In a major victory for those of us who believe journalists should practice the transparency they seek from others, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America has voted to make all Hall of Fame ballots public starting next year.
As it stands now, voters can voluntarily publish their ballots. They go on the BBWAA website after the winners are announced, if the writer elects, or writers can put their vote in a column or tweet whenever they like.
According to data tracked by Ryan Thibodaux, a total of 440 writers voted for the Hall of Fame last year, and 306 made their votes public. That leaves 134—okay, I’ll say it—cowards who declined to let their fellow writers and baseball fans at large know who they felt was worthy of the Hall of Fame. (Most, but not all, explained their reasoning.)
The Hall of Fame voting process is fucked in a lot of ways. Last year, the Hall of Fame decided that only BBWAA members who had covered the sport within the last 10 years could still vote for the Hall of Fame. (Previously, after a writer was a BBWAA member for 10 years, they had a vote for life.) This contributed to a decline of more than 100 ballots being cast between 2015 to 2016, but left in place the arbitrary 10-year membership standard for a vote, which should be reduced, too. In all this was a step in the right direction, but a heap of problems remain.
One of the most glaring issues is that there are a lot of guys on the ballot, and with only 10 selections per year, a lot of writers find themselves using a bullshit calculus to “save” votes for guys who are near the end of their time on the ballot, or dedicating a vote to a guy who they know won’t get in this year but needs the support to keep building momentum. Because of this particular problem, Buster Olney is abstaining for the third year in a row.
Newsday’s Jim Baumbach also abstains from voting (this will be his fourth year) because he “doesn’t believe writers should make news.” Other outlets as a whole—notably, the New York Times, and the Washington Post—follow the same logic and don’t allow their writers to vote.
The issue of what to do about suspected and admitted PED users isn’t going away, either. The Hall is full of assholes, racists, and degenerates, but there is a great deal of hand-wringing over Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Jeff Bagwell, while Mark McGwire’s candidacy at the hands of the Hall’s veterans committee. The whole issue—no matter what side you’re on—is thorny, ultimately subjective, and ever-evolving. After the veterans committee voted in Bud Selig, who colluded against players and let steroid use run rampant for years when it seemed in the interests of baseball owners before unleashing autocratic power against players once it didn’t, former BBWAA president Susan Slusser said she could no longer hold out votes for PED users with Selig in the Hall:
(Another thing to watch this year, which is somewhat PED-adjacent, is how writers will apply the “character clause” to Curt Schilling’s recent behavior. Jon Heyman and Dan Shaughnessy have said they will not vote for Schilling like they have in years past.)
The Hall of Fame voting process is subjective and messy at its best; transparency from voters, then, isn’t just a nice thing, but a necessary corrective to the vagaries of the process. It’s fairly depressing that many of the journalists given the honor of receiving a ballot can’t see the professional hypocrisy in hiding their decisions from the public, but good on the rest of the Writers’ Association for making the choice for them going forward.
I can’t will Hall of Fame voters to follow the logic I’d use if I were given a ballot, nor can I stop asshole voters from, say, voting for only one guy and screwing over everyone else on the ballot in the meantime. But now, if a voter wants to pull a stunt like that, they won’t be given the comfort of anonymity. They will have to face their peers and the fans, and they will be expected to explain their thinking. Hell yes.