Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Yeah, I'm a sportswriter ... and I'd vote for Bonds

Today is the one day out of the year that I feel like a hen in the fox house.

No, I do not have a vote in the Baseball Hall of Fame balloting. But, yes, I am a sportswriter and editor, and I don't enjoy seeing my profession bashed as often as it is on this day. I don't enjoy listening to critics accuse writers of being elitist and sanctimonious and passing judgment, while they also judge.

Last night on Twitter, someone who supposedly knows a lot insinuated that people who choose to write for newspapers for a living are stupid. And I thought, "How come there's never relentless insults of plumbers or accountants or hotel maids in my timeline? How come it's always sportswriters?" The fact is, the arguments that arise from the Hall of Fame vote are too divisive and too personal. It's so over-the-top. All of the critics' efforts, biases and prejudices are being invested into a museum in a southeast corner of New York state. That's all it is. It's baseball. It's a game. It's all borderline insane.

But this is the world that we live in and I don't see it changing. So I issue my brief protest every so often and then brace for another round of insults in 140 characters or less.

My basic problem is with the belief, or the stereotype, that all sportswriters are stuffy old men, trapped in tradition, clueless about new ways to evaluate baseball greatness. It's true, there are sportswriters that think that way. What that percentage is, I don't know. But it's not everyone. And as I wrote about in a fit of anger three years ago, I maintain that sportswriters aren't even the problem. Throw the responsibility of voting for Hall of Famers on any group or profession and saddle them with the Hall of Fame's guidelines for voting and you'd get the same thing.

The real problem is the Hall's guidelines. They need to be clarified, changed and probably relaxed a little. But the Hall won't do that because they've got a good thing going and -- guess what everybody -- the Hall needs to make money. The Hall of Fame was created, after all, as a tourist attraction to bring in money. The Hall is generating money as an exclusive institution so that's the way it's going to stay until they say so otherwise.

All the arguments and debates about who got in and who was left out are terrific publicity for the Hall. Exclusivity creates interest. People value exclusivity. A lot fewer fans would be talking about the place if 15 or 20 players were voted in every year.

But none of what I say will convince anyone who wants to rage at an institution.

All I can try to convince you is that this is what I would do as a sportswriter:

As a sportswriter, I believe that if you have the right to vote, then you should vote. Blank ballots are grounds for dismissal, and that should be in the rules. So I would vote. Also, as a sportswriter, if I had a vote, I would vote for several players to be inducted in 2013 to the Hall of Fame.

I believe writers can vote for up to 10 people. And given the amount of sheer amazing talent on the ballot this year, it's totally rational to select the maximum number. And I would try to vote for 10.

This is who I would select and, no, I'm not going to give you detailed, statistic-filled reasons why. I'm not Joe Posnanski. When I get 70,000 followers, then you will see in-depth analysis.

Barry Bonds: Yes, I cannot stand Barry Bonds. Yes, I think he took PEDs. Yes, I think his attitude, personality and self-centeredness both on and off the field was repulsive. Doesn't matter. He was an amazing talent that would have been amazing if he never took a single steroid.

I watched that MLB Network roundtable Hall debate thing last night. I noticed virtually all of them leaped to the conclusion (Posnanski was notably silent) that steroid use was so much more egregious than any form of cheating that has occurred throughout baseball history. I found this interesting as I didn't know any of them were scientists or doctors. I have no way of measuring how much PEDs altered the game, and I haven't heard anyone else figure it out either.

Roger Clemens: Flat-out the best pitcher of all-time. Surly as hell and a PED-user, no question. An absolute jerk. Still, Hall of Fame worthy.

Mike Piazza: If no one is voted in later today, this is the one that will make me the most annoyed (but I will not start scouring the BBWAA voting records and "out" individual writers on this blog or on Twitter). Piazza was the best-hitting catcher ever, and any PED use here is pure speculation. Give me a legitimate reason why you can't vote for him.

Craig Biggio: By any past or present standard that you want to use as a measurement, he's a Hall of Famer. And he was nice to me when I asked to interview him. ... Oops, I didn't really mean that. I don't want people to start stereotyping the sportswriter and think I show favoritism to people who are nice to me.

