEROIDS WERE FLOWING LIKE CHAW SPIT AND SPORTS DRINK. They were complicit in their silence before, and their hand-wringing now is a blatant display of hypocrisy. Everyone thought Jose Canseco was a complete nutball with his fly-in-the-ointment schtick 10-15 years ago, and the guy in hindsight looks to be the only one telling the truth! To be sure, he lit into Bob Ley on national television one night to his embarrassment, but the guy wasn’t making anything up (and Ley gave him multiple derp looks during that segment. If that segment of Outside the Lines is out there, it’s amazing television.) These guys were all too happy to chase history, expense report it all, eat deeply from press box spreads and sell papers while McGwire, Sosa and Luis Gonzalez were bombing bleachers from time zone to time zone.
To add insult to insult, those writers who submitted protest ballots actually engaged in a most Pyrrhic gambit: in declaring no one worthy to be inducted into Cooperstown, they marginalized several clean players, some of whom were at the end of their eligibility. Should Biggio be shut out because Bonds’ head became a medicine ball? Should Dale Murphy or Tim Raines be denied because Roger Clemens was under federal investigation (and, I might add, acquitted?) Jack Morris is out because Sammy Sosa went full-on roid rage after he and Big Mac went chasing after Maris?
In what world does it make sense to send back a blank ballot? Really, no one is worthy of immortality? Even voters in presidential elections write-in silly candidates like Pac-Man. Your sense of sanctity is more valid than that?
Under no circumstances does it make sense to be entitled to the privilege of selecting the game’s greats to be enshrined in the hall of fame and return an empty ballot. The writers have a most enviable job, to follow a kid’s game and retell the accounts 162 times a year, and then analyze it and report on the happenings and developments in the off-season. No one takes their job too seriously like a baseball writer. It’s brattish and insulting to the public’s intelligence, not to mention to those players who would echo the sentiment of Roy Hobbs in The Natural: “Did you ever play ball, Max?”
It makes even less sense to return an empty ballot because of suspicion of cheating when those who didn’t cheat are still worthy candidates. If Bryant wants to protest, write in Biggio and then write NOT Bonds, NOT Sosa, NOT Jeffrey Hammonds, NOT whoever. This passive-aggressive nonsense makes those who participated in the blank ballot look ridiculous.
Further, those who return blank ballots for any reason should do the noble thing and resign from the BBWAA. If it is the sacred responsibility of the writers to determine who gets in or stays out, then perhaps, out of protest of a broken and compromised sport, they should take up writing for another beat. No one forces anyone to write the beat for the Royals, but someone’s got to do it. (Dutton, et al, do it well, if for no other reason as a labor of love.) The moralizing and platitudes all ring hollow, especially since performance-enhancers were standard and accepted practice in baseball for many years. Even Willie Mays had a bottle of mysterious red juice…in the 1950s! Amphetamines were found in every clubhouse until recent years. And there is some evidence to indicate that steroids might just be a red herring in it all.
So no one gets in this year and, much like the aforementioned fiscal cliff, we kick the can down the road a little further. Biggio becomes another name on an increasingly crowded ballot (HOF ballots are only inexplicably permitted ten total names.) Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey, Jr. (oh-ver-ray-ted! *clap*clap*clapclapclap*) and others are reaching the time of eligibility.
There is no reason Biggio should have been held out this year. There is no denotation in Cooperstown that says how many ballots it took for a player to reach immortality. There is only the double-standard and the hypocrisy of those who never played the game.
On July 21st, 2013, we’ll be reminded of the absurdity of what happened today. And, come next January, I’ll undeniably be writing about next year’s outrage. The BBWAA will never cease to amaze.