No player has ever been elected unanimously to the Hall of Fame and four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux, the most obvious of the many deserving candidates on this year's ballot, won't be the first. We now know that for sure thanks to MLB.com's commendable tradition of posting its writers' ballots the day before the results are announced. There are 17 MLB.com writers who have been members of the Baseball Writers Association of America for 10 or more years and thus are eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame. Sixteen of them voted for Maddux. Dodgers beat reporter Ken Gurnick did not.
Why not? Gurnick wrote that he won't vote for any player who "played during the period of PED use." Not one. So who was on his ballot? Just Jack Morris. That's the exact same ballot, and the same explanation, almost verbatim, that Gurnick submitted last year. Before you credit Gurnick for consistency, he had Lee Smith on his ballot in 2012 and dropped him last year without explanation, and in 2011 he did not vote for Morris.
Those irregularities merely reveal the internal hypocrisy of Gurnick's votes. His reasoning is far more problematic, and not simply because he has decided to eliminate an entire generation of ballplayers from his ballot. One need not even wade into those waters to point out that Gurnick's definition of "the period of PED use" is woefully lacking. Assuming one even could establish a starting point for such a period, it would have come comfortably within the playing days of Morris, Smith and Bert Blyleven, whom Gurnick also voted for in 2011.
For the sake of argument, let's assume the big bang of PED use in the major leagues was the 1988 Bash Brothers A's of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, both of whom have admitted using steroids. Well, Blyleven pitched until 1992, Morris played until 1994 and Smith pitched until 1997. Beyond that, former Braves relief pitcher Tom House, who debuted in the majors in 1971, a year after Blyleven and long before Morris and Smith, said he was just one of many players using steroids and human growth hormone in the early 1970s.
I'm not saying that I think Blyleven, Morris or Smith ever used performance-enhancing drugs. The point is that it's absurd to even suggest that there was no PED use in the major leagues during their careers, even if you consider amphetamines a separate issue.
Gurnick likely won't be the only voter not to vote for Maddux. Even when Tom Seaver received the highest vote percentage in Hall history in 1992 (98.84 percent), five voters left him off their ballots. Nor will Gurnick's stupidity alone keep Maddux or anyone else out of the Hall this year. As I noted in discussing Deadspin's purchase of a vote, no candidate in the history of the BBWAA voting has ever had his induction decided by a single vote. Despite all of that, it's outrageous for someone who makes his living covering baseball to display such a clear lack of understanding of the game's history.
That said, I don't think that Gurnick should have his vote taken away. As much great work as my Strike Zone colleague Jay Jaffe has done to establish an objective measure for Hall candidates, voting remains a subjective act. Even Jay's (unofficial) ballot ultimately came down to subjective reasoning (or dart-throwing, in Jay's words) due to the excess of qualified candidates. To take action against a writer for his opinions is both a slippery slope and akin to censorship, which is far more problematic than one ballot out of 600 being absurdly wrong-headed. That said, Gurnick's vote, which represents roughly 0.17 percent of the ballots expected to be submitted, could be even further minimized and marginalized by bringing more qualified voters into the process, including broadcasters and writers with sufficient seniority who, for whatever reason, lack either a BBWAA membership (*cough*) or enough seniority as a member of the BBWAA. Start with Vin Scully, John Thorn, Bill James and Bob Costas and work your way down to Jay, myself and our on-line colleagues. There will likely be a few more Ken Gurnick's brought into the process along the way, but it would be hard to argue with an electorate that is that inclusive. That is not the electorate we have right now, however, and that makes ballots such as Gurnick's all the more difficult to stomach.