Tim Raines: I know people don't like stolen bases anymore. But at one time you could get into the Hall of Fame if you were a tremendous base stealer. Raines was a tremendous base stealer. He should be in the Hall.

Mark McGwire: Kind of the poster child -- until Bonds and Clemens came along -- for the "Don't Vote For Him, He Used" crowd. But if I'm not punishing Bonds or Clemens, then I can't punish McGwire. And you take away the PED thing and I think he still produces all the numbers to get in.

Jeff Bagwell: He is a fringe candidate in my view -- I just never got the impression that he was all that terrific when he played. But you look at the numbers and he's got to be one of the greatest first basemen ever. So he needs to be in -- and while we're at it, find a way to get Gil Hodges in, too.

Alan Trammell: If Trammell played in the 1960s, he'd be in the Hall of Fame already. This card needs to have two of its players in the Hall of Fame. And I'm not talking about Klutts or U.L.

Larry Walker: I know Andy at High Heat Stats has been angered about anyone who discredits Walker's Hall credentials based on the fact that he played in Coors Field. I tend to agree. Walker was a beast on the road, too. You can go look up the stats. He was also one of the only players on my fantasy team that I could rely on every year -- so that's something, right?

Toss-Up: Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmeiro, Jack Morris, Sammy Sosa, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling.

I don't really have a good Hall feeling for any of them, so maybe I'd put only nine players on the ballot (I could write-in "Hodges," or would that get me disqualified?). All of them seem on the edge of Hall-ness. I think you could sway me more with Palmeiro, Schilling and maybe Sosa. But I just can't see Morris or Edgar Martinez in the Hall.

It's scary to think who might be announced as a Hall of Famer this afternoon. If it's Craig Biggio and Jack Morris or just one or the other, I'd almost rather have no one instead. It'd be rather embarrassing to see all that talent skipped over. Biggio was tremendous. But he wasn't Bonds, Clemens or Piazza.

As for those who are screaming "THEY CHEATED!! WHAT ABOUT INTEGRITY?? WHAT ABOUT CHARACTER AND STEWARDS OF THE GAME!!!!!!" I don't know what to tell you. I feel you sometimes. I really do. But I think the "character clause" is a lot of hooey anyway. There are loads of people in the Hall who don't measure up character-wise. And we could talk for days about "how do you judge character" and levels of character and morality and civility and ... fuck, just tell me if he could hit the curve, will ya?

But this is where we're at. You're damned if you vote and you're damned if you don't. I just wish everyone could be a little nicer about it and not denigrate everyone as an idiot because they feel the opposite of someone.

In terms of voting for induction, we need to move on and start voting for some of these guys or there's going to be gridlock in the Hall for ages. Then again, maybe that's what it will take for the Hall to alter its guidelines. Once they see no tourists showing up in town year after year, they might finally act.

Because this is what it's all about really.

It's not about sportswriters. It's not about integrity. It's not about baseball. It's not about stats or standards or what we value and what we don't.

It's about one thing.


Isn't it always?


  1. Great post and I am aligned with you in several ways.

    1. The main problem is the Hall's guidelines. I ready a book a ways back called Cooperstown Confidential by Zev Chafets and he outlines the history of the Hall and it was pretty eye opening.

    2. I don't think sportwriters are stupid, I actually have learned so much over my lifetime from the sports reading I do that I have a strong appreciation and respect for sportswriters. I would suggest they shouldn't be the sole voice in who gets into the Hall (at least until the Veterans thing happens).

    3. I am almost aligned with your ballot. I wouldn't vote for Bagwell, I followed baseball closely during his career and he never was one of the top few players of the game for a stretch and that is a qualifier for me. I would also hold off on Walker. My two votes would go to Dale Murphy and Curt Schilling - in large part due to their string of dominance of being one of the top couple players at their position for a stretch in their career.

    4. I saw that MLB Network show and my most frustrated moment was when they passed off throwing a spit ball or intentionally scuffing the ball as gamesmanship, not cheating. It is cheating, maybe to a slightly lesser degree that juicing but it was cheating - very hypocritical.

    Great post as usual.

  2. You forgot Bernie Williams. I think it's a rule that if your the best player on 4 World Series winners you get a free pass to Cooperstown.

