Larry Rocca’s conflict of interest

Larry Rocca is currently the Director of Development and Alumni Affairs at Georgetown Prep in Washington D.C., which seems like a very rewarding job since he gets to give back to his alma mater. He used to cover the Mets for the Star-Ledger (and briefly the Yankees for Newsday) from 1997-2004. Before that he was a beat writer for the Angels and Dodgers at the Orange County Register, where he began in 1994.

So Rocca wrote about baseball for roughly a decade and hasn’t written about baseball since for roughly a decade. Now he has a job completely unrelated to anything to do with baseball, but he still gets a Hall of Fame vote.

And the thing is that I don’t even mind Rocca getting a vote. Well, I guess I mind in the sense that there are men and women writing about baseball every day, often for a living, who still can’t vote, and Rocca’s been gone for a decade. But these are the things you just have to deal with when it comes to the mechanics of the BBWAA’s eligibility criteria.

I don’t even mind the fact that Rocca had one of the craziest Hall of Fame ballots I’ve ever seen, going only with Alan Trammell, Tim Raines, Jack Morris … and Hideo Nomo. But you know what, I’ll take a logically inconsistent ballot that at least includes four players over a logically consistent one that lists only Morris.

What I do mind is the fact that after finishing his baseball writing career in 2004, Rocca went on to run Business Operations for the Chiba Lotte Marines of Japan’s NPB for about five years.

Has the BBWAA never heard of a conflict of interest? It’s a really easy concept: When you’re involved in a process anchored in objective input, you shouldn’t include people who may have loyalties that could cloud their nonpartisan judgement. But as I peruse the BBWAA’s Constitution, I cannot find a single mention of disqualifying a member from voting because he works for a professional baseball team, where personal loyalties to players/organizations/institutions may trump the voter’s ostensibly objective analysis.

Now, I know that many beat writers and the like sometimes vote for a player on a club they covered, or literally come out and say in print that they would vote for a friend “even if he wasn’t [sic] deserving” (one of the most overlooked acts of cronyism in BBWAA history), but there are some affiliations we really can’t control as long as baseball writers (and I guess prep school fundraisers) are the exclusive gatekeepers. But to think that you can start working for baseball teams and still have a vote is outrageous.

So back to Rocca. Less than a year ago, he conducted an interview (for a Georgetown Prep alum, which is sweet) about his voting process where he said:

“At least for now, I am not voting for anyone who played the bulk of his career in the “steroids era.” Nobody had more power to rid the game of PEDs than the best players, so even those who didn’t use – if there are any – are at least guilty of complicity. Integrity is part of the criteria. Those who did not move to rid the game of PEDs have to get an F for integrity.”

That’s weird, considering Nomo began his baseball career in 1995 and finished it in 2008, although his 2008 stint was just 4.1 innings and he hadn’t pitched before that since 2005, which qualifies him for “pretty much only played in the steroid era.”

So what gives? Well, today Rocca came out and attempted to explain himself. First, regarding the steroid era comment, he says he doesn’t think Nomo took steroids. Why? He has a “possibly naive” belief, in his own words. Ok, that’s … pretty shallow analysis.

But Rocca also says that Glavine and Maddux had huge standing in the game and union to change steroid culture, and didn’t, which is again odd because 1) it’s a very large moral burden to place on baseball players, 2) who knows what they could’ve actually accomplished or what they actually knew, and 3) Nomo also could have said something, maybe in a more impactful way considering he was coming from a different league/culture and would be more credible as a whistleblower.

Rocca has one more argument: Nomo “blazed the trail” for Japanese players to come to America, which I guess is an okay subjective reason, ignoring the fact that Nomo wasn’t even the first Japanese professional baseball player to play in MLB. Also, the flood of Japanese players coming in wasn’t so much Nomo’s doing as was the huge salaries being offered in the states.

