It's the kind of idea that sounds fun in theory. You're having beers with some friends, you have airy, dumb conversations: "Hey, you know what we should do? We should buy a bar together! We should buy a Hall of Fame vote!" You're probably never going to go through with it, but it's fun to think of what you might do with it if you had the chance. God knows I have.
Deadspin, however, has gone a step beyond that, publicly offering to bribe a voter into turning their ballot over to their readers and, amazingly enough, succeeding. For all the criticism that Deadspin takes, the publication does some amazingly positive things that no one else seemingly has the resources or motivation to dig into. They are capable of doing tremendous investigative journalism, and are a strong voice in media criticism. They are also quick to point out the excellent work that other reporters do to ferret out stories of corruption or hypocrisy in sports. On balance, Deadspin is good for sports and for sports journalism.
By now, if you've been reading my work for any length of time, you know what I think of the Hall of Fame, the Hall of Fame election process, and the voters. If you don't, the answers are A) I care a lot, probably way too much, B) It's broken, and C) Compromised by a self-righteous, petty, ill-informed, and unrealistic minority of BBWAA members whose qualifications are suspect and who should have their voting status reassessed. So you might think I would read Deadspin's offer and cheer them on. "Stick it to the man!" imaginary me would cry out in your head.
That's what my friend Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports is saying:
"I think it's a hoot. Sure, it's corrupt, but it's no more corrupting to the process than it is to have people who have never covered baseball - or who haven't covered baseball since the 70s or whatever - voting on Hall of Fame candidates. It's no more unseemly than the appalling game of character assassination that Hall of Fame voters have engaged in in recent years when it comes to guys who they suspect of PED use, but either can't or wont' tell us why. Or can't make a coherent case for why it matters.
But most of all it's fun."
"What better way to mock a process and electorate that seeks to pass moral and ethical judgment on a bunch of baseball players than to show that at least part of said electorate is corruptible. What better way to show that a process which is taken way, way way too seriously by those who control it is, in reality, basically a joke. Viva chaos, you know."
Craig and I agree on a lot, damn near everything really, but not on this. Yes, the character assassination and rumor mongering we read every winter is completely unfair. I hate it. You hate it. The whole process is flawed and all of us want the BBWAA and the Hall of Fame to step up, do their jobs, and fix the problems with the voting. I want the electorate trimmed, the voters allowed to choose more than ten candidates, and PED use understood as a historical reality that can't be whitewashed by excluding a generation from the Hall.
Is this really likely to lead to a better system though? The BBWAA is still a fairly conservative organization, its members are understandably motivated to keep the influence they have carved out over the shape of the game and its historical narrative, and they have often dug in their heels against the creeping influence of new understandings of baseball (such as stats invented later than the save) and new kinds of baseball writers. The Hall of Fame has also proven obstinate in the face of calls to amend its rules. Attacking their process and their integrity is not going to win converts, it's going to paint Deadspin, and by extension the whole community calling for change, as mere spoilers and risks destroying the many inroads that community has made into the BBWAA. The Deadspin vote is going to redirect attention away from the larger problem to a single bad actor in a field of several hundred voters.
Let's also not confuse the "appalling game of character assassination" and votes given to the ignorant, two terrible byproducts of the current era of voting, with actually bribing a voter. Yes, all three are horrible, but only one is done with malice aforethought. Only one is actively seeking to corrupt the process. They are not morally or ethically equivalent. There's absolutely no question that what Deadspin has done is wrong, and that doing so compromises them as a source of credible journalism. They aren't just trying to expose corruption, they're trying to create it.
Finally, and most importantly, I don't think this is fun at all. I half-proudly, half-sheepishly admit to taking it, "way, way too seriously," but I think the Hall of Fame matters. It is the most widely recognized symbol of the game's history. Like it or not, the label "Hall of Famer" carries tremendous power and is a kind of shorthand for players that we should all remember. I don't want anyone to make a mockery of it, whether I agree with their reasons for doing so or not, because doing so will likewise tarnish the label we use to describe players like Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial, Walter Johnson, and Harmon Killebrew, and to identify players like Pee Wee Reese, Josh Gibson, and Monte Irvin, who are less known by modern fans but who also more than earned their place in history.
The single vote Deadspin bought is going to influence the course of the election. I highly doubt it will even make the difference between a player staying on and dropping off the ballot if the BBWAA and Hall of Fame even allow that vote to stand once the identity of the voter is made public. But no matter how little an effect Deadspin might have on the vote and the Hall, this stand isn't worth it. Deadspin is potentially hurting the kinds of voters it would champion, the Hall itself, and (most importantly) the members of the Hall of Fame. It's doing so at the cost of its own integrity, choosing to participate in a troubled process it is taking an active hand in making worse. I'll support chaos, but I can't in good conscience endorse corruption, especially of an institution I still love.