Human nature and the Hall of Fame vote

Ed Price, a BBWAA member at AOL Fanhouse and Hall of Fame voter, recently wrote an article in which he declared he would no longer publicly announce the players for whom he was voting. He wrote:

“Unlike the annual BBWAA awards, Hall of Fame voting is by secret ballot. And while in the past I have published my vote, I no longer believe I should.

And that’s because I don’t believe it’s fair to publicly accuse someone of using PEDs without some evidence. If I reveal my ballot, and it doesn’t include an obvious choice, then I am, in effect, accusing that player because I have made it known I will not vote for a player if I believe there was a reasonable chance he used PEDs.”

The reaction to Price’s piece has been rather strong, with many, such as SI’s Joe Posnanski, taking offense to Price’s notion that “this isn’t a court of law” and that “innocent until proven guilty does not apply.” The effective outcome of this policy—that Price can withhold a Hall of Fame vote to an otherwise worthy candidate on any PED speculation no matter how weak without having to justify it—has also stirred some outrage.

The sense seems to be that, by not voting for these worthy candidates, Price and voters like him are punishing the players. Price doesn’t believe so—“I believe getting in the Hall of Fame is a reward. But not getting in isn’t punishment.”—but his detractors don’t see it that way. Hall of Fame ballots only allow for a “Yes” or “No” vote, after all. When the “Yes” vote isn’t cast on a deserving player, the voter is saying “No” instead. If that “No” vote comes out of merely suspicions, it can easily feel like a punishment.

The problem, as I see it, is that the Price detractors are missing something important about human nature here. It’s true that the Hall of Fame ballot is technically a boolean choice—either “yes” or “no”—but fans rarely, if ever, treat it as such. Distinctions are made all the time: first-ballot guys, second-ballot guys, guys who deserve to stay on for all fifteen years but who shouldn’t be elected, guys who you hope get a handful of votes even if they have no right to be elected, guys who shouldn’t be on the ballot at all…there are a lot of shades of gray that we fill in ourselves whenever we look at a player’s career in terms of the Hall of fame.

Single votes have a little gray to them as well. A writer may not feel a particular player is deserving enough of his vote that year, but might be deserving the next year. And while his lack of a “Yes” vote would effectively be “No,” he would actually be saying “Wait until next year.” The risk of dropping off the ballot would be there, of course, but that wouldn’t change his intention with the vote.

When I read what Price said, I get upset, too. It is not how I would vote, and I find it very hard to agree with his position. But if we allow for some shades of gray in his ballot, his position starts to make sense. He is now saying, “I have enough suspicions about this player that I don’t want to give him a ‘Yes’ just yet, but, until the suspicisons are proven or disproven, I can’t give him a ‘No’ either.” It may not be something that everyone can agree with, or that even makes sense logically, but it is certainly in line with human nature.

We’ll find out this afternoon at 2 p.m. just how widespread sentiments like these are, when the Hall of Fame results are announced. With Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven as the only expected inductees this year (as Chris Jaffe so wonderfully demonstrated), it doesn’t look good for Jeff Bagwell and other players suspected of PEDs, no matter how superficial the suspicion. We must hope, then, that the process works well enough to give all worthy candidates a fair shake throughout their time on the ballot.

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  1. Matt said...

    You know who is going to be shafted for another ten years? Edgar Martinez. shows that Edgar was more valuable than Dawson, Rice, and even Alomar. He’s good in traditional statistics too, but half of the BBWAA is going to vote him down because he was a designated hitter in Seattle. I really hope he can make it, but it’s a huge uphill battle to convince the NL writers that a DH deserves inclusion.

  2. Matt said...

    I’m getting more and more convinced that Jim Rice does not belong in the hall. John Olerud’s career WAR total is about halfway between Alomar and Rice. But I mean, he played in Boston, so there you go.

  3. Larry Granillo said...

    I’d say you’re preaching to the choir there, Matt. I’m not a fan of Rice’s induction, and I really want Edgar to get his due. Today’s vote wasn’t great news for Edgar, but I think it’s good enough to see him hang around for a long time, which is better than nothing.

  4. Jeremy said...

    It will be an absolute travesty if Jeff Bagwell, one of the best 1B of the post WWII era, is held out of the Hall of Fame because of these imbeciles. He has NEVER been linked to steroids or PEDs in any way. Not even speculation on the weakest of grounds. Could someone please inform me why people believe Bagwell used steroids other than he was a (kind of) muscular guy?

