Longtime BBWAA member Murray Chase continues to antagonize baseball fans by submitting a blank ballot for this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame election.
When I saw that Murray Chass submitted a blank Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, my first instinct was to be snarky. I wanted to mock him as an old man shaking his fist at a cloud, telling the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn, and complaining about bloggers blogging from their mother’s basements. Maybe make a reference to him writing his columns on a manual typewriter or on a stone tablet with a chisel. I even had a headline in mind: “Murray Chass’ Hole-Filled Ballot.”
But I won’t do that even though I disagree with him on so many things. I this case, I strongly disagree with his submitting a blank ballot. I believe there are many players on the ballot worthy of induction and submitting a blank ballot seems spiteful. On the 183 ballots tracked so far by Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs), voters have selected an average of 8.7 players per ballot. Nearly 60% of the voters have voted for the maximum of 10 players. The blank ballot Chass submitted counts in the total number of votes. It’s essentially voting “no” on every player. He could have simply not submitted a ballot at all, but instead he chose to submit a blank ballot with a note saying, “This ballot is intentionally blank.”
Chass is no stranger to Hall of Fame voting controversy. When it comes to PED use, he votes for players based on whether he believes they used PEDs or not, regardless of whether the player ever failed a test or was named in the Mitchell Report. He has written in the past that he initially voted for Jeff Bagwell but then was told he was a steroids guy so he stopped voting for him. He wrote that two writers told him they hadn’t voted for Craig Biggio because of suspicions that Biggio used steroids. Chass didn’t vote for Biggio either year he was on the ballot. He also wrote, “I don’t know if there’s anyone in baseball who doesn’t think [Mike] Piazza used steroids.” Of course, Chass didn’t vote for Piazza.
Last year, Chass only voted for Ken Griffey, Jr. He did not vote for Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, or Trevor Hoffman, four players who were named on at least 67 percent of the ballots. Chass believes Ken Griffey, Jr. is untainted even though no one really knows for sure who used PEDs and who didn’t before there was testing. Some players are universally considered “clean”, while others have suspicions around them even with no clear evidence. I’m not suggesting that Griffey used PEDs, but the fact is we don’t know who used and who didn’t. For Chass, any suspicion disqualifies a player from eligibility in his Hall of Fame.
Setting aside the PED issue, it’s clear that Chass has very high standards when it comes to Hall of Famers (which, apparently, Jack Morris reached). In his post on Sunday, he wrote:
“As for my HOF voting, in my first year as a voter, I voted for 10 players.” [That was and is the maximum, which some voters want the Hall to raise; why I don’t understand.] “By the time of my second vote, I realized that by voting for 10, I was saying I wanted to see 10 elected. What a horrible thought, to make people sit through 10 speeches in the hot July Cooperstown sun. I also realized that by having 10 players inducted on the same day lessened the honor for each. From then on I voted for only the players I considered the best of the elite.”
So it’s important to remember that the Hall of Fame Murray Chass envisions is for the “best of the elite” and with no players tainted by PED allegations. I’m not going to criticize this even though I disagree with it. He’s been given the privilege of voting and it’s up to him to come up with criteria that he believes in. Everyone has his or her own personal idea of who should be in the Hall of Fame. His is a more exclusive club than many.
I don’t know if Chass voted for the Hall of Fame in 2015. He did not make his ballot public if he did vote, as far as I can tell. There were four players voted into the Hall of Fame that year, three who made it in on their first ballot: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz. Craig Biggio was the fourth.
If Chass voted that year, we can be sure that he did not vote for Biggio. I can’t imagine not voting for The Big Unit, but if anyone could find a reason not to, perhaps Chass could. There’s a chance that Pedro and Smoltz couldn’t clear the bar for entry in the “best of the elite” Murray Chass Hall of Fame. Pedro “only” won 219 games in his career. Smoltz won 213. That might not be enough for Chass.
Three players were elected to the Hall of Fame in 2014—Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas. All were voted in on their first ballot. Chass voted for all of them, along with Jack Morris, who was in his 15th and final year on the ballot. Chass had long supported Morris for the Hall of Fame. In 2013, he wrote, “I think I am safe in concluding that Morris did not cheat. I know the stats zealots don’t think Morris is a Hall of Famer because his ranking in their new-fangled ratings fall below their standards. But they don’t have a formula for intestinal fortitude or determination.”
That’s true. I don’t believe Bill James, Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman or any other baseball analyst has come up with a formula for intestinal fortitude or determination. Although, if intestinal fortitude and determination determined Hall of Fame membership, Willie Bloomquist should be a first-ballot inductee in a couple years (Oops, that’s a slight venture into snarkiness. I’ll get back on track).
