Photo: Mike Groll/AP
The Baseball Writers' Association of America is mailing its 2014 Hall of Fame ballot to its more than 600 voting members this week, but one of those ballots is going to be filled out not by the BBWAA member who receives it, but by the readers of Deadspin. Two weeks ago, the popular sports website made a public offer to buy the ballot of a voting member, and on Tuesday, in conjunction with the official release of the ballot, the site's Tim Marchman (a former SI.com contributor) announced that it had found a seller.
The identity of the BBWAA member who sold his or her ballot to Deadspin is being withheld for now, but Marchman says that this voter, "will announce his/her name and motivations once his/her vote has been officially cast." The voter will still cast the ballot his or herself, but will do so according to the instructions of Deadspin, which will, in turn, determine how to vote by polling its readership. Neither Deadspin nor Marchman has given any indication as to how the vote will be cast. Indeed, the site seems open to any approach, be it an honest attempt to cast a merit-based ballot, or any of a variety of protest votes, such as a ballot containing only the names of players associated with performance enhancing-drugs, or one that writes in Pete Rose or the like.
Even if Deadspin actually gets its ballot counted (one imagines the BBWAA will void the ballot once the writer steps forward), it will likely have no effect on the results of this year's election. One vote out of 600 represents 0.17 percent of the total vote in which 75 percent is required for induction. In the entire history of the BBWAA ballot dating back to 1936, no player has ever had his Hall of Fame fate decided by a single vote.
Rather, this is clearly an act of protest in the wake of last year's election, which resulted in no player being elected by the BBWAA despite a packed ballot containing, in this non-voter's opinion, at least seven deserving candidates. At best, it will serve to draw attention to some of the issues with the electorate. In order to be eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame, one must have been a BBWAA member for a minimum of 10 years. However, one need not be an active baseball writer. Honorary memberships abound, and while some of those honorary voters are deserving retired baseball writers, some have gone on to write about other sports or other topics entirely, yet retain a Hall of Fame vote, while a great many active and deeply invested baseball writers, not to mention broadcasters, with less tenure are left out of the process entirely.
Put simply, Vin Scully, Bill James, and John Thorn do not have Hall of Fame votes, but all three writers at GolfersWest.com do. My batterymate, Jay Jaffe, whose JAWS system has become the first word on Hall worthiness among progressive analysts, is a BBWAA member and has been writing about baseball online in one place or another for more than a dozen years. Yet he does not have a Hall of Fame vote while the writer willing to sell his or her vote to Deadspin does.
One would expect that writer's vote to be revoked by the BBWAA once he or she admits to having sold it to Deadspin. Anything short of that would be tacit approval of vote-selling on the part of the BBWAA, which would turn a problematic process into one that could only been seen as fully corrupt. One assumes the writer selling his or her ballot fully expects that to be the result, and that selling their ballot is their way of saying "I shouldn't have this."
The BBWAA has made positive strides in recent years, extending memberships to online writers such as Jaffe and many of his former Baseball Prospectus colleagues, but there is still a lot of work to be done for the voting bodies for both the Hall of Fame and the annual player awards to include the best, most dedicated and most insightful analysts and observers. This is not a new observation, nor would it be to point out the glacial pace of change in such matters across the sport as a whole. Similarly, Deadspin's inflammatory rhetoric concerning "the Hall of Fame ritual . . . dominated by neo-Puritan scolds, milquetoast handwringers, and straight-out dimwits," is also par for the course.
Deadspin's purchase of a Hall of Fame ballot, however, is a very new way to call attention to those issues, and if it appears on the surface to be an attempt to expose the vote as a farce, the ultimate goal is a Hall of Fame electoral process that is above such mockery.