The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) threw a shutout today when, for only the second time in 42 years, no players were elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The last time the BBWAA vote did not deliver a Hall of Famer was 1996, and there have been shutouts recorded six other times: 1945, 1946, 1950, 1958, 1960 and 1971.
Craig Biggio garnered the most votes with 388 (68.2 percent) – 39 shy of the 427 needed for election. Of the 569 ballots submitted, five were left blank. Players named on more than half the ballots were pitcher Jack Morris with 385 (67.7 percent), first baseman Jeff Bagwell with 339 (59.6 percent), catcher Mike Piazza with 329 (57.8 percent) and outfielder Tim Raines with 297 (52.2 percent). In their first year of eligibility, Roger Clemens received 214 votes (37.6 percent) and Barry Bonds received 206 (36.2 percent).
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Here’s what Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson had to say after the controversial vote was announced:
“The standards for earning election to the Hall of Fame have been very high ever since the rules were created in 1936. We realize the challenges voters are faced with in this era. The Hall of Fame has always entrusted the exclusive voting privilege to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. We remain pleased with their role in evaluating candidates based on the criteria we provide.”
The first sentence makes me wince because there are dozens of players in the Baseball Hall of Fame who were racists, criminals, amphetamine users and, most likely, steroid users, too. The bigger issue appears to be the era of sportswriters and not the era of baseball players.
Back in the day, when teams traveled by train, sportswriters traveled with them, shared meals with them and even went out after games with them. They had full access and were witness to a lot of “character and integrity” shenanigans, including alcohol abuse, womanizing, chauvinism, racism and, most likely, amphetamine use. But what they didn’t do was report this information. Instead, they protected players by not sharing the integrity-busting information with the public.
Good? Bad? I’m not sure, but when we look back on the history of the game and its great players, warts and all, it’s apparent that Idelson’s first sentence is laughable. Sportswriters have been keepers of the voting standard from the very beginning, and it’s quite apparent the flexible standards of old have become ironclad. Today, writers are more concerned with uncovering stories vs. their counterparts from the good ol’ days who overlooked the same stories.
Within seconds of the voting announcement, comment boards all over the sports world raged about who didn’t get in, who should have got in, who already is in and is a cheater … the list goes on. And the concern wasn’t necessarily about Bonds and Clemens getting snubbed, it was about players like Piazza and Bagwell, who never tested positive or appeared in the Mitchell Report, but are guilty by association to the era.
In my opinion, the antiquated process of allowing sportswriters to be the sole voting body is coming to an end. When those who vote think the process needs fixing, it needs fixing. Over on ESPN’s chat board, the participating writers seemed convinced that something needs to change. A committee of writers, baseball executives, former players, current players and fans was a popular idea being bandied about.
That might not be the best solution, but it’s a start to a conversation that could, and in my opinion should, change the Baseball Hall of Fame election process.