When we started in on our project of making a farce and mockery of baseball's annual Hall of Fame election by buying a vote from a veteran baseball writer and then turning it over to the public, we had two principal aims. One was to draw attention to the way an increasingly ridiculous election process has diminished the Hall of Fame's ability to honor great ballplayers; the other was to turn a small but symbolically resonant amount of power over to the public.
As we figured they would, the veteran baseball writers whose process we were criticizing generally played to type in their responses to our stunt. Rather than addressing the substance of the critique, they chastised us for seeking attention—as if there's something wrong with wanting to bring attention to a point you'd like to make—and complained about the whole thing not being right, because QED. It was classic smarm, with a lot of ad hominem grouching about how we're not a respectable shop for reasons no one really bothered to spell out and very little explanation of what either we or Dan Le Batard, the voter who gave us his ballot, had actually done wrong.
To make this plain for anyone just catching up, Le Batard refused to accept anything at all in exchange for his vote. (Originally, we arranged to buy a vote in exchange for a contribution to charity, but that fell through; Le Batard was our backstop.) He didn't, so far as we can tell, violate any rule relating to how the Baseball Writers' Association of America elects ballplayers to the Hall of Fame. He also didn't, in giving his vote over to the public, do anything many other writers hadn't done before. All he did was crowdsource his vote and then write us an email about the problems he has with the Hall of Fame election process—the sanctimony of a significant bloc of voters, the foolishness of not allowing voters to vote for as many players as they'd like, and the issues inherent in restricting voting to veteran writers.
For this, Le Batard has been permanently stripped of his Hall of Fame vote and suspended from the BBWAA for a year. If we and Le Batard had paid the BBWAA and veteran baseball writers to enact a script we'd written, they couldn't possibly have done a better job of making our point for us.
Our central critique here—the first one we made in the first article we ran on this subject—is that the problem with the Hall of Fame elections has to do with the way they put the emphasis on voters and voting, rather than ballplayers and baseball. Some of this has to do with a badly designed election system; some of it has to do with the hardened pieties of a fairly small but powerful minority of veteran baseball writers, and some of it has to do with the kind of profoundly stupid tribalism that leads to older sportswriters who publish online thinking they're journalistically or morally superior to younger sportswriters who publish online, because QED. Whatever the case, the point holds, and the BBWAA's actions today bear it out.
This body, as we've pointed out here before, doesn't have any issue with voters filling out their ballots just to antagonize competitors, or not knowing anything about baseball, or any number of other things. It certainly doesn't have any issue with its members, who have rather illegitimately been given the power to confer what is, regrettably, baseball's highest honor, deciding as a collective to punish an entire generation of players for no good reason. The one thing it apparently does have an issue with—Le Batard's punishment is, as far as we know, unprecedented—is a voter being perceived as tampering with its sacred process. As BBWAA secretary/treasurer Jack O'Connell put it in an email to me, explaining exactly why the BBWAA board of directors had stripped Le Batard of his vote:
The rules of the Hall of Fame clearly state that the only voters are 10-year members of the BBWAA. Mr. LeBatard transferred his ballot to an entity that has not earned that status.
In that same email, O'Connell named the members of the BBWAA board, among them the group's vice president, Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle. Funny thing, that: Earlier today, a member of the Houston baseball press dropped us a line. Among other things, he told us this:
As for the voter who seeks local input, that's BBWAA vice-president Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle. He gathers about 6-8 people over a lunch or dinner, they talk about the players, then he votes by how the majority tells him to vote re: each player. I was part of the panel one year.
I guess turning over a vote to an entity consisting of your cronies is fine, and turning one over to an entity consisting of baseball fans isn't. QED.
Whatever, though. For our part, we'd like to acquire another vote next year. We think we have a decent line on one, and it wouldn't hurt to get another. The first, we'd hand over to the public. The second? Who knows. Maybe we'll give it to Dan Le Batard.
Art by Sam Woolley