    Anyone that doesn't vote for Bonds should lose their ballot due to incompetence. In few years we won't call them PED's, we'll call them medicine, and all be taking them ourselves to play in 60+ rec basketball leagues. Good luck explaining to your grand kids why everyone was so upset players took medicine to combat the effects of injuries and aging.

    Wait and see, once the pharmaceutical lobby catches on that theres more money in viagra for knees and backs, the whole tone of the conversation will change.

  3. They need to get things figured out in the next two years before Pedro gets on the ballot. I'm going to be pissed if there is such a logjam of players on the ballot that he doesn't get the required 75% on his first try.

  4. Oh, and FYI you are not exactly an unknown sportswriter. This Christmas I was visiting some family in TN. Someone there was from northern New York. I mentioned that I traded cards with a guy in northern New York and mentioned your town name. She said, "really who is it?" When I told them your name she knew who you were (not personally) and even told me what paper you worked for.

    Small world.

    (I left your name, city, and newspaper out of this comment in case you didn't want it out there)

  5. Even though I've thought about it for nearly a month already, I honestly still don't know what to think about this year's HOF class.

    I grew up during the "steroid" era of the game, so I probably have a different perception than some of the older fans out there.

    For now, I wouldn't be happy if guys like Bonds or Clemens get in. As I get a bit older, though, I may lighten my stance on the so-called "steroid" guys.

    I'm sure they'll get in eventually, anyways.

    Piazza, Biggio, and Raines should definitely be in. Probably Trammell as well.

    The other guys you mentioned are basically toss-ups for me.

    Plus, I'll be interested to see if Woody Williams and/or Aaron Sele will get a vote this year.

  6. Sorry, can't agree with Bonds, Clemens, or McGwire. If they had not "juiced" their stats would be a lot worse. Eg. many HR's they hit on "juice" would have been long fly outs. Clemens arm would have been a lot weaker if not on "juice" and many of his K's would have been hits. Anyone on "juice", as all these guys were, don't deserve the Hall. These guys are just as evil as Lance Armstrong. The "juice" made all of them much better than they actually were. Now I definitely agree that Paul Molitor and Dale Murphy shoud be in the Hall.

  7. Very good and well-though-out perspective, N.O. Agree it all comes down to bucks, and bringing people through the turnstiles in Cooperstown is the ultimate goal. As a collector, I'm also aware of the players' increased exposure as a member of such an exclusive fraternity, and their ability to 'capitalize' on their election with increased autograph fees, spokesman opportunities, and memorabilia deals. As far as my own HOF thoughts, I feel there is a marked difference between first ballot inductees and all others. Barry Bonds was the best player I ever saw day in and day out; but because he was such a monumental horse's a$$ to media, fans, as well as his own teammates I wouldn't feel right about him being elected in his first year of eligibility (equating him with an exemplary HOFer like Cal Ripken). But year 2 of eligibility, no issue whatsoever. The PED controversy doesn't bother me like it used to; he was hitting vs juiced pitchers and being defended against by juiced fielders.

  8. @Thomas Anderson...I hate to break it to you, but Bonds would be floating around 800 home runs if he never took steroids.

    If the "juice", as you call it, were as good as you say it is, it would far outweigh the side effects and would not be illegal.

    There is more physical evidence that Biggio took PEDs than Bonds. PEDs provide more benefits toward longevity than they do strength...however, that may be bringing too much truth to the argument and not enough fantasy.

    The problem is that no one can prove that steroids made fly balls sail the wall, though the greater burden of proof lies in proving someone actually took steroids in the first place.

    I suppose you still think corking a bat is cheating?

  9. As an accountant/auditor, I can assure you there are most certainly a lot of insults thrown our way. Ever hear of Enron? Just depends on the circles you run with, I guess :)

    I saw that show on MLB network and tended to agree with Posnanski way above any of the others (Costas and the two former players were probably second). And I'm adamantly for Cabrera winning the MVP - so I'm not a huge SABR guy or anything.

    But I do hate how they gloss over other cheating. One of the "round table" literally used the term "gamesmanship". Practically romanticizing what Gaylord Perry did, but since Bonds and McGwire broke records that matter, they're cheating is different? So if you cheat but aren't REALLY REALLY GOOD at cheating, that's just "gamesmanship"?!?!?!