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The kinds of writers who reveal their Hall of Fame ballots

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Al Bello

On Wednesday, the Base Ball Writers Association of America released some Hall of Fame election ballots. The catch: The ballots were only the ones voluntarily released by voters. The voters had to take an additional step to make the ballots public.

So it's a worthwhile exercise, I'm guessing, to see if there were any obvious differences between the transparent voters and the furtive, sneaky voters*.

(*Kidding!. If there's one thing I hate, it's an extra step. If I had to fill out a form to have kids, I'd have seen Inside Llewyn Davis by now.)

There were a total of 136 ballots revealed on Friday. There were over 200 ballots publicly revealed through articles or interviews, but we'll focus on the voters who took the extra step.

The theory is these voters were different. They wanted everyone to know how they voted, and they wanted to do so in an official capacity. Maybe it's because they relish the debate, maybe it's because they value transparency, or maybe it's because they're eager for every last morsel of attention they can sweep up. It doesn't really matter why they were different, just that they are. Let's see if there's anything we can learn.

Number of published ballots Percentage of published ballots Actual voting percentage
Greg Maddux 135 99.3% 97.2%
Tom Glavine 129 94.9% 91.9%
Frank Thomas 128 94.1% 83.7%
Craig Biggio 105 77.2% 74.8%
Mike Piazza 100 73.5% 62.2%
Jeff Bagwell 88 64.7% 54.3%
Tim Raines 81 59.6% 46.1%
Jack Morris 73 53.7% 61.5%
Barry Bonds 57 41.9% 34.7%
Roger Clemens 55 40.4% 35.4%
Curt Schilling 54 39.7% 29.2%
Edgar Martinez 38 27.9% 25.2%
Mike Mussina 32 23.5% 20.3%
Alan Trammell 31 22.8% 20.8%
Lee Smith 30 22.1% 29.9%
Mark McGwire 28 20.6% 11.0%
Jeff Kent 23 16.9% 15.2%
Fred McGriff 15 11.0% 11.7%
Larry Walker 14 10.3% 10.2%
Sammy Sosa 7 5.1% 7.2%
Don Mattingly 6 4.4% 8.2%
Rafael Palmeiro 6 4.4% 4.4%
Hideo Nomo 1 .7% 1.1%

Okay. Some differences. I'm not sure how statistically significant those differences are, but like I've always said, who cares about statistics when there's a narrative to be found? Some of those differences:

1. The average ballot is, on average, better

According to whom? Well, to me. Every candidate I think is worthy (or at least close) ticks up. Every candidate I wouldn't vote for ticks down a bit. And Rafael Palmeiro, Fred McGriff, and Larry Walker, about whom I can't make up my mind? They're almost exactly the same.

This isn't a trend with exceptions. This is across the board. Mark McGwire jumps way up, and so does Frank Thomas. Jack Morris and Lee Smith take substantial hits. It means something, dang it. Apparently, I'd make better fishing buddies with more of the transparent voters.

2. The non-Thomas freaks are less likely to reveal their ballots

Probably because the judgmental among us would mentally add "(comma) freak who didn't vote for Frank Thomas" after their name every time we read it. I know I would. Yasushi Kikuchi will always be the person who left Buster Posey off his 2010 ROY ballot, but only when he's not the guy who gave a Hall of Fame vote to Julio Franco last year.

Actually, it's probably not because they're scared of the judgment. It's because of … well, I don't know what exactly. Maybe they don't cover baseball on a day-to-day basis, so they don't really want to deal with any of the post-vote nonsense? Maybe they filled out the butterfly ballot wrong? Maybe they swallowed their pencil after voting, and they're running around comically, like a pelican with a 2x4 stuck in its gullet, so they didn't get a chance to opt into the ballot-revealing process.

Best of luck, comically injured pelican writers. This slight change in voting is true for Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, too. But it's more true for Thomas than anyone else.

3. The people who vote for fringe candidates do not reveal their ballots

Hideo Nomo was the only fringe candidate who got a vote on a ballot that was revealed. And you know what? I can play devil's advocate for that one. I'll never forget what Candlestick looked like when Nomo first came through San Francisco, with flashbulbs popping before every pitch. He was a rock star.

More than that, he changed the perception of how teams looked at Japanese pitchers. There wasn't anyone between Masanori Murakami and Nomo, and I'm not sure if Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, or Yu Darvish have anything close to the same career path without him. So if you're looking at Nomo as kind of a trailblazer, he kind of fits. I wouldn't vote for him on a 20-player ballot, but I don't begrudge the logic. The voter who released the Nomo vote has been forthcoming in the past, too.

Five other people voted for Nomo, but they didn't officially reveal their ballot. Here's a list of other players who received votes from writers who didn't reveal his or her ballot:

YoB Votes
X-Hideo Nomo 1st 6
X-Moises Alou 1st 6
X-Luis Gonzalez 1st 5
X-Eric Gagne 1st 2
X-J.T. Snow 1st 2
X-Armando Benitez 1st 1
X-Kenny Rogers 1st 1
X-Jacque Jones 1st 1

That's 23 different ballots kept secret by people who didn't want to deal with it. Unless there were ballots with more than one of those people on it. I'd like to think there was at least one writer who filled in a Nomo/Alou/Gonzalez/Gagne/Snow/Benitez/Rogers/Jones ballot because he was bored. But if that were the case, you know they would have gone straight for the Todd Jones.

If there's an argument for transparency, then, it's that it would either force writers to explain why they voted for Armando Benitez, or it would discourage them from doing so. I'm very, very much interested in the former. I have absolutely no interest in the latter. I love the freak votes at the bottom of the ballot. They nourish me.

Frank Tanana didn't get a vote. Armando Benitez did. Jimmy Wynn didn't get a vote. Jacque Jones did. I don't know why that's important, but for some reason, I'm glad it exists. I wouldn't want to discourage the weird votes.

We're dealing with a little less than 24 percent of the submitted ballots, so sample-size gremlins might be the real answer. But from all appearances, it looks like the writers who reveal their ballots officially are just a little more likely to be normal, in which "normal" is defined as "agrees with the Internet hive mind."