  5. Kent said...

    Jeremy, don’t you know that all the good players from the 1990s were cheaters?  Well, not Griffey Jr, he didn’t cheat, but all the other good ones cheated.  I don’t know why you’re so blind.  Next thing you’re going to complain to us here that Tim Raines or Buck O’Neil merit inclusion. 

    After all, baseball writers know more than baseball fans ‘cause they SAW players play and they KNOW that people from places like Houston can’t really play baseball.  For God’s sake man, The HOF is a virtuous place for men like Gaylord Perry and feared double play machines like Jim Rice.  Jeff Bagwell?  Come on now.  Thinking Bagwell merits inclusion is like arguing that hitters stats from the 1930s were inflated or that pitchers from the 1960s were affected positively by a silly thing like a high mound.

    (Bagwell can wait a few unjust years; overlooking Tim Raines is absolutely absurd!)

  6. bucdaddy said...

    The problem as I see it is: What business do working journalists have determining who goes in the Hall and who doesn’t, and who gets to be MVP and who wins the Cy Young, given the large financial considerations? The price of Blyleven’s autograph and speaking fees just shot up, and he has the BBWAA to thank for it. How do journalists justify that, ethically? How do they justify putting themselves in position to determine whose bonus clause kicks in and whose doesn’t? It would be like city hall beat reporters voting to decide who gets public contracts and who doesn’t. I am dismayed and ashamed for my profession that no one seems to question the ethics involved here and that working journalists continue to make themselves the story with their involvement in polls and awards voting. It’s a disgrace.

  7. Steve said...

    There are very good reasons certain players on the ballot today don’t get into the Hall of Fame. Bagwell has big arms. Haven’t you heard the argument? Who needs a drug test. Just measure the guy’s biceps. Isn’t that why they kept Ted Kluszewski out? Wait, steroids weren’t invented yet in the 50s. Raines isn’t in the Hall of Fame because he played in Montreal and they speak a funny language there. And if Raines got elected, we’d all be reminded about how major league baseball screwed the fans there. Alan Trammell? Barry Larkin? don’t you know that the major requirement to get into the hall as a shortstop is to be able to do backflips or have a love affair with the New York media? Besides, Trammel made his DP reputation with Whittaker and you can’t let BOTH of them in and it wouldn’t be fair if Trammel went in alone. In 2020, they’re going to open another hall of fame that includes Clemens, Bagwell, Palmiero, McGwire, Brown, Bonds, Piazza, Rose, E. Martinez, Juan Gone, ARod and other greats from the 90s. Because they ain’t getting into this one.

  8. Steve said...

    Oh .. and Santo’s not in because he played for the Cubs and they never win and they only let winners in the Hall of Fame.

    And people in New York want Steinbrenner in. Unbelievable.

  9. Michael Caragliano said...

    I hate to say it, but “punitive” was one of the first things I thought of when I saw the totals all across this year’s ballot. It really seemed that, for every Jayson Stark, Bill Madden or Tracy Ringolsby who offered a ratoinal look at the numbers in their context, there was another ballot to cancel it out either filled out in indifference or to send a message.

    Look at Alomar, at the top. He should’ve received that 90% last year. Never mind that he apologized to John Hirschbeck, who did accept the apology. Send a message by not making him a first-ballot Hall of Famer. That’ll teach him. At the bottom, Kevin Brown. Steroid whispers aside, he was, to put it mildly, “prickly” toward the fourth estate, and I think it reflected there. He wasn’t gonna get in, but he should’ve at least stayed on the ballot. In between are the known ‘roid cases (including Juan Gonzalez, who almost literally became “Juan Gone”). Bagwell gets tarred and feathered under “suspicious”, even though he never was linked to PED’s. Edgar gets penalized for being a DH; you’re even more of a leper on the ballot as a DH than as a reliever. Besides, we let Molitor sneak in because he reached 3,000 hits, and he played just enough in the field to get away with it, so one DH is enough. McGriff gets tagged with the double standard that, if the big sluggers were juicing, and this was the best he could do without juicing, then maybe he wasn’t that good in the first place, even though those numbers would’ve been respectable in the not-to-distant past. Not his fault he stayed consistent before and after the bar changed, but so what?

    We don’t live in a perfect world, which is what makes the Hall of Fame debates so compelling. But to start using the Hall of Fame ballot as a soapbox for morals isn’t right, either. The sad part is, just wait until 2013- THEN the fun starts. There’s an outside chance that, if Barry Larkin and Tim Raines don’t get enough consideration or Craig Biggio gets tagged with guilt by association for being Bagwell’s teammate, it could be a couple of years before a new inductee turns up.

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