BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 02/01/2017

Thiel: No more writers as voters for halls of fame

Why is it that journalists vote on awards for another industry? It’s a sports custom whose time has come and gone. Baseball in particular can’t even explain its standards for admission, so don’t look to us.

The baseball people enshrined in the Hall of Fame should be selected by baseball people, not journalists. / Baseballreflections.com

The Pro Football Hall of Fame voting has an odd custom about to be observed again. On the night before the biggest game of the year, Saturday before the Super Bowl, the hall gathers journalists who cover the NFL — members of another industry — in a hotel ballroom in order to have one from each nominee’s franchise city lobby on his behalf for votes from the other journalists for the football industry’s highest honor.

If I’m an electrician, I don’t want my profession’s highest award bestowed by a panel of plumbers. I mean, yes, we often do work shoulder-to-shoulder with plumbers, and we do know quite a bit about the other’s business. Because of rivalries and jealousies, jobs won and lost, there’s always a chance of bias. But I’d prefer the judgment of someone who’s wired whole houses many times to tell me I belong with the best who’s ever unspooled Romex.

Absurd as is the NFL’s hall custom — we haven’t even discussed the cranky mood among writers missing a Saturday night in the party capital of the nation by arguing with each other over completion percentage  — the Baseball Hall of Fame voting is even more awkward.

While MLB and the Baseball Writers Association of America at least had the good sense to find a dead day in the off-season to do the announcement for maximum national attention, the entrenchment of journalists in the baseball process is even more odious.

In addition to being in another industry, the writers vote with different standards for nominees.

Put simply, some voters let the purported use of performance-enhancing drugs by nominees influence their decision-making; others do not.

It doesn’t matter if there is little or no evidence, nor does it matter that neither MLB nor the private family foundation that runs the hall provide guidance. For the longest time, everyone looked away, yet now some vote their outrage.

As a result, in a sport engorged with data, the game’s highest accolade includes guesswork complicated by a vague moral standard not uniformly shared nor accepted by voters from another industry whose own lack of vigilance made it complicit in the years-long PED charade.

How does this keep going on?

On Jan. 18, 442 BWAA voters chose a new Hall class of three who exceeded the 75 percent threshold for admission — Jeff Bagwell, Pudge Rodriguez and Tim Raines, all worthy selections based on baseball merit.

But Bagwell and Rodriguez were among numerous players of the era rumored to have used PEDs (Raines admitted using cocaine during games, but that’s a whole ‘nother story).  In the previous year that brought in the Mariners’ Ken Griffey Jr. with the highest vote total in history, his lone classmate, Mike Piazza, made it despite widespread suspicion about how a 62nd-round draft choice could have become so fabulous.

In the current voting, moving up fast were Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, arguably the best hitter and best pitcher of the era. But they also have, despite their denials, a documented history with  PEDs, use of which came with penalties beginning in the 2005 season. The final season for both was 2007, Bonds at 42 and Clemens at 44.

The uptick for Bonds and Clemens comes on the heels of the December selection by a 16-person hall committee of retired commissioner Bud Selig, who presided over the so-called steroid era before being embarrassed into action. According to public comments by some voters, the complicit Selig’s entry into the hall ended their rationale for denying the hall to players under suspicion.

Whether you agree with the selections, it is clear that the three independent entities in the process — MLB, the hall, and the BWAA membership — have not agreed on standards beyond “integrity, sportsmanship and character” in the ballot rules, which obviously have been ignored regularly in previous votes going back to the custom’s 1936 origins.

Until MLB and the hall agree on standards, I would be thrilled to learn my fellow sports scribes decline to participate, as I did some years ago. Then stay away.

I’m not trying to high-horse the matter: News organizations such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post long ago forbid staffers from voting. Nor do I think the writers have been careless in their discharge of the responsibility; most are diligent and intense about the task (which they do for free).

But the hall vote, as well as the annual votes for MVP, Cy Young and other awards, are the province of others, not the news media. Since most players’ contracts include bonuses for the annual awards, many writers who are in regular contact with players have some influence over the players’ compensation.

When Alex Rodriguez was a precocious 20-year-old with the Mariners, I recall a pre-game moment on the Kingdome rug in September 1996 when I asked him what he thought about the fact that he was a serious candidate for the MVP award (he finished second, by three votes, to Juan Gonzalez, and ahead of teammate Griffey, in fourth).

He answered my question with a question.

“You got a vote?”

“Why? What difference does it make?”

“Well, none. I was just wondering.”

Not only was it my first real insight into Rodriguez — a view the baseball world would come to share over the next 20 years — I became aware of the drama between him and Griffey over the award.

The Seattle writers who did have votes were caught in a hissy fit between two divas. The scribes were not part of the game, yet they were helping decide awards, bonuses and a clubhouse pecking order.

The middle is no place to be.

