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Is the Hall of Fame in trouble? Nahhhhh.

Bob Levey

Monday,'s Ken Rosenthal presented his Hall of Fame ballot ... along with a column about the controversy. I'm not wild about his ballot, which includes Alan Trammell but also Lee Smith. Oddly, he doesn't have room for Craig Biggio, and doesn't even include Biggio on his list of Most Difficult Snubs (Non-Steroid Division). But it's pointless to argue about individual ballots, since everybody's got one. What's more interesting are the general discussions of the process ...

I already can hear it, the outcry if no player gets elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"The Hall is in trouble."

"The writers are fools."


Wrong, wrong and wrong again.

My ratings for those wrongs: 8, 9, and 9.

The Hall of Fame is in some trouble, but it's not yet clear how much trouble. The writers -- or rather, the select group of writers with Hall of Fame ballots -- are not fools, but they do often behave foolishly (cf. Ron Santo, Bert Blyleven, Jimmy Wynn). And no, you can't really argue that something must be done ... but you might reasonably argue that something should be done.

Yes, there is a chance — a good chance, perhaps — that no candidate received the required 75 percent of the vote from the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

The ballots were due on New Year’s Eve. The results will be announced Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET on MLB Network. But if the voters indeed pitched a shutout, it almost certainly will be a one-year aberration, not a reflection of any larger truths.

That depends on how you define aberration. But there are always larger truths.

I recognize that snark is the preferred mode of communication in a breathless social-media environment full of knee-jerk reactions and instant expertise. But all those preparing to get lathered up, take a deep breath and calm down.

Because, you know, real baseball writers never get lathered up or anything. Not at all.

As Rosenthal notes, the Hall of Fame (along with the Village of Cooperstown, generally) is going to take a financial hit if/when nobody's elected by the BBWAA ...

The Hall would not sugarcoat such an outcome and pretend it’s good for business. But Hall officials will tell you that they prefer a true election, whatever the outcome. They also will tell you that with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas coming onto the ballot next year, they’re confident that the podium will not be empty in 2014.

What, exactly, constitutes a "true" election? Does "true" mean doing it the same way it's always been done? Because the Hall's voting procedures have changed many, many times over the years. Does "true" mean the identity of every voter is public? Because that has never happened, at least not officially. Does "true" mean that every voter's ballot is public? That has never happened, either (although, to the BBWAA's credit, the organization now encourages voters to publish their ballots).

Heck, it’s not even a foregone conclusion that the podium will be empty this year, not when Jack Morris received 66.7 percent of the vote a year ago and Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza are first-time candidates with no known connections to performance-enhancing drugs.

Nobody knows for sure what will happen this year. Chris Jaffe had Craig Biggio just clearing the 75-percent bar, and that seems about right to me. But it could easily go the other way, because (as we've noted many times) there is a glut of candidates, and some voters simply won't find room on their ballots for Biggio, even though he's obviously an outstanding candidate, by the historical standards.

The voters are easy to criticize. Some baseball writers who are not voters take particular delight in crushing those of us who are (a writer gets to vote after serving 10 consecutive years in the BBWAA, and full-time writers from Internet sites are now eligible to become members.)

No problem — we’re all fair game. But the truth is, I’ve read and heard some remarkably intelligent discourses from my colleagues over the past several weeks — even ones who I strongly disagree with. The high level of debate has made me proud to be a member of the BBWAA.

My membership expired last week. Which is neither here nor there, but it just occurred to me.

One non-voter referred to those of us who struggled with our votes as "drama queens," which I found rather amusing. Would it be better if we approached our ballots frivolously, without thought? Sorry, most of us feel a strong sense of responsibility to the process. The public hand-wringing is largely an attempt by many writers to be transparent to their readers.


I don't believe that ANYONE is suggesting that voters take their responsibility less seriously. I think it's been suggested that too many voters don't take their responsibility seriously ENOUGH. Again: Ron Santo. Bert Blyleven.

Baseball is a talking sport, a sport that produces arguments like none other. The Hall arguments are especially passionate. You may agree with some, disagree with others. But the debate over the PED users, while occasionally maddening, is not a bad thing for the Hall, or for baseball. We’re talking, after all, about the game’s soul.

This is true. Well, I'm not sure about the soul thing. I don't really know what that means. But I completely agree that debates of all stripes are worthwhile or, at the very least, interesting. Not to mention good business for baseball writers, whether BBWAA members or not.

I fully expect the Twitter version of a banshee howl if no player is elected, but no change will need to be made to the voting procedures, particularly when we likely are looking at a one-time result. If the same thing happened in 2014 and ’15, that would be something different, an unacceptable outcome. At that point, the Hall would need to adjust.

Well, yes. Probably it would. But I don't understand ... Either the process is true or it's not, right? Anyway, I'm not at all that convinced that everything will return to business as usual next year. Yes, it's quite likely that Greg Maddux, along with perhaps Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas, will be elected in 2014. And in 2015, probably Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. In 2016, Ken Griffey and any of the aforementioned candidates who aren't already in. In 2017, maybe Ivan Rodriguez but maybe not (certainly not Manny Ramirez, though!). In 2018, Chipper. So maybe Rosenthal's right about the one-year aberration. We'll see.

I’m not saying the BBWAA voters are perfect — we have made mistakes, and we undoubtedly will make more. But for the most part, we’ve gotten it right over the years, and I’m confident we’ll eventually get to the right place on the PED users — whatever that place may be.

Absolutely true: for the most part, the BBWAA has gotten it right over the years. Yes, the BBWAA has missed on some great players: Santo, Alan Trammell, Bobby Grich. They took far too long to honor others. But when you look at the players currently in the Hall of Fame, the vast majority of the lesser players were elected by the various Veterans Committees. The standards for the Hall of Fame should be high, and the BBWAA has done more to uphold those standards than anyone. By a lot.

Here's why "baseball writers who are not voters" -- not to mention some baseball writers who are voters, plus most baseball fans born since 1970 -- are frustrated; not because voters are grappling with difficult issues, but because so many of these voters seem intellectually lazy in their grappling. Most specifically, I'm still waiting for one of them to explain, in detail, the difference between using illegal amphetamines to improve performance, and using illegal steroids to improve performance.

I mean, there are a lot of other inconsistencies in the arguments I've seen against Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and the others. That's just the one that continues to irk me. It's irksome when Hall of Fame voters don't bother trying to explain the double standard, and it's irksome when guys like Goose Gossage act like nobody took drugs in their era.

It's not that the voters don't care enough, or that they're fools. But a large percentage of them, perhaps even a majority of them, simply haven't taken the time or the trouble to answer the hardest questions with any real rigor.