When I was 10-years-old, my family was vacationing in the Catskill Mountains. While there, I plead with my Dad to take me to the Baseball Hall of Fame, which was relatively nearby. He finally relented and we made the trek to sleepy Cooperstown, New York.
When we got to the Hall, there were so much to see, so much to learn. I fell in love with baseball that day. Still, one thought never entering that kid’s mind on that beautiful summer day: “I wonder who decided that these players deserved plaques.”
Oh, how times have changed.
Many years later, baseball fans are now laser-focused on the annual election of new Hall of Famers and the people filling out the ballots – not the Hall itself. The drama surrounding the ballot grows with each passing year. Also on the rise, animosity directed towards the process and the actual electors.
There’s always been energetic, sometimes heated, debate on whether ballplayers merited inclusion in the sport’s very exclusive Hall of Fame. This type of banter used to be fun – at least I thought so.
Vitriol weaponized by social media, particularly Twitter, has supplanted healthy discourse. Instead of using stats and anecdotes to make a player’s case, people are more apt to hurl insults and profanities – many times anonymously.
It’s natural to want our favorite stars to achieve Cooperstown immortality. However, an increasing number of vocal fans equate Hall induction as validation of their team, their city, their fandom. That’s a peculiar correlation when you think about it.
Perhaps a personal connection to a particular player and his accomplishments explains the passion displayed by fans. Still, nothing justifies the acrimonious behavior we witness in the months leading up to the Hall announcement each January. Candidates for baseball’s highest honor earned that distinction through hard work and a decade or more of sustained superior performance – not by playing in front of a specific fan base.
Another factor fueling the Hall vote drama is the reality baseball writers are unintentionally becoming part of the story. That’s not good.
I’m not suggesting the group electing Hall of Famers, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), is responsible for the discord choking the fun out of debating Hall candidacies. Then again, writers publishing their ballot choices for public consumption well before the official announcement in January does add to the drama.
Think I’m exaggerating? Check out the theatrics on display in this short docudrama produced by MLB Network. Acclaimed scribe Tom Verducci serves as leading man with his ballot appearing in a supporting role. Academy Awards, he we come.
“The weight of history in your hands is heavy.”
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) January 26, 2021
“The weight of history in your hands is heavy.” Are you kidding me? It’s a ballot used to select players for inclusion in a museum – albeit an exclusive one. Imagine the effort it must have taken Verducci to vote in our most recent federal, state, and local elections. You know, the elections with actual consequence.
I’m not trying to single out Verducci, who has forgotten more about writing than I could ever hope to know. He’s the best of the best. But Verducci’s peers are increasingly injecting themselves into the story by publicizing their ballot selections prior to the official results announcement.
Casting an even bigger spotlight on the process is the meticulous vote tracking undertaken annually by Ryan Thibodaux and his staff. Fans, the media, and even candidates can now monitor the progress of vote tallies from the time writers begin announcing their choices in early December until the official announcement a month later. Therefore, we basically know who will or won’t gain entry into the Hall before selections are made public.
But is that a good thing?
I’m not sure anymore.
Perhaps Hall of Fame voting should be remain under a veil of secrecy until the official announcement. I realize that won’t be a popular sentiment with many of you. However, BBWAA members don’t divulge their choices for annual awards such as the Cy Young Award, Most Valuable Player, and Rookie of the Year. Wouldn’t it make sense to enact the same policy for baseball’s most prestigious honor?
Will not disclosing Hall of Fame ballots until after the official announcement put an end to the on-line antagonism? No, of course not. Doing so likely generates a different set of controversies. However, the duration of hostilities should be much shorter, as it is with other major sports’ Hall of Fames.
It’s probably a pie in the sky thought. But placing a renewed emphasis on the Hall’s mission, not the annual slugfest over the player vote, might reduce tensions.
At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I’d like to point out the official name of that wonderful place in upstate New York is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. It isn’t simply a place to hang plaques celebrating baseball’s greatest players. So why the emphasis on just one section?
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. Likewise the institution functions as three entities under one roof with a museum, the actual Hall of Fame and a research library. – Official HOF mission statement
The museum celebrates so many aspects of the sport and those who played it, including many who’ll never be a Hall of Famer. Exhibits highlight topics such as the trials and tribulations of Black ballplayers, growth of the sport in Latino and Asian countries, and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
There are two permanent exhibits dedicated to a pair of American icons – Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron – plus memorabilia from the game’s biggest moments throughout its century-plus history. You can learn about the many records held in high esteem by fans young and old. The Hall also pays homage to the people who have brought the games into our homes – writers and announcers. So yeah, it’s not just about very small number of players enshrined in the plaque gallery.
Although I wouldn’t recommend doing so, you could skip the wing with plaques altogether and still have a wonderful time at baseball’s Hall of Fame. To learn more about what the Hall offers to fans and students through its museum and education programs, visit its website.
Perhaps focusing on the history of the Hall and baseball itself won’t resonate with the masses. Fine, call me a curmudgeon. But the current situation regarding the selection of Hall of Famers feels untenable.
Just to be clear. When it comes to selecting players for the Hall of Fame, the BBWAA is the best choice for the job. Are the writers perfect? No. Who is? That said, they’ve done extremely well at selecting the right players.
Still, the too public nature of the Hall selection process and the drama that’s increasingly consuming it are unhealthy for the sport. It’s draining the fun out of something that should be celebratory.
And what is baseball without fun?
I don’t want to know.
My Oh My…
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