Let the baseball and football players vote. Let the managers and coaches vote. Let anyone vote. Let my people go.

 


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YourThoughts

  • bugzapper

    “If I’m an electrician, I don’t want my profession’s highest award bestowed by a panel of plumbers.”

    Yeah, well, I AM an electrician! (Or to quote Jack Nicholson in “The Last Detail,” “I AM the m*****f*****g shore patrol!”) This isn’t like plumbers voting. It’s like the homeowner with a Zinsco panel and a 1985 “How to Wire Your Own Home In 20 Minutes” booklet from Ernst Hardware telling ME what to do.

    AFAIC, any of the BBWA clowns who waste votes on the likes of Bonds, Clemens, and the rest of the juicers, but who can’t bring themselves to vote for Edgar Martinez, deserve to have their credentials permanently revoked. I sat on press row for two years with some of these yutzes, watching the team’s media director suck up and give them preferential treatment. More entitlement bullshit, to go along with their coveted voting privileges. Screw ‘em. If I was Drysdale I’d be throwing at their heads. On every pitch!

    Bud Selig, the used car salesman from Milwaukee who engineered the theft of the Seattle Pilots, who presided over the 2002 extra inning All-Star Game game debacle in his own home town, who knew damned well players were turning into andro junkies on his watch but did nothing about it… “A small town schlepp out to ruin baseball.” (Fay Vincent) …THAT asshole is in the Hall of Fame? Clearly there are no standards.

    Might as well let the fans vote. They can’t do any worse than plumbers, electricians or the BBWA.

    • art thiel

      Well, Mr. B, take out your voltmeter and tell me who was juicing and who wasn’t, and you can’t read from the Book of Canseco. No tool in your box can tell you. Which is why you, and everyone else, can’t use it as a disqualifier except maybe with Bonds, Clemens and the handful that were busted.

      Many in baseball knew, and did nothing. Some in media knew, and wrote nothing. The “yutzes” can do something now by withdrawing their participation.

      But nearly all took the assignment seriously, certainly in recent years. The competency argument is not in play here these days.

      • bugzapper

        Tan Grande! Yer killin me. Next thing what, you’re gonna go all Rafael Palmeiro, point your finger and say, “I always took my assignment seriously. Even when I knew who the juicers were”?

        My voltmeter measures volts, not amped up chutzpah.

    • Kevin Lynch

      Love it. The Zinsco Panel. OMG. There was Jose Canseco and then there was the Zinsco Electrical Panel. When I sold my home I could not in good conscience let it go with the Zinsco to the new owner. I didn’t even negotiate it. I paid for it completely. I wanted my conscience clear. What a disaster. The Zinsco.

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      • bugzapper

        LOL! Good man. There’s a great web site detailing the sordid history of Zinsco. Wish I had the URL handy. The onriginal

  • Tian Biao

    Let’s be honest: HoF voting is a beauty contest, nothing more. It doesn’t matter if it’s sportswriters, fellow players, managers, whatever, they all have their biases, and they all vote (our would vote) for their friends, teammates, players in their own leagues, players they know best, players they drank beers with, etc. In baseball, members of the veteran’s committee did just that: they put all their pals in, and it was a joke.

    I say, remove the human element completely. Base it strictly on the numbers: establish some serious benchmarks, adjust them for park and era, and stick with them. Known PED users get in, but that information goes on their plaques. Think of all the fun everyone could have, establishing those benchmarks. All that chatter! all that arguing!! All that content! Never again would we have to read or hear sanctimonious nonsense about ‘why i voted for this guy, but not that guy,’ etc. What a relief that would be.

    • art thiel

      Fair point. Creation of algorithms based on previous HOF stats can provide a minimum baseline, then create a panel from many walks, including the sabermetric guys, and let them pick.

      No system is bias-free, but it can be minimized. Just separate the writers from the awarding of prizes.

    • LarryLurex70

      But, why limit it to PED users amongst “cheaters? It still irks me to no end that while Bonds and Clemens were ACCUSED and widely speculated to have “cheated” (however you define the word), neither was actually caught nor suspended for “cheating”. Can the same be said of HoF’r Gaylord Perry? His inclusion into the Hall sends a clear mixed message that certain forms of “cheating” are more acceptable than certain others, depending on exactly whom said “cheater” is. As far as I’m concerned, the Baseball HoF can’t expect to be taken seriously until that is rectified. And, don’t get me started on Bud Selig, either. Apparently, the irony of his inclusion is long lost on those who’re in a position to decide such things.
      And, finally, the way they stonewalled and continued to come up with a myriad of excuses to deny Lee Smith, yet, green light Gossage, Fingers, and Sutter is absolutely beyond pathetic.

    • bugzapper

      True dat. At least baseball’s HoF isn’t as bad as the Rock & Roll HoF. You can’ fix that one with numbers. Well, not those kinds of numbers, anyway. ;)