Let me start first by saying voting is a privilege. You’ve spent many successful years in your profession, and the responsibility you have each winter is paramount to the sport of baseball. Being given the opportunity to cast your vote for a former MLB player, to immortalize them, can’t be taken lightly, defiantly, or with bias. The Baseball Hall of fame is a sacred place for fans, players, professionals. World championships come and go each year, but a plaque and a name in the Hall endures.
So, as a fanatic of the game of baseball, I write this open letter to ask you a simple question: where is the line drawn?
The National Baseball Hall of Fame is one of the most exclusive in all of major sports. That not only amplifies the quality of the players inducted, but it also forces you– the voter– to shoulder a very critical burden. But even though the Hall may be justifiably exclusive, it oftentimes lacks a degree of common sense. How can a player absolutely essential to the telling of baseball history be left out? Do steroids draw a hard-line no? What of pitchers caught and punished for loading the ball?
Where do you draw the line? Where should you draw the line?
Transcendence at a position ought to be unimpeachable grounds for induction. No matter the position on the field or in the dugout or up in the press box. Why do you knock a designated hitter like Edgar Martinez for playing in 1,400 games where he did nothing but hit? On questions of preservation of the sport’s history, how can such an iconic player who demonstrated integrity, sportsmanship, an outstanding playing record and ability, be denied the highest honor in the sport? After all, Edgar Martinez is the only player or executive in baseball with an award named after him but no plaque in Cooperstown, NY. The only one. How could someone be any less iconic and symbolic of the competitive and fantastic nature of baseball?
The mission statement of the Hall of Fame reads:”The Hall of Fame’s mission is to preserve the sport’s history, honor excellence within the game and make a connection between the generations of people who enjoy baseball.” This statement should be the chief criteria when you go about picking 10 names each year. That’s including the connection between the generations. So how can the generations of the Steroid Era be completely ignored? There are arguments to be made about preserving the integrity of a sport, but how can you erase more than a decade from the history of the sport like it never happened?
Did Barry Bonds cheat? It’s hard to argue no. Has Alex Rodriguez cheated? It’s been proven in court. But those two players, among others, transcend the game. Many could argue they’d make the Hall of Fame had they not cheated too.
So where is the line drawn?
I think it would be an altogether different story if only a handful of players abused performance enhancing drugs for a short period of time. But it was a sport-wide epidemic, with most if not all MLB teams employing players who cheated, knowingly cheated, and continued to play the game. And for many it wasn’t explicitly illegal when they started.
“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.”
The above quote, pulled again from the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s voting guidelines, enumerates six criteria for induction: playing record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s). If they’re all weighed equally in your decision, what then becomes your ‘passing’ grade for your vote? Four of six? Five of six? A perfect score? If a nay on sportsmanship were a deal breaker, wouldn’t some have to consider the pompous, selfish, polarizing antics of many Hall of Famers too much to overcome? It is hard for me, as a fan, to understand why integrity and character oftentimes become the tip on the scale for induction or rejection. Even popularity and ‘momentum’ become very real factors come voting time. There are Hall of Famers who cheated in real life– put on trial for domestic violence, arrested for non-performance enhancing drug use– but were not punished for it in terms of the vote.
Where does that line, the voting line, get drawn?
I’m not going to soap-box and give you the ‘right’ answer to the Hall of Fame vote because I have no idea what that might be. Each passing year, though, names get added to the list and names fade away into irrelevancy or lore.
My request for you, as a writer, voter, and lover of the game, is to look a little longer at your ballot this season. Ten votes seem abundant but there are many great players, among them the likes of Tim Raines, whose numbers stack up against the best but the votes just don’t add up.
Should the voting policy change? Is it time for a limitless number of votes each season? It is a crying shame that a player fall short of immortalization because there were just ‘too many good players eligible.’ Imagine if the Steroid Era never happened– the players deserving of votes would simply be too many with the current voting rules.
In my opinion, there are too few in the Hall of Fame. Sometimes the Cooperstown Club is so slanted in reasoning that some of the best players to play the game fall off the ballot before their eligible election years have been spent.
You hold that responsibility in your hands. To decide whether or not the best DH of all-time is inducted. To decide whether the * next to Barry Bonds’ home run record equates rejection. To decide whether players who ‘may or may not’ have cheated get their day in Cooperstown.
From a lover of the game to another lover of the game: find a place to draw the line, stick to it, and choose wisely.