It’s interesting that Chass voted for Frank Thomas. Like Griffey, Thomas is one of those players that most people assume was clean, despite being 6’5” and (at least) 240 pounds. Thomas spoke out against PED use during his career when other players did not and I have no reason to think he used but, again, we just don’t know.
In 2013, there were no players selected for the Hall of Fame. This was the first time this happened since 1996. Chass voted for Jack Morris that year. He finished with 67.7 percent of the vote, his highest total in the 15 years he was on the ballot (he ultimately did not get in). Biggio got 68.2 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot. Of course, Chass did not vote for Biggio.
“Barring a change in my thinking, which I don’t expect, I believe the time has come to relinquish my right as a 10-year (actually 50-year) member of the Baseball Writers Association of America to vote in the Hall of Fame election.
I offer two reasons for my decision.
Though I don’t believe there is a more qualified set of electors, certainly not the new-age stats guys who are envious of the writers and believe they should determine Hall of famers, I don’t think reporters and columnists who cover and comment on baseball news should be making baseball news.
The steroids issue has made it impossible to conduct a rational vote and cast a reasonable ballot. No matter how a writer votes or on what he bases his decision whom to vote for or not to vote for, his reasoning has to be flawed and open to challenge.”
“Finally, an announcement that will disappoint [Rob] Neyer, [Craig] Calcaterra and the reader who, like those two bloggers, said they were delighted that this was the last time I would be voting for the Hall of Fame. Sorry, guys I never made it definite.
I said ‘barring a change in my thinking,’ this could be my last vote. My thinking has changed, and all of you critics can blame yourselves. How could I relinquish my vote knowing how much it annoys you? I plan to vote a year from now even if I just send in a blank ballot. You would love that.”
He followed through with a blank ballot this year. I like to think it wasn’t just for spite. I don’t know Murray Chass. I don’t know who he is as a person. He might be a fun guy to go to a ballgame with. He may be a hoot at parties playing Scattergories or Boggle, I don’t know. I do know how he comes across as a writer, with his disdain for “new-age stats guys” and his pleasure in annoying his critics.
This year’s ballot has players that Chass has not voted for before, such as Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Trevor Hoffman, all of whom have at least 73 percent of the vote in Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker. It’s no surprise he didn’t vote for them. Two newcomers are Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero, both with at least 74 percent of the vote so far. Chass did not vote them for either, but has not explained if it was due to PED suspicions or if they just didn’t reach the “best of the elite” status he deems necessary.
That “best of the elite” requirement for Chass brings up an important issue. When you look back the players inducted by the BBWAA, the players that Chass grew up watching are well represented in the Hall of Fame compared to the players I grew up watching. I fell in love with baseball in 1979 when I was eight years old. I became a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates beginning with their 1979 World Series winning team.
That 1979 team was the “We R Fam-A-Lee” team captained by veteran Willie Stargell. At 38 years old, Stargell was the co-MVP of the National League during the regular season, then won the MVP of the NLCS and the World Series. For nine-year-old me, Stargell was legendary. I continued to watch and play baseball during the 1980s and beyond.
Murray Chass was born in 1938, so he was 12 years old in 1950. Using the birth years of 1930 to 1939 as a proxy for players who played between 1950 and beyond, there are 21 players born between 1930 and 1939 who were voted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA (or by Special Committee in the case of Roberto Clemente). The equivalent years for me would be players born in the 1960s. As of now, there are just 13 players born in the 1960s who have been voted in by the BBWAA. My generation of players is under-represented.
It’s also important to note that there were fewer teams in the 1950s, so fewer players to choose from. Let’s do some back-of-the-envelope math. From 1950 to 1959 there were 16 teams in MLB. If we multiply 16 teams by 25 players per team over 10 years, we get 4,000 players. Divide that number by the 21 players who are in the Hall of Fame and you get one Hall of Fame player for every 190 players.
In the 1980s, there were 26 teams. If we multiply 26 teams by 25 players per team over 10 years, we get 6,500 players. Divide that by the 13 players who are in the Hall of Fame and you get one Hall of Fame player for every 500 players. A player from the years Chass grew up watching baseball was more than 2 ½ times as likely to be in the Hall of Fame as a player from the generation I grew up watching.
As long as he continues to vote, or submit a blank ballot, Murray Chass is a gatekeeper to the Hall of Fame. It’s a privilege that should not be taken lightly. With his blank ballot, he is denying my generation and the ones after me from seeing the players we grew up watching make the Hall of Fame. Having high standards for the Hall of Fame is fine, but it’s not fine to deny a generation of fans the joy of seeing their players make the Hall. Murray Chass was able to see the top players from his generation be honored. I would respectfully request that he allow my generation the chance to see ours.