By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
With the MLB offseason moving at a glacially slow speed, a lot of time, columns, and commentary has been devoted to which players, if any, might be voted into the Hall of Fame. As of the time this article was written, there are 57 public ballots and 5 anonymous ballots. There’s even a Hall of Fame vote tracker, where fans can see which players are likely to gain admittance into the Hall of Fame.
Again, as of the time of this article, it appears that 2021 may not produce a single Hall of Fame admittance for a player. With all the public ballots known, representing about 16.4% of the eligible voters, that presents a problem for the Hall of Fame and for Major League Baseball, as the induction ceremony is where baseball has a chance to celebrate and glorify its past and connect it to its present.
Rather than debating the merits of which players deserve enshrinement, I’d like to debate the question of who gets to vote for the Hall of Fame. More specifically, should some baseball bloggers be allowed to vote for the Hall of Fame?
The immediate answer would appear to be “no” to that question. However, with all due respect to those writers that I know who can vote for the Hall of Fame, I’d take issue with that response.
I get it that “any idiot with a keyboard” is a “blogger”. I want to be clear that I’m not at all advocating that all bloggers be allowed to vote for the Hall of Fame. Not all baseball writers are eligible to vote, so I can certainly see some need to create criteria for bloggers who would be eligible to vote.
Since 1936, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) has had the exclusive privilege to vote for those players to gain admission into the Hall of Fame. At that time, that made a lot of sense. Most baseball fans did not “see” most of the games, and instead heard the games over the radio or read about the games in the newspaper. The beat reporters were the ones who saw the players on a daily basis and were in the best position to determine those players who played at a level far above their peers.
However, times change. With cable TV, fans today can watch as many games as the beat reporters. In fact, there are plenty of fans who may watch more games than reporters. More importantly, by watching the games on TV, with multiple commentators, fans will be exposed to multiple opinions about the play of individual players as they hear different broadcasters call the game whereas a beat reporter may only hear the same opinions from reporters on the same beat. The days where the members of the BBWAA serve as the sole or main “eyes” of the game are no longer upon us. Therefore, it is fair to ask if they should be the sole “guardians” of the history, the lore, and the mystique of the game (I would also argue that radio and TV announcers should also be given a vote for the Hall of Fame along with some bloggers).
More importantly, the Hall of Fame is exactly what the name implies, the Hall of Fame. It is not the Hall of Stats. It is not the Hall of Personality. It is the Hall of Fame. If it were the Hall of Stats, then there wouldn’t be a need for a vote on eligibility for players, as the stats would speak for themselves. And, if it were the Hall of Personality, then several players presently in the Hall of Fame would need to be removed for what we now know about them, whereas others may deserve admission but did not receive it because they were not well liked by the voting members, or held ideological/political views that differed from the voting members.
With all due respect to the members of the BBWAA that I know, while they are all fans of baseball, many of them are not fans of the team that they cover. They may like the team that they cover, but, in many cases, their beat doesn’t encompass their truly favorite team. While this may help them with their coverage for the team(s) that they write about, their experience is not what fuels and funds the game of baseball. It is the fans who do that. It’s truly the fans who determine “fame”, not the writers.
Enshrining a player in Cooperstown essentially asks a question that the voting members of the BBWAA cannot truly answer. Essentially, it asks, which players over a prolonged period of play, were with the price of a ticket. Since the voting members of the BBWAA generally do not pay to attend games, and instead are paid to be at the games, that’s not a question that they can answer. Only fans can truly answer which players were worth paying to see. And, today’s fans are best represented by bloggers, not the BBWAA.
That creates a real problem for the Hall of Fame. Having been there several times, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the overwhelming majority of people who visit it are there to visit and see things about their favorite team and players. One of the most crowded and slowest moving sections of the Hall of Fame is at the beginning, where every team has its locker full of memorabilia specific to that team. Fans stop for long periods to study their favorite team(s)’ lockers before spreading out to see the exhibits on baseball in general. That’s because they want to see the fame and glory for their team. They will stop to look at all displays for their favorite players, most of whom played for their team. They will take pictures with the plaques for their favorite players because that is fame for them. The Hall of Fame doesn’t exist just for the BBWAA; it exists for the fans and is attended by the fans.