I think it’s much more likely that Rocca has institutional loyalty to the NPB given his job there for a half of a decade. Think that’s conspiratorial? When asked today if he’d vote his former co-worker, Bobby Valentine, into the Hall of Fame, Rocca (somewhat realizing the question was a joke) said that as of now he wouldn’t, but that Valentine is the only manager to reach the finals in both the MLB and NPB (which I guess is cool?), and that it wouldn’t be crazy to think he’d vote for him in the future. My bet is that Rocca will, because at the Hall you can vote for your friends and even your bosses, and it’s no big deal.

Some writers have pegged a certain colleague in their field as pettily touting a “look at me” moment. Ironically, Dan Le Batard was saying “look at this” and actually directing it to all of us while turning in a wonderful ballot. The real guys saying “look at me” are directing it at the exact friends they’re voting for while turning in ballots that make the Hall look like a joke. That’s sad, and it’s wrong, and the Hall of Fame does not seem to care at all.

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  1. Masticating Monkey said...

    The more one digs, the more one realizes what a joke it all is.  Which is a shame, because the Hall of Fame is a big deal to a lot of people.

    But it’s really worthless hoping anything will change when someone as prominent within the BBWAA as Marty Noble is voting only for Maddux, Morrise, and Glavine, with this explanation:

    “The candidacies of Maddux and Glavine made this vote easy and enjoyable. No angst. They’re automatic; there was no need for research or investigation. Morris never has approached automatic status, but he clearly deserves the benefit of the doubt. I don’t want 28 people entering the Hall at once, so I limited my checks on the ballot to three. That ought to be enough to go along with the three managers. Angst returns next year.”

    Marty Noble is a senior member of the Baseball Writers Association of America and editor of SCOREBOOK, the annual journal of the BBWAA’s New York chapter.

  2. Paul Schnur said...

    Good article.  I went to Google to track down information on Mr. Rocca and you have it here all in one place.  Thanks.
    Mr. Rocca was on MLB Network Radio this evening.  He was interviewed on the show Round Trip.  These are a few of the things that MLB Network Radio has released that he said:

    —- Hideo Nomo gets his vote because he wasn’t in a position to take a stand on PED use

    —- “I covered for 11 years, I still follow very closely. Most of my best friends are baseball writers. I have the MLB package.” – Rocca

    —- “I think if you’ve done the ten years, you’ve demonstrated enough knowledge and seriousness and passion and commitment for it.” – Rocca

    I will let other make a judgement on Rocca’s character and integrity.

  3. Jim said...

    Ahh, now the kids fresh out of high school are ranting about something insignificant.  If I had had a vote, I too would have voted for Nomo (and nine others) because anyone who throws a no-hitter at Coors Field from the stretch position deserves one last moment of recognition.

    I see there were 5 others besides the subject of this rant (do you guys get paid for this?) that voted for Nomo, I guess that will be 5 more articles.  Oh Lord!

  4. Pat Andriola said...

    Jim, if you read my article it had little to do with the vote specifically for Nomo. I’m not doing five more articles, nor am I doing ones on the votes for Armando Benitez, Jacque Jones, etc. This article was about conflict of interest in voting, not a diatribe against a particular bad vote.

    Thanks for the ad hominems though; extremely mature.

  5. Ian R. said...

    Great piece. This speaks, in my view, to the central issue with the writers’ voting: Although they’ve denounced Le Batard for giving his vote to an entity that has not “earned” voting status, the BBWAA as an entity has done very little to “earn” that status in a first place. You’d think that an organization that calls Hall of Fame voting the “ultimate privilege” would pay more attention to how its members exercise that privilege – not, say, allow honorary members to continue to vote despite conflicts of interest.

  6. Pat Andriola said...

    I don’t want to judge Mr.Rocca’s character, but, to me, his employment with a professional baseball club should disallow him from voting.

  7. Patrick Newmaan said...

    Rocca has one more argument: Nomo “blazed the trail” for Japanese players to come to America, which I guess is an okay subjective reason, ignoring the fact that Nomo wasn’t even the first Japanese professional baseball player to play in MLB.
    Also, the flood of Japanese players coming in wasn’t so much Nomo’s doing as was the huge salaries being offered in the states.

