Having A Hall Of Fame Vote Turned Me Into A Monster

I clicked open the post and prepared to cast my vote for who makes it onto our Hall of Fame ballot. I figured, there are about 10 no-doubters, 20 no-chance-in-hellers, and a handful of tough calls. I could knock this out in a minute. I scrolled down to see who I'd be voting on, and I halted at the poll for, of all people, Todd freaking Jones. I was paralyzed.

I can't do this yet. This is important, and I'm not ready.

There are more than 600 voting members of the BBWAA. Figure each poll gets, say, between 150,000 and 200,000 votes. That means my individual vote is about one hundred millionth of what it'll take to put a player in the Hall. That's right around how many people vote in a presidential election. My vote is effectively meaningless.

And yet! I have a nonzero say in who will be enshrined in Cooperstown next summer. I am important! My opinion matters! I can't just write off an entire career with a thoughtless click. Not even that of an unexceptional relief pitcher who admitted, "The only thing the Hall of Fame will let me in for is to use the restroom."

I promise to pore over the statistics. To read other writers' reminiscences. To watch video, and talk it over with colleagues, and try to pin down these players' contexts in the game's history. I'll do my research on Jones and the rest of the bottom of the ballot. I also need to take a second look at some of the guys I assumed would be shoo-ins. Curt Schilling? An unlikeable blowhard who'd probably really, really love being in the HOF. I'd feel a little bit badly if I helped give him that opportunity. Tom Glavine? Does it cheapen the Hall to induct a guy who was rarely the best pitcher on his team? Frank Thomas? He was really rude to me at an autograph signing when I was a kid.

And here's about where I realize that I sound just like the BBWAA voters I routinely disparage as blowhards, the self-appointed "guardians of the game" whose sanctimony spurred this whole disruptive mission to buy a vote. I think I owe a number of them at least partial apologies.

I get it. I have a fraction of a fraction of the power, and I've gotten drunk with it. Hammered. If I were one of 600 voters, I'd be shitfaced with it.

I asked CSN Bay Area's Ray Ratto, who generally has a level head about his role in the sports ecosystem, if being a Hall-of-Fame voter has ever swelled his sense of self-importance. He writes,

"My ballot is an opinion, so I have the requisite amount of disrespect in my role in the process. I do maybe 10 hours of research on players I'm not sure about (I must have spent 500 times as much time on Jack Morris's candidacy as I have Barry Bonds's), so I flatter myself into thinking I am a pretty informed voter. But I know a lot of people could put in the kind of time I do, so I don't pretend I have better information or a mightier brain."

(Ratto also notes that he's already mailed his ballot, so no one can accuse him of being the BBWAA member "under the spell of the Svengali Craggs.")

I think there's a middle path here. One that values an informed electorate and respects the Hall of Fame's historical–if inconsistent–standards. While still managing to keep in mind that we're only deciding which men were good enough at a children's game to have their picture hung in a building in a town anyone's ever heard of only because of a self-serving tourism myth.

I think there's common ground to be found. BBWAA veteran or blogger, we're all baseball fans here. And more than any other sport's, baseball's Hall of Fame matters. Not inherently, but because we've all decided it matters. If we didn't legitimately care who got in to the Hall of Fame, we wouldn't be having these passioned debates every year, and Deadspin wouldn't be spending cash to prove a point.

I think it can be taken too far. There's a line between honoring the HOF and treating it like the unapproachable Holy of Holies instead of a living, evolving cultural signifier. You can argue that journalists shouldn't be the ones to vote, but that's the system we're stuck with for the time being. And BBWAA members are not high priests. They're regular people with biases and failings and that's okay, as long as they remember that they're just offering their opinions. Having a vote doesn't make their opinions more valid. It does give them an obligation to make sure their opinions are educated and honest, and not some protest like Murray Chass voting for Jack Morris and no one else, as he's promised to do again this year.

So I'm going to vote, and I won't feel 100 percent on some of my choices and omissions. And I'll recognize that it's only my own opinion, weighted equally with those of everyone else who votes, because open democracy is supposed to smooth out the individual flaws.

But I'll read up on Todd Jones first.

And I'll defer to Ray Ratto again:

"I liquor up before I vote, so the hangover serves as an effective deterrent to arrogance."