Friday, January 08, 2010

Happiness is a naked Richard Griffin; make BBWAA voting public

The Baseball Writers' Association of America shouldn't mind being transparent, since they're so easy to see through.

It wasn't worth writing a rage-filled post on Wednesday over a childhood idol, Roberto Alomar, being forced to wait a year to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame. Two days after the fact, though, it cannot be internalized. What comes to mind is a line Matthew Broderick said in Election, right before Jim McAllister's life fell apart the way the voting process has across the past decade where borderline candidates (Andre Dawson, Bruce Sutter) have got in while stone-cold locks (Alomar, Tim Raines) play left out: "We're not electing the pope here."

You gotta keep it in perspective, eh? We're not electing the pope here. Who gets a plaque in a museum is not as important as Parliament being prorogued, whether airport security officials knowing what you look like naked will stop a terrorist or even how Boise State might have done vs. the Alabama Crimson Tide. It also hints at how the Hall of Fame election process needs to be done out in the open. Doing it in a way that dates from a long-gone era is not working.

Start with one fix: Everyone's voting record should be public the second results are announced, the same with elected officials in politics or with a publicly traded company in the business world. This is the way of the world, the naked corporation. (While we're here, who are some of the people on voter rolls?)

The guts of the matter is not the "who's smarter?" game between Seamheads or even which player was hosed. It's that just desserts delayed are just desserts denied, for anyone who cares about the game. A few of BBWAA's bad apples have shown absolute power corrupts absolutely. (
Glenn Dickey
: "Writers love the feeling of power they get from denying a worthy candidate — and yes, that is very sick.")

Making the ballots public might cut down on the high-horse routines. It was a hoot-and-a-half to see the apologias coming out Toronto about the Alomar snub, while American writers were rightly outraged. (It's like the U.S. guys were actually more sensitive to what Robbie meant to a generation of Canadian ball fans.) One, apparently taking readers for village idiots (his term not mine) who can't do a Google News search, insisted there is no special cachet associated with going in on the first ballot and that it was right Alomar has to wait (even when he said the complete opposite four days earlier). Another came off like he was 50-something going on five, all but sticking his tongue out: "At the risk of offending those who think only statistically, (Andre) Dawson and his weak on-base percentage (.323) got this vote on the basis of my actually having watched him play." In fewer words: Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah.

The point is that people who write like that forfeit the right to secrecy. It is pretty obvious the secret ballot is more about media privilege than recognizing a great baseball player. An I've-got-mine arrogance runs through it all Those who think only statistically? ... writing, Whatever happened to reasonable discussion on baseball issues? just a few grafs after smearing the FAN 590's Mike Wilner? Come on. Wilner, to his credit, took it in decent humour.

Small wonder, then, that a smart guy such as Jeff Blair seems so cranky about it all. How funny is it, by the way, that one guy calls it "ridiculous" to suggest voters take five minutes to make their selections when Blair wrote, "All told it takes a couple of minutes?"

Such smugness calls to mind Henry Hill in GoodFellas, after Tommy (Joe Pesci) got whacked:
"And there was nothing that we could do about it. Batts was a made man, and Tommy wasn't. And we had to sit still and take it ... It was real greaseball shit."
Making the ballots public might address a few of the issues:
  1. Make it about the players again.

    Secrecy has caused distrust and made the process to become less about whom the BBWAA actually manages to vote in than, in the aftermath of the announcement, rooting out who didn't vote for someone (remember Corky Simpson, the dork who left Rickey Henderson off his ballot?), who didn't vote for anyone or who actually cast a vote for David Segui.

    A lot of the writers know it, too, as Bob Klapisch had the grace to admit:
    "It is hard to argue with anyone who thinks the BBWAA has lost its way, especially when Jay Mariotti taunted the organization to throw him out after failing to vote for anyone.

    "Appearing on ESPN's Around the Horn, Mariotti said, 'If (Blyleven and Dawson) haven’t gotten in for years and years I cannot vote them in now,' although he admitted he voted for both players in 2008.

    "That's the sort of recklessness that sharpens the fangs of those who already distrust the media. Alomar? He’ll be making his acceptance speech in July 2011, but the BBWAA’s politics stood between him and first-ballot induction."
  2. Keep the hypocrites down to one face per person.

    Some obnoxious as they are obtuse types would have you believe it does not matter whether Alomar goes in this year, 2011 or 2024.

    Right. As Bob Sansevere put it, there is "a block of Hall of Fame voters who are self-anointed keepers of the Hall. They have been given the power to decide someone's fate and, right or wrong, they are going to wield it.

    "Some of these voters believe no one should ever be a unanimous pick, and no one, not even Babe Ruth, ever has been.

    "Some believe no one should be elected in his first year of eligibility, which I'm sure is what kept Alomar and (Barry) Larkin out."

  3. Track the bloc voting.

    The one voter I had do a drive-by on a few paragraphs ago did note voters identified with two media capitals with two MLB teams, Chicago and New York, have a lot of sway. Andre Dawson might still be waiting if his most famous season (winning National League MVP in 1987) had not come with the (cough, last-place) Cubbies. Alomar played with the Mets and White Sox and didn't exactly set the world on fire.

    We deserve to know if that is a factor. It is a sad commentary if Bert Blyleven has waited this long because he couldn't get traded to the right city back in 1975. Of course, if he'd been on the Cubs, his winning percentage would be even worse, ha-ha.

