I’m glad that’s over. The BaseBall Writers’ Association of America has voted, and Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez are headed to the Hall of Fame, with Trevor Hoffman just missing out. Congratulations to the inductees.
Once again, the BBWAA did not vote to enshrine Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling and several other of the best players in baseball history, implicitly or explicitly omitting them because of the “character clause” that turns HOF voting into a nasty, mean-spirited affair instead of a celebration of the game. Nevermind that Raines spent $40,000 on cocaine in 1982 alone, because, hey, Jonah Keri liked him, and everyone likes Jonah.
That’s what the HOF discussion has come to: Hipster campaigns for hipster candidates, a Pitchfork ranking of players who should be ranked by Billboard, if you’ll pardon the analogy. Keri’s campaign reached its apotheosis when Raines thanked the writer yesterday in the press, which he’s sure to repeat at his induction ceremony. While it’s a nice story, it’s a silly precedent.
As Ray Ratto wrote yesterday, the vitriolic nature of HOF discussions is a feature, not a bug. Elect Bonds and Clemens, he writes, and the raison d’etre of the Hall discussions vanishes into thin air. In this way, Ratto correctly writes that Bonds and Clemens have more value to the Hall while outside of it. We love the spectacle now, but, he writes, “in a year or two or maybe three, Bonds and Clemens will wipe it all out by being included in the one club that we once knew would never tolerate their presence, and the Hall Of Fame’s Golden Age Of Shrieking Argument will end. In a weird and largely unpleasant way, it will be missed.”
Insofar as that’s true, we will largely miss the insane ballots of the pre-Bonds/Clemens era, an account in pretension so thick that Pitchfork itself has nothing on it. Imagine being a music writer and being tasked to list the best 10 albums of the last 25 years, and submitting a blank ballot in return because hey, the tunes just weren’t good enough. You’d be laughed out of whatever room you were in. (Even better, imagine doing the same thing and not realizing what it meant.)
It’s self-evidently crazy, but it leads to some amazing logistical contortions, many of which belong in a museum. The ballot citing only Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero? A work of art. Likewise the one with merely Bagwell and Vlad, or any ballot with Lee Smith at the expense of the game’s historic greats. Case in point: The ballot of ESPN punching bag Pedro Gomez, a hipster masterpiece:
Patrick Dubuque had a great column yesterday on how closers have cornered the market on the affections of the BBWAA’s “Actually,,,” crowd despite their measurable inferiority to players who can’t even stay on the ballot. In this way, Gomez’s Hoffman/Smith/Fred McGriff/Mike Mussina ballot is historically, mathematically inane, but don’t worry, he’s not mad online about it, he’s actually laughing:
It goes on like that.
Gomez, who makes for a deserving, willing, easy target, repeatedly explains that he voted “his conscience,” which, you do you, I guess. It’s real to him, dammit:
I care and take my vote as seriously as anything I do. I care about baseball, but I don't vote to satisfy anyone or a group. @BumpinFresh— Pedro Gomez (@pedrogomezESPN) January 16, 2017
Not to beat you over the head any further, but this is the problem. There’s one real gatekeeper to the HOF, and they take your ticket at a turnstile in Cooperstown. That’s a serious job. They have to make sure you don’t run roughshod over the museum without forking over your forty bucks or whatever. That’s actual work.
Spending your days defending your vote against Twitter trolls is a luxury, not a labor. It’s brand-building. The only thing you protect the Hall against is having anything close to a complete record of the game you exploit for a living. The real work isn’t treating the HOF so seriously that you can’t name five players worthy of inclusion; it is squaring the lifestyle you’ve created with the habits of the people around whom you’ve created it. Or, like, hitting and pitching a baseball. The little fish don’t often eat the big ones, and while they still do here, they can only eat so much before everyone knows they’re full of shit.