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Why do writers vote on the Hall of Fame again?

Jan 7, 2013, 8:28 AM EDT

cooperstown

Usually people answer this by saying that they’re the best option we have.  Tim Marchman writes in the Wall Street Journal, however, that there is no particular reason to believe so:

The worst element, though, is that the writers debating all of this have the franchise even though there’s no real reason for them to have it: They have no special knowledge of the game relative to anyone else, and they’ve never done a good job.

The first point here, that writers know little more than anyone else, shouldn’t be especially controversial. The voters are (theoretically) good at writing about baseball, which has no obvious connection to assessing what players’ legacies mean within the broad context of 160 years of history. No one who wanted to know who the most important presidents of all time were would think to poll political reporters rather than historians or the public. Why do the same in baseball?

Fair enough point, though I’m still left with the idea that writers having the vote is the least worst option. Marchman’s suggestion — giving over the vote to the public — strikes me was worse than keeping it with the writers. Even among your friends who follow baseball quite a bit, aren’t you often amazed at how limited their grasp of baseball history is?

My brother was here over the holidays. He started watching baseball when I did and, though he’s more of a hockey fan these days, he still keeps generally apprised of what’s going on in the game. One day when he was here I had to explain to him why Nolan Ryan was not the greatest pitcher in the history of baseball. He wasn’t really buying my arguments. He was, however, buying the hype and legend-making that accompanied the latter part of Ryan’s career. I think that would be pretty common with a public vote for the Hall of Fame. The “fame” part would pretty much take over the process.

I do agree with Marchman that those who vote for the Hall of Fame aren’t automatically qualified simply because they happened to write about the game for a bit, but I think the solution to that is to simply do better at choosing the pool of writers who vote rather than take it away from them entirely.

  1. Chris Fiorentino - Jan 7, 2013 at 8:38 AM

    The only way to avoid all the arguments is to simply make Hall of Fame entry an objective process. Get a bunch of people in a room and figure out a criteria using as many #’s as you want and then plug them into a computer and when it comes out 1 or greater, the player is in. When it comes out less than 1, the player is not in.

    That will never happen, so I guess everybody just has to get used to the arguments. Because there really is no right or wrong side when the entire voting process is subjective.

    • sabatimus - Jan 7, 2013 at 6:27 PM

      So you want a BCS HOF?

  2. phisticuffs - Jan 7, 2013 at 8:44 AM

    Let the public vote? [insert your own joke here about how well our political process works with public participation]. Just look at how “well” fans do when they vote for all stars (in all sports). It’s awfully early in the year to hand out the award, but I think this has serious potential to be the worst idea of 2013.

    • alang3131982 - Jan 7, 2013 at 12:24 PM

      But it’s not like writers (hello poor MVP, HoF decisions), managers (Gold Gloves, anyone) and players do any better. All we know is that allowing a lot of people who arent exactly experts vote on somethign ends up with a bad result…

      I agree that some subset of writers should probably be the voting body, but right now it’s incredibly vast and ridiculous…

  3. stex52 - Jan 7, 2013 at 8:59 AM

    Here’s the reason for letting the fans vote. They are the customers. They should get a choice in such things.

    Here’s why not. Three words. “All Star Game.”

  4. biffmcgregor - Jan 7, 2013 at 9:27 AM

    The HOF is a private museum, right? Why wouldn’t they just, I don’t know, have a curator? Or multiple curators? Maybe I don’t know how museums work, but I’m pretty sure the National Gallery or MOMA wouldn’t poll art critics to pick what goes in their permanent collection.

    • historiophiliac - Jan 7, 2013 at 11:24 AM

      The problem with that is: the staff at the HOF is not large, so essentially, it would become more like a committee vote. There aren’t that many historians who do baseball history — or sports history — so, again, you’re talking a small number even outside that museum. Among all these people, there tends not to be a great deal of diversity, and, invariably, membership/voting would become political. And, it often happens that people who work that closely on a subject tend to get caught up in the details, so votes could get mired in minutiae. And, if you think historians are really better at being objective, I refer you to all the BS around the Jefferson-Hemings controversy. Historians can be tools and fanboys too.

  5. bankboy2012 - Jan 7, 2013 at 9:45 AM

    A start would be to take away the lifetime vote. Once you retire or move off a regular baseball beat you can keep your vote for 5 years max. That period still covers players you saw regularly so you’re at least informed on who you’re voting for. After that, sorry, no more ballots for you.

  6. Ben - Jan 7, 2013 at 9:47 AM

    It would be a lot more of a logistical hassle, probably more than it’s worth, but why not just make it a vote where the fans, journalists and current players each got an equal say in the matter?

  7. albertmn - Jan 7, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    Sorry, but fans should have no part of this vote, not even a portion. If you think baseball writers (or former baseball writers) are uninformed, fans would be far worse. You would also open it up to things like you have had in the NBA All Star when the billions of Chinese fans voted Yao Ming to start every All Star game and have Jeremy Lin nearly there this year. This would be too open to possible fraud or vote tampering, as it would be likely done online. It would also mean teams with more fans would have more All Star, whether deserving or not.

