With a couple of days to reflect on Wednesday’s Hall of Fame shutout, and the subsequent near-revolutionary call for BBWAA heads-on-a-platter, I’m ready to chime in. And despite the implication of the headline, if what you’re looking for here is yet another in a long line of Cooperstown bashing diatribes, prepared to be disappointed.
Watching the furor build before commenting has helped me to gain a little perspective, and I’m reminded of a Season 3 episode of “Get Smart.” What can I say? I’m a weird guy, but indulge me a minute.
In “Don’t Look Back,” first aired February 10, 1968, Agent 86 is framed and convicted for murder, and ala “The Fugitive” escapes in search of vindication and the guilty one-armed man. View the episode here.
Facing a mountain of evidence and an incompetent lawyer unable to defend him, Maxwell Smart is given a chance to speak on his own behalf, and begins like this:
“Your honor, ladies and gentleman of the jury. For the last 20 minutes I have sat idly by while my worthy opponent, the prosecuting attorney, has stood up here and made a complete jackass out of himself. Now it’s my turn.”
Well, after watching some of my earnest colleagues tiptoe right up to and in some cases cross over the line into jackassness, now it’s my turn. And I have to say first, can’t we all just get along? I mean jeez people, what do you say we get a bit of grip here. A 2013 Hall of Fame induction ceremony without a living inductee to celebrate is a shame. There were deserving candidates, it’s unfortunate, certainly, but it’s not the end of the baseball world as we know it. It’s happened before, it’ll happen again, and we’ll all live, I promise you.
And more importantly, while the BBWAA is an exclusionary, rather old-guard, slow-to-adapt organization very much in need of a kick in the pants, its members are not a bunch of incompetent boobs intent on bringing down the game, one pillar of greatness at a time.
As the director of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA), in a position to advocate for dramatic change to the system, especially now, while the iron is hot, I’m not about to do that. Not now.
I started the IBWAA in 2009 because I wanted a say in the matter – an actual seat at the table – and though I had already been writing about baseball for 10 years at the time, as an Internet-only contributor to the discourse, I had absolutely zero chance of a vote. I was so far on the outside looking in that Bob Uecker had a better view of home plate from the cheap seats than I had squinting in at that blur of a ballot box a mile away.
So here I am three and a half years later, the BBWAA under siege and still resistant to voices like mine, with the IBWAA drawing some attention for the first time, and I don’t feel all that much satisfaction. OK fine, there’s a bit of an I-told-you-so smile on my face at the moment, but I don’t think our group has a monopoly on intelligent baseball thought, or anywhere close to it.
While the BBWAA passed on the likes of Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tim Raines, Jack Morris, Lee Smith, etc., the IBWAA selected just one man – Mike Piazza – in its 2013 election. Last year, with the BBWAA tabbing Barry Larkin for enshrinement, the IBWWA drew a complete blank.
And so it goes with the electoral process. We just had a presidential election. A little more than half the people went home happy, and a tad less than half didn’t. And a fair amount of those simply couldn’t believe it.
It happens every four years in the highest-of-states elections and every winter in baseball. We’re amazed when people don’t see it our way, when the obviously- correct choices don’t win out.
Oscar nominations were announced Friday, and it’s the exact same thing. People and pundits are at a loss to explain the results. Something is amiss. It must be, and the voters are simply out of their minds. What, did they think Ben Affleck was on steroids during the filming of “Argo,” therefore making him ineligible for the Academy Award for directing? Was Kathryn Bigelow taking human growth hormone on the set of “Zero Dark Thirty,” or worse yet, testosterone?
I understand the vehemence. We all love baseball. Old-style writers, traditional in their thinking, sabermaticians, with a host of lettered stats you might not recognize at the ready; young and old, newspaper men with a cigar in their mouth and twentysomethings with a smartphone and a chip on their shoulder – we all love baseball. We all love baseball.
And most of us think we know better than the guy sitting next to us at the ballpark, or across the globe chatting with us in a game thread. We just know better, and we know we know better.
What occurs to me is that it’s just difficult to get people to agree on things in this country. With 50% on your side you’re really accomplishing something, and 75% is something else indeed. I’m not suggesting the lowering of the Hall of Fame threshold to 70% or whatever – not at all – but I do think that with the divisiveness of the times and the varying opinions of individuals just plain naturally, consensus is a challenge. And a three-quarters consensus that much more so.
Clearly the Baseball Writers’ Association of America would benefit from a dose of open-mindedness, and a fresher perspective all the way around. Ever wonder what the second “B” in BBWAA stands for? I mean, shouldn’t the correct acronym be BWAA? Well, up until a couple of years ago the BBWAA was using the archaic spelling of the game as two words – Base and Ball – and the organization’s website represented it as such. They haven’t figured out a way to explain the change, so the extraneous “B” stays.
And maybe the use of a little thing called the World Wide Web, and oh, I don’t know, electronic voting to replace paper ballots and snail mail. And the inclusion of some fine Internet scribes, a fair number of whom are good buddies of mine. And maybe if a long-time member covers the ponies, tennis and golf more than (s)he does baseball, or hasn’t been working in the profession for a stretch of time, maybe that person gives up the vote so that a more-interested participant’s tally matters more. Maybe just maybe there is room for improvement.
But look, there is nothing sinister to the Hall of Fame voting process. And the privileged who vote on things fans care about aren’t conspiring to influence elections. You don’t have 100 people in a smoke-filled room rigging nominations and winners one way or another. OK, maybe in the case of the Golden Globes.
But if there’s a better system than the democratic process for sorting out such matters, I’ve yet to hear it.