    It was very much Nomo’s doing. Nomo was the one that started the trend. Murakami’s time in MLB was more of a blip. In Japan Nomo is widely credited as the guy that proved that Japanese stars could hack it in MLB, and he took considerable personal risk to do so.

    NPB pays pretty well, and anyway none of the MLB clubs would have ever paid the big bucks to Japanese players if some of them hadn’t established a track record of success.

    Nomo doesn’t warrant HoF consideration on baseball grounds, but his contributions as a pioneer are worthy of recognition. I personally wouldn’t have left off a worthy candidate to include him though.

  8. Paul G. said...

    Voting for Nomo is completely defensible.  I wouldn’t have done it, but the argument is sound.

    I think the voting process assumes that the writers are biased to some extent.  The link between the teams and the writers who cover them is substantial, and, if anything, was even more intertwined in the past.  Now working for an American major league baseball team is another level, which should require at least suspension of voting privileges until the arrangement ceases.  However, a team in Japan is not directly involved in the Hall of Fame in the United States, so I’m not really seeing a conflict.  To me that is on the same level as working for an independent team or the NFL or something like that.

    But, yes, the requirements to get a Hall of Fame vote are, to put it mildly, questionable.

  9. hopbitters said...

    Voting for Raines while omitting (most of) the steroid era on the “integrity” line is dubious at best. I guess integrity is in the eye of the beholder.

    (FWIW, I think Raines absolutely belongs in the HoF. I’m just not buying Rocca’s self-serving logic.)

  10. bucdaddy said...

    “Has the BBWAA never heard of a conflict of interest?”

    No. No, it hasn’t. If the members who are working journalists (especially for newspapers) had an ethical conscience, they wouldn’t be voting at all, period, because doing so (and voting for MVPs and Cy Youngs and Heisman Trophies), as Steve Rosenbloom and a few others (notably the ethics watchdogs at the NYT and WashPost) make a point to note, is so clearly a conflict of interest that I’d have to wonder what, in the voters’ minds, DOES constitute conflict of interest if this doesn’t.

    “It’s a really easy concept”

    Yes. Yes, it is. Unless, apparently, you are a working journalist and member of the BBWAA.

    “When you’re involved in a process anchored in objective input, you shouldn’t include people who may have loyalties that could cloud their nonpartisan judgement.”

    That, too. But I don’t really see why working for a team in Japan constitutes any more of a conflict than possibly voting (or not voting) for players you actually cover. And, in some cases, making them a boatload of money. The BBWAA votes for MVP. Andrew McCutchen won the NL MVP. Andrew McCutchen has an MVP bonus clauses in his contract. The BBWAA voters forced the Pittsburgh Pirates to fork over $125,000 to Andrew McCutchen. Where in the definition of “working journalist” does that fit?

    BTW, I know a working journalist with a Heisman Trophy vote. He doesn’t seem to have a problem with it, even though he voted for a player on a team he covered a couple years ago. I asked him if the Heisman is a secret ballot. He said it is, but after the voting totals are announced, you’re free to reveal your ballot. “But you don’t have to, right?” He said, “I see where you’re going with this,” he said. He still didn’t have a good answer for me, but I’m working on him.

    If the BBWAA members don’t think there’s a conflict of interest in voting for potentially lucrative major awards (and how much more can an HoFer get for his autograph that a non-HoFer?) for players they used to and do cover, if there’s nothing wrong and everything is pure and pristine and there’s no concern about retaliation from sources, no concern that the public’s perception will be you’re either sucking up to the home players or you’re a traitor, then why is the balloting done secretly?

    I would love to ask the BBWAA questions like this, but last time I visited the organization’s web site, there was no contact information. In fact, to even look at the site’s list of BBWAA members, who have to verify that you’re a member of the BBWAA.

    My, but they do like to put a moat around their little kingdom, don’t they?

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