If it is truly supposed to be a hall of “fame” then the fans deserve to have a voice in the process of selecting those players enshrined within it. While the members of the BBWAA will have the factual knowledge of the best players of an era, and may recall which players played the most prominent roles in their stories over the seasons, they don’t always share the same passion and feelings towards players like dedicated fans. While they will have written about the plays and wins, it doesn’t always carry the same sting to them as knowing that a certain player is coming in for a homestand did to a diehard fan. Bloggers do know those pains, and are in the best position to represent the interests and beliefs of the fans who fuel the game.
More importantly, in some cases, the members of the BBWAA may at times become too close to the players to always be entirely objective about it. It is easy to see that when players like Ken Griffey Jr. (99.3%), Nolan Ryan (98.8%), Ted Williams (93.4%), Jackie Robinson (77.5%), etc. did not achieve 100 percent of the vote for their admission into the Hall of Fame. It seems quite plausible that in some members of the BBWAA may have been swayed by personality conflicts with players and did not vote for those players or other players simply for reasons other than those that were part of the game. Personality conflicts appears to be the reason why one candidate on this year's ballot may not be enshrined in Cooperstown even though his stats would argue otherwise. Several members of the BBWAA have openly discussed this problem and their difficulty detaching his play on the field from their ideological conflicts with the player.
Similarly, the members of the BBWAA may be a bit too close to some scandals in baseball, such as the steroid scandal, to truly be the objective and sole voters for the hall of “fame”. To fill in the time for the lack of movement this offseason, many voting members of the BBWAA have appeared on shows such as MLB Now and MLB Tonight to discuss the schism between older voting members and younger voting members when it comes to the steroid scandal. In both cases, though, both the more senior and the more junior writers may not share the same feelings about the steroid scandal as the fans do. In both cases, those members of the BBWAA may not understand the impact that those scandals had on the passion for the game because it was their job to watch and report the game, rather than making the choice to dedicate time and money to following the sport like fans did.
The last point I would make about why some bloggers should be allowed to vote for membership in the Hall of Fame is the recognition of the obviously changing economics of sports coverage. To say that the legacy media is on the ropes is an understatement. The number of baseball writing jobs and positions in newspapers is shrinking annually. Again, with all due respect to the current voting members of the BBWAA that I know, at some people, they may become extinct. There may not be that many writers left who meet the voting eligibility requirements for the Hall of Fame to truly make it or their vote relevant. That would be a serious blow to the sport, the coverage, and the Hall of Fame. It would be far wiser to develop new criteria to reflect the times and realities by letting some bloggers be eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame than to wait for a foreseeable crash to happen and have no plan for how to proceed.
If Major League Baseball truly wanted to capture the younger, more diverse audience, then it needs to adapt with the times. Baseball coverage and thought is not the same as it was in 1936 when the BBWAA became the official voting body of the Hall of Fame. Not only do some bloggers represent a way forward for continued baseball coverage, but they also represent a diversity of opinions. Bloggers are more likely to challenge the orthodoxy on certain viewpoints, such as whether or not a pure DH should be in the Hall of Fame, how to recognize the most outstanding middle relievers, etc. (focusing just on issues concerning Hall of Fame voting). By allowing some bloggers to vote for admission into the Hall of Fame, Major League Baseball will ensure the diversity of opinions continue to matter and will continue to carry the history and legacy of the sport forward.
Again, I want to be clear that I am not advocating for all bloggers to be given a vote. Just as there are eligibility requirements for baseball writers to be eligible to vote, so too should there be eligibility requirements for bloggers. What those eligibility rules should be, and how those rules would be balanced out can be discussed once the idea of allowing some bloggers to be able to vote becomes acceptable and official.
Until then, the question needs to be continuously asked: should some bloggers be allowed to vote for the Hall of Fame?
Edited by Dave Saltzer