Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Perils of Transparency

The Hall of Fame voting members of the Base Ball Writers Association of America have until December 31 to turn in their ballots containing up to, but not exceeding, ten names for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in July 2012. In last year's election, there were 539 voting members (voting members must have covered baseball for ten years prior to their first vote).

We're keeping a tally of the ballots that are published, and how they apply to our very own Jeff Bagwell. At present, Bagwell is appearing on just over 76% of the ballots that we've been able to dig up (thanks, Google) - which would be a 35% jump should that hold up. But I do not expect it to hold up.

One of the things that fans want from writers is transparency. Coaches polls in college football, congressional votes, we want to know why everyone thinks what they think - and it works out great, as long as they agree with our lines of thinking.

The week between Christmas and New Year used to be a slam-dunk, "This-is-how-I-voted" cherry pick column. But I'm seeing less of them this year, and I think that's because if a writer didn't vote for Bagwell, they're going to get called out on it.

Hardball Talk has been linking to various ballots over the course of the past couple of weeks, and is either praising Ken Davidoff's sanity, or questioning Barry Bloom's.

(To be fair, Barry Bloom's ballot is fairly ridiculous - voting for Steve Garvey, and not Bagwell). Hell, I've called a prominent Hartford journalist "lazy", because he wants to wait on voting for Bagwell.

There's simply no motivation for the baseball writers to be transparent, because if they have an opinion that runs contrary to what is accepted as "general knowledge," they're going to catch hell - from the comments section of their site, from Twitter, and from blogs. It was quite entertaining to see Barry Bloom's Twitter feed fill up with our friends' comments asking him the equivalent of whether he had lost a bet.

If I'm a writer, and I don't think that Player X belongs in the Hall of Fame, but I'm social- and alternative- media savvy, and I see that basically everybody else does think that Player X belongs in the Hall of Fame, there are three options:

1) Cave, vote them in, write about it.
2) Not vote for them, write about it, and get my credibility shredded in a variety of ways.
3) Do what I want, but not tell anyone how I voted.

The only way that a writer can exercise his vote and come out on the other side with their credibility (and personal sense of morality) intact is Option #3, which is obviously the least transparent, but also the most attractive option for the writer - just not for us.

Bagwell has become the lightning rod for the sane/insane Hall of Fame Voter. Vote for Bagwell, and you're a Good Writer. Don't vote for Bagwell, and you're Incapable of Complex Thought - at worst, you're Joe McCarthy. Most of the time, if the writer provides a reason for why they don't think Bagwell is a Hall of Famer (that doesn't include the "There's no proof, but I think he took steroids" argument), they may be off the hook from criticism and general hand-wringing. But look at the reaction to Barry Bloom's column, and that's not necessarily the case.

In the present chapter of the information era, if you write it, someone's going to find it. Back in June, I called Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Gil LeBreton a non-sensical idiot. He found it, commented, and I caved like a little bitch. It did not feel good. So no, I do not expect Jeff Bagwell to get elected, despite his receiving 76% of the ballots we've found, because there are hundreds of writers who don't think Jeff Bagwell is a Hall of Famer, and it's just not worth it for them to try to explain why.