ESPN's Dan Le Batard acknowledged on Wednesday that he gave his Hall of Fame ballot to Deadspin and its readers. As a longtime abstainer, I wouldn't do the same thing. I don't think I should have one at all and don't see it as mine to hand off. But I have no problem with Dan's decision, and I agree with some of his logic, this part in particular:
I don't think I'm any more qualified to determine who is Hall of Fame-worthy than a fan who cares about and really knows baseball. In fact, many people analyzing baseball with advanced metrics outside of mainstream media are doing a better job than mainstream media, and have taught us some things in recent years when we were behind. In other words, just because we went to journalism school and covered a few games, just because accepted outlets gave us their platform and power, I don't think we should have the pulpit to ourselves in 2014 that way we did in 1936.
I haven't used my Hall vote in years, although largely for a reason completely the opposite of Le Batard's "just because we went to journalism school.'' Reporters aren't supposed to make the news. They can influence it. They can even lobby for a pet cause. I thought Dave Roberts' spikes from the 2004 ALCS belonged in the Hall of Fame, made the case and watched Roberts and Hall president Jeff Idelson work out the details. I didn't make the final call. Voters for the Hall do. That's primarily why I bowed out.
Le Batard went astray with this line of reasoning, though: I hate all the moralizing we do in sports in general, but I especially hate the hypocrisy in this: Many of the gatekeeper voters denying Barry Bonds Hall Of Fame entry would have they themselves taken a magical, healing, not-tested-for-in-their-workplace elixir if it made them better at their jobs, especially if lesser talents were getting the glory and money. Lord knows I'd take the elixir for our ESPN2 TV show if I could.
Preach, Dan, preach.
Say this for the people who believe that juicers don't belong in the Hall of Fame: They own up to their own judgmentalism. Extremists on the other side tend to heave a hack's verbal water balloons: "witch hunt,'' "hysteria,'' "moralists.'' It's high dudgeon taking on high dudgeon, histrionics in opposition to hysteria.
Le Batard got the equivalency wrong, too. For reporters, the comparable temptation would probably be to plagiarize or fictionalize or, most on point of all, steal documents, since that would involve breaking a law to enhance one's professional profile. But even if you accept the given hypothetical, that there had been a substance available to reporters that matched steroids in potency and known side effects, Le Batard has no idea whether those Hall voters would have used it.
He should have just given the vote away without attacking the people who kept theirs. Among that crew, the anti-PED voters aren't the most misguided. The people who believe that stats should carry the vote tend to make inferior arguments. The idea itself isn't a problem. It's the fact that there are people who believe it, argue it passionately and then fail to challenge the system that gives all the power to their subjectivity.
A voter who believes in numbers should argue for his or her obsolescence. Technology and advanced analytics are, and will become ever more so, superior ways of measuring Hall of Fame qualifications, especially if the technology can become advanced enough to assess the defense of an Ozzie Smith. In fact, it's probably close enough now to replace the eyes of humans who watch players in their home cities a lot more frequently and closely than they do anyone else.
If they can't abide that option, these voters should at least back off their sermonizing about the opposing side's moralizing. Instead of chastising their colleagues, they could campaign to edit this Cooperstown voting criteria: "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
As things stand, their pieties about sanctimony are just another way of judging character and sportsmanship. Some of them feel the evidence against Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens is insufficient. That's fine, but when they haul out the "innocent until proven guilty'' trope, they conflate criminal penalties with denial of professional acclaim. A voter who omitted Bonds or Clemens did not breach a fundamental American value. That person relied on the guidelines and arrived at a different conclusion from the stats absolutists. That's the nature of subjectivity, and it's the element that the anti-moralizing crusaders need to fight.
Handing the ballot over to Deadspin readers was an interesting experiment, but anyone who sees the All-Star starting lineups knows that a permanent fan vote would not work. This was a good one-off, and Le Batard legitimized it by identifying himself. To do it anonymously would have been cowardly. If you believe something needs to be fixed, you don't stay silent about such a dramatic gesture out of fear that you'll lose the ballot in the future. If that were to happen, it would be part of the story about the process. No one who calls himself a journalist should pass up the opportunity to reveal that kind of information.
As for my vote, I have received plenty of pleas from friends and brothers-in-law to pass it on. That won't happen. If I handed it off, I would choose among the living Hall of Famers. But even then, my judgment would be in play. On the whole, I'd rather be replaced by an algorithm.