It might not seem like it, but we live in an age where the most obvious sports injustices are ultimately corrected, if sometimes imperfectly. The awful BCS system we've been complaining about for so long? Gone after this year. The yelps for expanded instant replay? Heard, and responded to! The unfairness of the 2-3-2 NBA Finals format? Done!
With all the constant noise and grousing these days, it's easier to get the ball rolling downhill. Six years ago, when LeBron James was asked about how he'd react to a gay teammate, he said: "We're like family and you take showers with each other. We're on the bus together and we talk about a lot of things and if you're not trustworthy, like admitting you're gay, you can't be trusted." If he says that today, it's a national scandal. Across the board, in matters of social issues, player safety, the rights of the college athlete and other important matters, things are getting better. We are more aware of, and louder about, problems in sports than ever before, and it's legitimately helping. Not everything is fixed, but it feels like the world is evolving in the right direction. Stupid things are called out as stupid, and people try to figure out how to correct them. It's encouraging. It's kinda nice.
And then there is Baseball Hall of Fame voting. Few things are more broken in the sports world. There's an artificial limit on the number of people you can vote for. There is no universal criteria. The percentage to get in, with such a massive and disparate voting bloc, is unreasonably high. Voting includes some vague, outdated morals clause that doesn't make any sense. Some people don't vote for anyone out of "protest." Others decide whom to vote for based on whims and mood swings. Most amazingly, tons of them don't even watch baseball. Last year, no one made it into the Hall of Fame at all, yet everyone's complaining that the ballot is too small. The voting has turned into a moralistic trial with evidence not much more compelling than: "If he floats, he's a witch." (We can't even decide what we're trying people for, or if we even are, or if it's even wrong.) It's a disaster.
If anything else in sports were as haplessly corrupt and dysfunctional as Baseball Hall of Fame voting, sportswriters would scream for reform. You'd see polemics and screeds for an immediate overthrow. They'd do everything they could to take the power away from those ruining what they consider an American institution. They'd find a public scapegoat for the corruption, Johnny Manziel-style, and use them to spur change. The problem here, of course, is self-evident: They're the ones in power. If anyone other than baseball writers were producing this system, baseball writers would call for their own heads. But no one ever fights for his or her own execution.
Sure, some have called for the vote to be taken away from writers all together, but they've made little headway. Baseball writers value these votes, not as votes, but as indicators of status. They feel they've earned them. What they do with them is their business, and their indulgence. It has become an embarrassment.
Which is why it was difficult not to cheer yesterday when Deadspin, in a brilliant gambit, offered to buy a Hall of Fame voters' ballot. Deputy editor Tim Marchman couldn't have been plainer about it:
Your motives aren't all that important to us. Perhaps you need money; perhaps there's a worthy cause you'd like to support; perhaps you have a vote despite not really having followed baseball and think our readers would make better, more informed choices than you would; perhaps you agree that the Hall of Fame season has become an embarrassment and would like to protest. Whatever the case, you need to reach out to us to get paid. We look forward to hearing from you.
So much of the voting process has been wrapped up in this notion of morals, this idea that some players did bad things -- or we think they did bad things -- and only the upstanding writers can be trusted to suss out what is right and just. It is worth noting that the Hall of Fame itself has encouraged this notion. Almost three years ago now, Hall president Jeff Idelson told Joe Posnanski that, "Baseball has historically been held to a very high standard, right or wrong … we are happy with the way the voting has gone, we're happy with the diligence of the voters who have participated, and the chips will fall as they fall." (He's still better than the guy he replaced, who canceled a celebration of Bull Durham because Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon "could put our troops in more danger.") The Hall of Fame likes that baseball writers are imposing weird, inconsistent morals on their building.
The Deadspin gambit turns all that on its head. You wanna talk morals, let's talk morals: Who's willing to sell their vote? So many of these supposedly sacred votes are wasted -- remember, one guy voted for Tino Martinez and B.J. Surhoff and not Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin and Tim Raines -- then why not sell one? You're obviously not doing much worthwhile with it. (Aaron Sele got a vote last year.) If many of these writers put so little actual thought into their voting, they might as well.
And that's the brilliance of Deadspin's pitch: All it takes is one. All it takes is one person of the hundreds of voters to accept some cash, for any reason. If one person does it, it makes it impossible for a group with a member willing to sell their vote -- to give it up for cash -- to make much of a moral issue out of anything. It shows the whole process for the self-involved, indulgent enterprise it is. It pops voters' fatuous bubble.
(Or at least it should.)
Marchman says they have received a legitimate offer already; all they have to do is nail down the right price. Maybe that'll be the start? As someone who still, dumbly, pointlessly, sorta cares about the Hall of Fame and wants it to mean something again -- whatever that "something" is -- maybe it'll be the tiny push that gets the ball rolling, that shames sports media to cover the thoroughly broken way Hall of Fame voting works the way they cover everything else that's thoroughly broken? We can hope? Something has to do it. This is as good a bet as any.
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