Thursday, January 9, 2014

Arbiters of Justice

Yesterday's Hall of Fame announcement called into question once again a lot of the factors that go into the voting process. The Baseball Writer's Association, of course, is the group that has the final say as to who's in and who's out, and certainly, the three players that were voted in, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas, are all well worthy of the honor (in spite of the ill will most Mets fans harbor towards Glavine).

But once again, the argument revolves around who didn't get in, and central among the snubbed is Mike Piazza. Piazza's credentials don't need to be discussed. Neither do those for the similarly snubbed Craig Biggio or any of the others who probably should be taking their rightful place in Cooperstown's hallowed halls.

The issue obviously lies in the voting process, and how those 571 individuals choose to cast their votes. It becomes, then, a rather subjective process and a bias against certain players who might have rubbed one, or several, of those 571 the wrong way. Or, however many of those 571 that choose to vote based on some archaic principle that only makes sense to them. Invariably, we get stories like the ballot holder from Los Angeles who voted for Jack Morrisand nobody else. Of course, what ends up happening is that Craig Biggio, who should be a Hall of Famer whether you feel he's a compiler or not, falls 0.2% shy of election, and Mike Piazza falls 12.8% short.

Neither Biggio or Piazza has been specifically implicated of any wrongdoing. If anything's holding Biggio back, it's probably a general lack of splash in his career, although I do believe he is the career leader in being hit by pitches. Piazza's problem is basically guilt by association—though he's never failed a drug test and never been specifically implicated for steroid use, he's of that era so the suspicion will follow whether he's guilty or not. At this point, if you haven't gotten a smoking gun on Piazza, you're probably not going to, because there really aren't any guns left for the players of that era.

The case could certainly be made that other prominent players such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire don't deserve to be elected because there is greater evidence (or outright admission) of steroid use, and that it's their own fault that they used and their reputation therefore sullied. But it's my contention that these players were simply taking advantage of the system in place, and the fault doesn't lie on the players for doing so. Cheating in one form or another has existed in baseball forever, whether it's a pitcher loading up a baseball with vaseline or a steroid user. The fault lies with Bud Selig and the owners for allowing it to go on, because it would have been the easiest thing in the world to institute a testing system back in 1996 when the CBA was renewed. Owners tabled the issue (and the Players' Association was, I'm sure, more than happy to agree to it) in favor of allowing the players to juice up and create an offensive explosion to rekindle interest in the game. Not everybody partook, but, of course, those that did are now being treated as pariahs and more or less hung up on a cross as an example of what happens when you sully the reputation of the Grand Ole Game.

But why should they be made examples of when for all intents and purposes the behavior was encouraged?

And why, when reports and investigations have been made and released, should players that haven't been accused pay the price for the indiscretions of their peers?

The problem lies in the voting pool. The photo above is basically to illustrate what my impression is of a majority of the 571 vote-holding members of the BBWAA: Cranky Old Men who seem to believe that the true heroes of Baseball played sometime in between 1920 and 1968 and these new-era ballplayers are generally a bunch of rabble-rousers up to no damn good (To be fair, there's certainly charm to Andy Rooney but we'll just say the impression he presents is a close enough example of my point). They're not all like that; plenty of voters seem to have enough common sense to realize that every player is more or less a product of the era that they played, and if guys like Bonds et. al, are the best of the steroid era, then so be it. Many of them also probably also feel as though there are too many Andy Rooneys in a pool that holds too few Dan LeBatards, and so their only hope to affect a change in the system is to simply make a mockery of it.

The problem is that there's no good solution. Opening up the balloting to a larger pool, say, broadcasters, ends up creating even more subjectivity and probably a good deal of homerism. Revoking balloting rights probably wouldn't ever happen lest the BBWAA wants to have soiled Depends thrown at them. Perhaps opening up the vote to living Hall of Fame members is a possibility. I don't know. But unless some kind of change is made, you're going to have guys blacklisted from taking their worthy place in the Hall of Fame for no other reason than they had the poor fortune of playing in a certain era.

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