You know what would be great? If a MLB team signed one of the top free agents this week. Or if a couple of clubs hooked up on a trade. If it was a blockbuster-type deal involving a big name and multiple players, that'd be even better.
Just give us something else to talk about for the rest of the week than the 2014 Hall of Fame election and its voting process. Because that discussion is so draining. Talking about the Hall of Fame — who got in, who didn't, which voters looks smart and thoughtful, who looks narrow-minded and stubborn — has its merits, especially when it's the only topic at hand to debate. Debate is supposed to be what makes sports so fun. Yet why does the Hall of Fame debate seem so joyless?
Thankfully, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas won election to Cooperstown, so we can at least celebrate those three outstanding careers. For all the agonizing over the Baseball Writers Association of America's (BBWAA) vote, criticism of individual ballots and the continuing conflict between traditional and modern views of baseball, the process rewarded three of the best players of their era. That's what the Hall of Fame is supposed to be, right? It's an affirmation of greatness.
Yet celebrating Maddux, Glavine and Thomas appeared to be an afterthought in the minutes and hours after the 2014 Hall of Fame class was announced.
Many focused on the fact that Maddux wasn't a unanimous vote; he wasn't named on 16 ballots. Maybe those voters chose to take a stand against the so-called steroid era — like MLB.com's Ken Gurnick, who only named Jack Morris on his ballot, apparently believing that PED use overtook the sport after Morris retired in 1994. Others may have been thinking strategically, opting not to vote for Maddux because his election looked to be a sure thing and using that vote for a player needing more support. Unfortunately, we won't know because voters don't have to reveal their ballots.
Sympathies quickly turned to Craig Biggio, who came achingly close to the 75 percent of votes required for election. With 571 ballots submitted in Hall of Fame voting, Biggio's 74.8 percentage meant that he finished two votes short. Two votes. Did two voters suspecting Biggio of PED use — with no tangible proof — cost him this year? We know at least one voter felt that way.
— Casey Stern (@CaseyStern) January 7, 2014
Marty Noble was the only one of 17 MLB.com writers with a Hall of Fame ballot who refused to vote for Biggio. As seen above, he went on SiriusXM's MLB Network Radio and justified his decision by saying that 60 percent of the people he consulted about Biggio say he used PEDs. We have no idea who Noble talked to. Team executives? Former teammates? Other players, maybe fellow writers circulating speculation and innuendo? Never mind that Biggio never failed a PED test, nor were there ever whispers about him using during his playing career.
Evidently, 20 people was a large enough sample size to sway Noble's vote. Sixty percent of those he spoke to (and Noble insists they approached him) — not even the 75 percent required for Hall of Fame induction — was persuasive enough to convict Biggio. Former New York Times writer Murray Chass said "more than half a dozen players, teammates and opponents" told him that Biggio used PEDs. That's fewer than Noble cited, yet apparently sufficient enough.
The consolation is that Biggio came so close this year that he'll almost surely get over 75 percent of the vote next year. Maybe he'll even draw some extra votes out of sympathy. That is, unless the PED accusers somehow grow louder and more convincing. Other players on the ballot associated with or suspected of PED use, such as Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, actually drew a lower percentage of votes this year than in the 2013 balloting. Mike Piazza, whose percentage increased, appears to be the exception.
May we continue to pick on Noble a bit more before moving on? Because Stern got some more great (or infuriating) stuff out of him on the radio. Later in the interview, Noble said that the actual induction ceremony enters into his thinking when filling out his ballot. While he didn't outright said so, the implication is that too many players elected means the ceremony will be too long. Therefore, three players is about the right number to elect, especially when combined with those whom the Veterans Committee selects as well. Six people means a lot of speeches, a lot of time and a lot of ceremony to sit through!
Just think about that. Reading into what Noble is saying, the number of inductees should be limited because, you know, people are going to want lunch at some point. Sorry, Craig Biggio you weren't elected this year because blood sugar's going to drop after a few speeches and we need a snacky-snack. Many will want to take a bathroom break. Hey, my bottom hurts from sitting on this folding chair for so long! And maybe it's just cruel to make everyone sit outside for so long under the July heat.
I've never attended the election ceremony, so perhaps I just don't know well enough. But would it really be so bad to just have an intermission? Hey, let's break for an hour, grab a bite, and come back to continue this great addition to baseball history! Apparently, that's not feasible.
Never mind that this doesn't seem to be a problem for other Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. The Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2013 included seven people. Same with the Basketball Hall of Fame. Were speeches drowned out by rumbling tummies, overshadowed by sore backs and butts? At least the basketball ceremony in Springfield, Mass. is indoors. But baseball has a standard to uphold, man.
But some voters are trying to blow up that standard and establish a new one. Presumably, that's what Dan Le Batard had in mind by handing his Hall of Fame vote over to Deadspin and its readership. As could be expected, Le Batard's peers and fellow voters in the BBWAA are outraged by what's viewed as a betrayal of his privilege. How dare he make a mockery of this process? Meanwhile, as could also be expected, many fans and those outside of mainstream media are applauding Le Batard for taking a stand and using his position to make a point.
Would Le Batard's decision look less self-promoting if he wasn't such a big media star, with national radio and television shows? Of course, it could also be argued that Le Batard is the right guy to take such a stand because he has so little to lose and enjoys a huge outlet to state his views. Personally, I think someone who once wrote that voting for Steve Nash over Shaquille O'Neal for NBA MVP (the column in question unfortunately is no longer available online, but it's cited in these three articles) could have been racially motivated shouldn't be calling others sanctimonious.
This may be a very old-school journalism view, but I do still believe that writers shouldn't make themselves the story (outside of writing a controversial opinion in a column). Le Batard most certainly did that, taking away some attention from the three players who were elected. Those who chose to criticize individual voters and ballots made that a story as well, but at least that was something else they opted to focus upon. (Obviously, I'm guilty of that here.) Le Batard may have intended to expose a flawed system. But he sure took a big chunk of the spotlight for himself in doing so.
Yet I also agree with virtually everything Le Batard said to Deadspin. The Hall of Fame voting process is flawed and needs remodeling. Just how qualified are members of the current BBWAA voting body over broadcasters, living Hall of Famers and other writers who incorporate analytics in their work? Is it right to take a moral view against PED users when we likely don't live pure, noble lives ourselves?
At least Le Batard held himself accountable, unlike those who included individual votes for Jacque Jones, Armando Benitez and Kenny Rogers on their ballots and are choosing to remain anonymous. As Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan said, if Hall of Fame voting was completely transparent and every ballot publicized, those votes aren't made.
Maybe all of this will eventually get fixed. Perhaps the voting body gets expanded and more inclusive. The ballot itself could be increased from a 10-player maximum to 15 available slots. Maybe voters who haven't covered baseball for years (let's say 10 years) should lose their ballots. In an ideal world, maybe the Hall of Fame itself would make it clear that only those players who failed drug tests or were otherwise proven to have used PEDs should have that held against them, rather than rumor and speculation.
Until then, however, the discussion and the debate over the Hall of Fame increasingly seems to be less about baseball. It's less about the players whose careers should be celebrated as being the best of the best. Instead, it's more about voters taking moral stands, creating arbitrary rules and starting points about the "steroid era," willfully ignoring more than a decade of the sport's history. It's about critics ridiculing particular ballots. It's more about the process.
The Hall of Fame vote has become the least enjoyable part of the baseball calendar. When does celebrating the finest players in baseball become fun again? Is that just asking too much? Or maybe it never really was that fun, but it's so much more obvious now.