On Wednesday, we will hear which players have earned election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Greg Maddux is virtually certain to get the call. Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Craig Biggio are strong contenders to join him.
The announcement will be followed — immediately and unfortunately — by a new January ritual, the tweet-flogging of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and the enumeration of all that is wrong with the Hall.
Before invective about the BBWAA’s judgment (or lack thereof) splats across your smartphone once more, please allow me to make the following points:
• Look at the all-time roster of Hall of Famers. For the most part, over the years, the right people have made it to Cooperstown. That says something about the selection process.
• Hall voting involves sportswriters rendering opinions on the careers and characters of people they might not know very well. That’s not perfect. Never has been. But no system is.
• When baseball writers wrestle with how to handle candidates from the steroid era, it is not because they enjoy moralizing about the failings of others. It is because baseball writers care about the sport and respect the responsibility to vote for the Hall. They agonize over what the Hall’s legacy could, should and will be. Trust me.
• Last month, the BBWAA created a committee to study the possibility of making modifications to the voting procedures — specifically the limit on marking no more than 10 players per ballot.
• The Baseball Hall of Fame inspires more passionate debate than its counterparts in other sports. Apparently, the folks in Cooperstown — and those who help them pick the inductees — must be doing something right.
So are things really so terrible?
You can’t say the BBWAA lacks accountability, because more and more writers are explaining their ballots in print or online — even when it means receiving criticism, as was the case for Dodgers beat writer Ken Gurnick, who voted only for Jack Morris.
You can’t say the BBWAA is close-minded to sabermetric data. Case in point: Bert Blyleven is a Hall of Famer, and Morris, in all likelihood, is not going to join him. During their playing careers, Morris was viewed as the superior ace pitcher.
I’m a member of the BBWAA, but I’m not a Hall of Fame voter. The BBWAA requires 10 years of service to earn that privilege. I have eight. For this cycle and at least one more, I’m a spectator when it comes to the Hall of Fame process.
I’ll be honest: At times, the notion of gaining a Hall vote seems more like a chore than an honor. As journalists, we pride ourselves on gathering every piece of relevant information before sitting down to write or appearing on a broadcast. Here, that’s impossible. In most cases, we can’t know for certain whether a player cheated.
In the end, I will trust my colleagues to get it right more often than not. I’d support shrinking the electorate a little, to exclude some BBWAA members who don’t actively report on games (e.g., the sports editors who have held membership for years). We shouldn’t cut the group all the way to the NFL’s 46-person committee, but I doubt the 569 who voted last year were the most qualified 569.
I’ve been a staunch advocate of doing away with the 10-player limit on each ballot. It’s simple, really: One player’s worthiness for the Hall of Fame should not negatively impact another’s. Jeff Kent, for example, shouldn’t be at a disadvantage because he’s debuting on this year’s ballot at the same time as Maddux, Glavine, Thomas and Mike Mussina. Hopefully, that changes.
Meanwhile, other debates will not end. Halls of Fame are inherently subjective, and the one in Cooperstown is no different. I hope to talk more on Wednesday about the achievements of those who will make it than the flaws of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and the others who will not.
That might be naive. But I’m allowed to believe in the consciences of people who love the game and a building that — so far — is withstanding the onslaught of a complicated time.