January is fast approaching, and for a certain kind of baseball fan, it means only one thing: it’s tracker time.
For the uninitiated, this is the time of year when qualified members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America can choose to unveil their Hall of Fame vote ahead of the official announcement on January 25th. In a typical year, it’s the cause of heated debates, teething and a large dose of social media vitriol – especially as the votes are gradually being counted up by Ryan Thibodaux, baseball’s unofficial patron saint of ballot tracking. But this is not a typical year.
No, this is that years, the year in which the authors hold their last referendum on some of the greatest players of all time – players who also happen to be the most controversial. It’s the 10th and final chance for Barry Bonds and Rogers Clemens to be elected to Cooperstown, and to a lesser extent Curt Schilling, who last year asked to be removed from the ballot along with Sammy Sosa.
And while all of these players could technically be admitted in years by the alumni committee, that doesn’t make the announcement later in the month less important. The decisions made here are an indication of the direction Hallen will go in the coming years, especially when it comes to those suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. It also provides insight into the authors’ definition of Cooperstown itself – is it a museum for the best players of all time, or is it trying to be a museum for the best and most moral? Also, what is the line?
I’m not here to necessarily debate candidacy. Even though my vote is not for three more years, I have written before that, given the chance, Bonds and Clemens would definitely get my tick. Schilling’s case is more nuanced because of his character problems and, in particular, his desire not to be included, but his career is mostly Hall-worthy, despite the lack of Cy Youngs. Sammy Sosa is a no to me.
But that’s not the question at the moment – the ballot papers are already in, the decision has been made, and now it’s just a waiting list. The issue is transparency.
As of Thursday, Bond has 78.0% of the vote, according to Thibodaux’s tracker – above the 75% threshold – and Clemens has 76.8%; both are only obscured by David Ortiz (83.5%), also suspected of PED use. And what it tells the people who have been in the tracker game for a while is that there is a possibility that no one will be admitted this year, and a likelihood that Bonds and Clemens’ 10-year journey will be fruitless.
According to Thibodaux, the numbers fall when private votes are taken into account, and this has greatly affected Clemens and Bonds in recent years. If you only include the ballots that were unveiled before the Hall of Fame announcement last year, both players would have been very close to induction. However, the percentage of votes they received fell slightly when all public ballots were counted (an author can choose to reveal his vote before the announcement, but can also choose to have their ballot published 14 days after the announcement).
However, once you have included private votes, their number dropped sharply. Private voters, he said, actually asked players for about 40%. The result was that Bonds earned 61.8% of the total vote and Clemens had 61.6%. In fact, players have come all the way up to 81.3% after 150 public votes (Jeff Bagwell in 2016) and still haven’t gotten it right. Last year, 68 of the 401 ballot papers remained private.
And it’s a disagreement that should give fans a break. There are definitely reasons to keep your ballot private – no one wants a Twitter mob to go after them, and some writers may worry that their voting history may make readers think their coverage is skewed when it probably not – but for many, the decision is. makes less sense as the years tick.
For a profession that is supposed to be proud of transparency – not just our own, but the transparency we impose on others – it feels counterintuitive to hide your voice. If writers worry about not voting in bonds because they know it does not reflect the will of the broad fandom, they should be confident enough in that choice to defend it publicly.
This is not to say that all private voters act in bad faith. Or that not voting for Bonds or Clemens is necessarily the wrong decision. But as journalists, we pray every day that coaches and players are held accountable for the things they do that affect the sport. We even hold people accountable when we cast our vote. Shouldn’t we ask ourselves what we are asking others for?
If you like your “little hall” – something less au courant in our social media climate – go ahead and scream it from the rooftops. The vitriol you get by submitting a blank ballot will eventually die out (probably?).
For what it’s worth, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in 2016 agreed with this sentiment and voted overwhelmingly to publish all ballots. The Hall of Fame rejected this request, even though it was not clear on what basis, and it is something they should reconsider. But as writers, we still have something to say.
There is a small line of text at the bottom of each ballot paper, which reads: “Do you want BBWAA to publish your vote 14 days after the results are published?” That’s all it takes. Voters do not necessarily have to write a column defending their election or engage in a social media war. I would even bet that most fans would not create much fuss on social media as long after the vote has been revealed. All one has to do is tick yes.
It is the tick that everyone should have on their ballot.