  4. Get them to leave the goddamn goalposts in the ground.

    Full disclosure would stop — take it away, Jonah Keri — "voters who game the system, whose cognitive dissonance and egos drive them to make up arbitrary rules about who should and should not get in based on their own whims. Forget PED-linked players for a second. We see players fall short because some voters don't find it proper to vote in anyone but Hank Aaron on the first ballot. Other voters decide they’re moral watchdogs, so they're going to make one of the greatest second basemen of all-time wait, because he once did something rude and insulting on TV."

    One wouldn't go far to say the "political statement" (Dan Lamothe, Red Sox Monster) that 26.3% of the BBWAA made by not voting for Alomar had a generational element. There's no age minimum (or ceiling) for solipsism! It does seem a little more Gen-X to be non-judgmental, realize what Alomar did was not that bad, and ask people be judged on their own merits rather than some kindergarten-worldview concept of character, like Drunk Jays Fans said:
    "Alomar’s vote total is 'pretty damned good,' Griffin tells us. “And for someone to say that writers don't know what they are doing and to ask "how could the writers leave him out while Dawson with his lousy on-base percentage is in" (on his ninth try) is silly.'

    "It is??? ... I thought they were voting on who deserves to be in baseball’s Hall of Fame based on the merits of his career as a baseball player — not sure where I got that crazy idea from! — and if the group entrusted with deciding whose career merits it the most chooses Andre Dawson over Alomar, Raines and Blyleven, then it would seem to me that there is something fundamentally wrong with this group and their concept of what makes a baseball player good."
    Lamothe said much the same:
    "When someone like (Alomar) misses out because voters want to make a political statement, it's time to find voters who will simply and objectively look at the numbers and check the appropriate box. Immediately. Before one of them gets strung up from the flag pole by pitchfork-wielding baseball fans who are sick of the sanctimonious crap."
    Oh, and as for Griffin's insistence that first-ballot, second-ballot, doesn't make a difference? Check out this part of that Klapisch column:
    "Alomar would’ve been the first Puerto Rican player to be inducted into Cooperstown by the normal election process – Robert Clemente was posthumously admitted less than three months after his death in 1972.

    Ray Negron, a friend and adviser to Alomar, said, 'People on the island had been preparing for this for weeks, months. It’s one thing to say you’re in the Hall of Fame, another to say you’re a first-ballot player. It wasn’t easy for Robby or anyone else to say, Wait ’til next year.' "
  5. Rewarding those who are caught up to the curve.

    There is gratitude for the baseball writers who are only too happy to debate and defend their choices. They're probably closer to the majority in the BBWAA.

    They, like most of us, know being in the media doesn't give you all the answers. It's good for a sportswriter to have your feet held to the fire as part of informing and entertaining people (the second part is why it's bogus some media outlets don't let reporters vote for awards and such; it drives debate).
It probably will not happen but it should. When the process is so far gone that the best second baseman of the past quarter-century cannot get in on the first crack, it tears the lid right off the jar.

Alomar will be elected in 2011, but the memory should linger. Personally, it took two nights to get the words together. There was too much worry of saying something regrettable or coming up with a diamond variation on Don Cherry's line that some people wouldn't know a hockey player if they slept with Bobby Orr. In other words, make your own Albert Pujols analingus pun, dammit!.

Besides, traditional media, Twitterati, blogs such as Circling The Bases, you name 'em, were all over this on the day of the snub. It was impossible to find anyone who could defend Alomar not getting the requisite 75% (not to go off on a purpose-defeating rant). True, his 73.7% was very strong by the standards of first-time candidates, but MLB Network's Bob Costas expected him to be "somewhere above 80%." For someone who cares about this stuff, waiting a year will not ease the sting, sorry.

Apologies for taking this long to channel rage into something productive. Meantime, the BBWAA is going to have to become transparent, sooner rather than later.

If they're so sure and smug in what they're doing, they won't mind in having their ballots made public. After all, we're not electing the pope here.


Rob Pettapiece said...

What drives me nuts the most about this whole HOF process is not anything to with Alomar, or Dawson, or Raines, but with that other former Expo who is about as genuine as a three-dollar bill.

That's right, take it away, "Mr." Gary Carter:

The museum makes the final decision, and Carter said he hoped Dawson would go in as a Cub so an existing organization could celebrate his career. If that happens, Carter is prepared to carry the banner alone.

“I enjoyed my time up in Montreal,” he said. “I’m very proud that emblem is on my Hall of Fame plaque.”

Horseshit. When Carter went into the Hall, he kicked and whined and pouted about not going in as a Met. ("What's that going to do me?" he asked about wearing the soon-to-be-defunct Expos' logo on his cap.)

To claim he's now proud in any way of this is nothing but dishonesty, especially when he encourages Dawson to go in so that a team that's still around can market the Hawk a few times (i.e., exactly his reasons for wanting to wear a Mets cap on his plaque), but such duplicity may be the most honest thing a snake like Gary Carter can do.

sager said...


Yep, Carter is a puke.

Besides, there is an existing organization which can celebrate Dawson's career: The Florida Marlins.

Ron Rollins said...

I have to disagree with making the ballot public. The secret ballot is one of the truly great inovations of all time.

If the ballot is made public, then the writers will end up voting for public opinion, and not what they think.

And rightly or wrongly, that is the task they have been given. To vote what they feel is correct.

If the ballots have to be made public, then it needs to be taken away from the writers. Because they are ineffectieve at times, but still mostly right