A couple of days ago seemed to be Hall of Fame Day around the internets, as SI’s Jon Heyman released his ballot
This criteria, however, gave rise to serious objections by Bill and The Common Man, who contributed extensively to the comments section, and who suggested that Leume should face dire consequences for his desire to actively reshape the Hall of Fame’s body through his voting. Bill wrote, “
The Hall is what it is, and I think voters, while obviously totally free to apply their own valuations of players and such, have an obligation to do their best to more or less hold to the Hall's already entrenched standards. If you're going to say 'I know the Hall is this, but I think it should be limited to this instead, so I'm going to vote as though that's what it is,' in my opinion, you should have your vote taken away. You've been given a responsibility to the sport and the institution, and you're utterly failing to uphold it.”The Common Man echoed, and perhaps amplified, Bill’s sentiments,
“You seem to be announcing a decision to completely abdicate your responsibility to the public and to the Hall of Fame as a voter and is an attempt to substitute your own subjective and arbitrary definition of a 'Hall of Famer' for one that has been previously established by the Hall and your brethren. You have crossed over from an arbiter to a politician…. Voters had to think carefully about these players to parse between them and less worthy candidates and came to the conclusion that, indeed, they were worthy. To hear you say you're not willing to do the heavy lifting is infuriating and sad. If you're not going to do your job, then stand aside so someone else, who is willing, can.”All of which gives rise to an important question, what are the responsibilities of a Hall of Fame voter in 2010?
First, an important caveat. No one here is saying that a voter should have his or her vote stripped because they do or do not support a particular candidate. Nor does anyone on this site believe that voters need to use the same criteria (for instance WAR). We, at The Platoon Advantage, believe in no way that our opinions are sacrosanct. And we acknowledge voters are entrusted to make distinctions between the players by the Hall of Fame and the Baseball Writers’ Association of America because of their general knowledge about the game.
Responsibility #1: Respect the process.
Leume writes, “When someone says to you ‘is this guy a HOF player?’ if you even have to think about it and mull it over, he's not…. Albert Pujols IN if he quits tomorrow, no brainer. Jason Giambi, NO - It's really simple when you come down to it.” As Bill points out, however, writers are not asked to answer just the easy questions. If it were easy, every writer would have understood that Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, and Harmon Killebrew were Hall of Famers the moment they appeared on the ballot. Instead, each of them had to wait to be elected. And they had to wait because writers had to re-calibrate what it meant to be a Hall of Famer. They had to understand that Berra and Campanella’s low homer totals were actually incredibly impressive for catchers, who tend to have a shorter career. They needed to understand the incredible value of Killebrew’s power (even if they didn’t yet grasp the importance of his patience). And perhaps at first glance, in their kneejerk response, they missed that.
Responsibility #2: Know your history.
This goes not just for the history of the players involved but for the history of the Hall of Fame. Regardless of what Leume thinks, the Hall of Fame has never been exclusively for “once in a generation type ball players that were dominant at their position during the era they played in for an extended period of time[, the] players who changed the way the game was played and managed.”
The Hall of Fame hasn’t been what Leume and like-minded writers think it is, therefore, for the past 70 years. Yet Leume wants to pretend that this history does not exist. That the precedent has not been set. Instead, he wants to create his own Hall of Fame that bears no resemblance to the current one. But that’s not noble. That’s not returning the Hall of Fame to its roots. That’s saying, I know what the Hall of Fame is, but I don’t approve and I’m going to do something about it. It’s hubris.
Voters need to respect what the Hall of Fame body has become, and use their best judgment to make sure that they are honoring both the players and the institution in the manner that both deserve. They cannot choose to ignore the history of the Hall and its membership.
Responsibility 3: Be intellectually consistent.
Look, again, The Common Man doesn’t think that a writer who would vote for Jack Morris is a bad voter. Indeed, if a voter thinks that Jack Morris was a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher, he should have every right to cast that vote. But that voter then needs to be willing to vote for every player who is more worthy than Jack Morris. And there are HOF eligible pitchers who were much, much better than Black Jack. Such things have been demonstrably proven. Bert Blyleven, for instance, was far superior. He pitched more and longer, he won more games, his ERA was better relative to his league than Morris, he struck out more batters, he performed better in the postseason.
Likewise, a writer can think Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer. But if he really thinks that, he should be prepared to vote for Tim Raines, who was miles better than Rice was in every aspect of the game except hitting homeruns. And a writer can believe in his heart of hearts that Omar Vizquel is a Hall of Famer. But then he’d better be voting for Barry Larkin and Alan Trammell. The list goes on.
Unless a writer is taking the “fame” portion of “Hall of Fame” literally, they have no excuses for thinking that Morris, Rice, or Vizquel are better candidates. If a writer argues differently, they are either being intellectually inconsistent, intentionally obtuse, or woefully and willfully ignorant for reasons that we can’t really understand.
Responsibility #4: Check your work and have an open mind.
Don’t just rely on yourself to make these judgments. Talk to other voters. Talk to fans (who, other than the players, are the real reason the Hall of Fame exists in the first place). Talk to researchers and historians and writers who don’t have a vote. Talk to former players and executives. Seek out advice. And if it seems as though others might have a stronger argument, it's ok to acknowledge you might be wrong.
This institution is important to baseball fans and important to the game of baseball. And to be endowed with the honor of determining who gets to go into the Hall of Fame and who has to stay out is a sacred trust. You owe it to yourself, to the Hall, to your colleagues, to the candidates, and to the fans to give your best effort. Obviously, voters are busy men and women, who have huge time commitments. But if they cannot devote the necessary time and energy to doing their due diligence, voters should have the common decency to either not submit a ballot or have their rights taken from them and given to someone who does care enough to weigh the decision carefully.