Contrary to the people on both sides who have been screaming into everyone's ears over the last two fortnights -- the ballots for the Baseball Hall of Fame are due today, which is why the thunder has been particularly clapping of late -- the worst thing that can happen to the Hall of Fame has nothing to do with Jack Morris or Barry Bonds. If Morris makes it in, or if Bonds doesn't, the Hall of Fame will survive either way. There are lousy players in the Hall of Fame, there are great players who aren't, and, if you really think about it, there are almost certainly people currently in the Hall of Fame who have used one of the substances that many voters are using as an excuse to keep some current players on the ballot out of the Hall. I'm sure it'll survive that too.
What it can't survive -- and what has me most worried about the Hall's survival -- is turning the process of voting players into the Hall into cable news, or Congressional gridlock. I have my own viewpoints on who should be in the Hall of Fame and who shouldn't be, but I'm completely unqualified and, more to the point, don't want the vote anyway. Because apparently having a Hall of Fame vote turns you into a crazy person.
Not everyone, obviously: Our own Joe Posnanski is a sane sort, and I've been calmed a bit by reading Jay Jaffe's logical, everybody-gets-a-fair-hearing columns over at Sports Illustrated (though, while a BBWAA member, he does not yet have a vote). But it's clear that in a general sense, Hall of Fame voting has stopped being about the merits of the individual players and more about voters taking personal, almost political, stances, drawing lines in the sand, taking some sort of stand about the importance of their job without, you know, taking that importance all that seriously.
Oh, they tell you they're taking it seriously: Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk has had a lot of fun with the drama queen voters, as he put it: "Hey, everyone, I have a Hall of Fame ballot. Now watch me grapple with the history I necessarily make!" The issue is not that some voters feel the need to "punish" PED users (proven, suspected, those who can bench press something larger than a baby) as much as it is adding some sort of moral judgment clause when the vast majority of their readers would rather they not. I mean no offense to most baseball writers when I say that were I to choose a professional to serve as Moral Arbiters For Society, their chosen vocation would not necessarily be at the top of my list.
But that's sort of the point: Hall of Fame voting, and the subsequent discussion, is becoming something that's grueling to witness. It's becoming not fun anymore. Everybody loves a good sports debate -- and by "debate," I mean " a meaningful exchange of considered, reasoned ideas," and it's sort of sad that "First Take" has required me to remind people what "debate" means -- but what's happening with the Hall of Fame voters isn't a debate: It's people making intractable stands and then yelling about how the other side is not only wrong, but peppering them with personal invective. This is happening on both sides. Those who think sabermetrics should be the center (if not only) tenet in evaluating players believe the BBWAA voters who don't use advanced stats are unworthy of a vote, and the BBWAA voters who insist on the value of their own eyes claim their detractors are just haters who wish they got to vote. No matter which side you agree with -- or, you know, if you're a normal human being who sees values in both sides, a.k.a., "probably not a person who writes about sports for a living" -- you find yourself leaving all "discussions" wishing for a pox on both houses. People are screaming past each other, and not paying the least bit attention to the readers, the fans … the people they ostensibly write columns for.
It's becoming impossible to deal with. It's turning something as fun and meaningless -- and talk all you want about the sacred nature of the Hall of Fame, let us not forget that it's just a building in upstate New York with weird-looking bronzes of people who used to run around and swing pieces of wood for a living but now do awkward local commercials and put their name on car dealerships -- as deciding who's a legendary ballplayer and who isn't, and it's turning into an endless political debate between two parties who have no interest in taking the slightest step forward toward the other. I no longer believe any side in the debate anymore. They're either trying to advance an agenda (the BBWAA still matters! Old sportswriters are terrible!) or they're holding some time-worn grudge against someone who was mean to them in the clubhouse, or they're just blindly throwing in the top 10 guys in WAR to prove a point, or whatever. It's not fun to read about, it's not fun to write about it and it's not fun to talk about.
That's a serious problem. This is the Hall of Fame. This is the ultimate sports debate. This is how we've always classified guys, how we've organized the world of baseball for years. We've never thought of the Hall of Fame as "just a building" because it was supposed to mean so much more. It was supposed to be fun. But not now. The discussions about the Hall of Fame, and the actual ballots, are turning into the fiscal cliff debate, with people operating in bad faith, abusing their power, making decisions for reasons that have nothing to do with how good of a baseball player a certain guy was. It's like watching politicians. And sports should never, ever be like watching politicians.
I'm not sure how this gets turned around. But I've never enjoyed the Hall of Fame discussions less than I have this year. And it's just going to get worse. This is not helping anybody. If you take the fun out of the Hall of Fame, you just have a dusty old building. That's to say: You have nothing.
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All right, for the sake of at least trying to have fun: I think Larry Stone has it right, except I'd put Mark McGwire in over Larry Walker. Also, Happy New Year. Remember, this column is meant as a valve, a release, for when you're yelling at your television during games, or, after reading a particular column, you're pounding your fists into your computer. Obviously, I'll need your help to do that. Anything you want me to write about, let me know, through email or Twitter. I am at your beck and call.