    I have to agree with biff above. Couldn’t/Shouldn’t the HOF just set a panel of people to decide this?

  8. raysfan1 - Jan 7, 2013 at 10:01 AM

    I can see a pool of voters having the franchise. However, the last thing Cooperstown wants is an induction ceremony with no living legends to induct, ie nobody anyone wants to pay to go see. That weekend is huge money for Cooperstown. I can see where they might do something like mandate some arbitrary number of inductees similar to the football HoF.

  9. shaggylocks - Jan 7, 2013 at 10:06 AM

    I’d actually be intrigued to see the results of a fan HOF vote. Individual fans may not make good selections, but they might, as a whole, get the end result right. The New Yorker‘s James Surowiecki wrote a book called The Wisdom of Crowds, which opened with a recounting of an oft-repeated experiment in which a large group of people is asked to guess the weight of a bull. Although there might, by chance, be a few people in the crowd who are skilled at guessing the weight of livestock, the majority are just average Joes who guess randomly. Yet the average of the numbers guessed is almost always eerily accurate, almost to the pound. You could point to the All Star Game as evidence that fan votes don’t always produce the best results, but the ASG voting system is designed in a way that rewards rabid fan bases, so I don’t think it’s necessarily the best example to use.

    • stex52 - Jan 7, 2013 at 11:01 AM

      I might be willing to get the fans to vote on the weight of each player chosen.

      But I’d prefer not to have them vote on their merits.

    • abaird2012 - Jan 7, 2013 at 11:07 AM

      1300 lbs. And Jack Morris.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 7, 2013 at 6:35 PM

      Here’s a run around fan vote vs BBWAA courtesy of the great Tom Tango. Method explained in the article:

      http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/article/bbwaa_v_book_blog_readers/

  10. The Dangerous Mabry - Jan 7, 2013 at 10:44 AM

    A group like SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) would make a lot more sense as a voting body. Unfortunately, the popularity of “sabermetrics” has caused most people to think that SABR is just a statistics-minded organization, when the whole purpose of the group was to act as baseball historians and researchers. These are people who are dedicated to the history and understanding of the game, and are exactly the sort of people you’d want to be deciding on each player’s place in history.

    As I said, though, I think the backlash against making that sort of change to the voting process would be enormous because it’s thought of as a group of statheads, regardless of the fact that statistical research is an interest of only a small part of the group’s membership.

    • moogro - Jan 9, 2013 at 12:48 PM

      This.

  11. abaird2012 - Jan 7, 2013 at 11:04 AM

    Craig, are we to assume that your brother doesn’t read your stuff? Also, n.b. — Nolan Ryan’s IN the HOF, IIRC so … that means that your brother is at least as well-inforned as the average BBWAA member. QED. Let’s give him a vote!

  12. paperlions - Jan 7, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    Just let me make the decision of who should be in the HOF and who shouldn’t. :-)

    • historiophiliac - Jan 7, 2013 at 12:44 PM

      Ok, but we get to heckle you and talk trash about you then.

      • paperlions - Jan 7, 2013 at 1:31 PM

        So….nothing would change, then?

      • historiophiliac - Jan 7, 2013 at 1:54 PM

        Well, we might actually mean it then…

  13. thereisaparty - Jan 7, 2013 at 1:30 PM

    Writers dictating membership is one way to ensure we discuss the HOF every year. The gatekeepers have multiple forums with large readerships that hear about each election. If the votes are taken away from the writers, will people still care (as fervently) about the HOF?

  14. hsven1887 - Jan 8, 2013 at 5:31 AM

    HOF is losing money, so they could do with some more source of revenue, right?

    Make a vote-in TV show: America’s Got Talent meets Survivor meets HOF. Lots of publicity, lots of revenue, lots of interest in Baseball created. Everybody wins.
    ;)

  15. packerbadger - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:10 AM

    I quit watching/following MLB in 1995 when they whined about making an AVERAGE of $1.4 million/yr. Now, you guys are putting cheaters in the HOF. Nice. Explain that to a 10 or 11 yr old and how its OK to cheat. You guys putting these self centered primadonnas in the HOF suck.

  16. omniusprime - Jan 9, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    Sports pundits don’t make any better decisions than sports fans do when it comes to voting for All Stars in any sport. Let’s face it, sports pundits are worthless fools who could never do a real job.

    Only corrupt scum like Baggarly would vote for Barry Bonds or any other performance enhancing drug abuser. Bonds, McGuire, Sosa, Clemens and the other PED abusers don’t belong in the Hall of Fame, once they’re in it will be the Hall of Shame and they will taint every other member who’s in and didn’t cheat.

    Do not reward cheaters by voting them into the Hall of Fame, only a corrupt jerk would do that. I just wish MLB had the integrity to ensure none of them ever made it on the ballot. I just hope that gambling addict and liar Pete Rose never makes it in, he just doesn’t deserve the honor.

    Just Say No to Cheaters!!!

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