You probably read about Deadspin buying a Hall of Fame ballot. Reactions have been all over the place, but I have a hard time getting worked up about it. After all, it's just one ballot. Sometimes a little creative destruction is a useful thing. As Will Leitch wrote a few weeks ago, it's not like the system has been working perfectly ...
Few things are more broken in the sports world. There's an artificial limit on the number of people you can vote for. There is no universal criteria. The percentage to get in, with such a massive and disparate voting bloc, is unreasonably high. Voting includes some vague, outdated morals clause that doesn't make any sense. Some people don't vote for anyone out of "protest." Others decide whom to vote for based on whims and mood swings. Most amazingly, tons of them don't even watch baseball. Last year, no one made it into the Hall of Fame at all, yet everyone's complaining that the ballot is too small. The voting has turned into a moralistic trial with evidence not much more compelling than: "If he floats, he's a witch." (We can't even decide what we're trying people for, or if we even are, or if it's even wrong.) It's a disaster.
If anything else in sports were as haplessly corrupt and dysfunctional as Baseball Hall of Fame voting, sportswriters would scream for reform. You'd see polemics and screeds for an immediate overthrow. They'd do everything they could to take the power away from those ruining what they consider an American institution. They'd find a public scapegoat for the corruption, Johnny Manziel-style, and use them to spur change. The problem here, of course, is self-evident: They're the ones in power. If anyone other than baseball writers were producing this system, baseball writers would call for their own heads. But no one ever fights for his or her own execution.
This is a distinction without a difference, perhaps, but the writers are not ultimately the ones in power; the writers are not producing this system. The system is produced by the Hall of Fame itself, and the writers are just one component. Yes, it's fair to point out the BBWAA's abject dereliction of duties: there's no good excuse for not electing Ron Santo, and there's no good excuse for giving Hall of Fame ballots to people who don't watch baseball.
The truth, though? The BBWAA could strip the ballots from every voter who's manifestly unqualified to vote and the results would be almost exactly the same. The Hall of Fame could expand the electorate to include people like Bob Costas and Vin Scully and John Thorn and the results would be almost exactly the same. A few undeserving players would still be elected, and a few deserving players would still be left out. I suspect the only way to significantly change the results would be to massively expand the electorate and to allow voters to vote for as many candidates as they liked.
I would not support a change so radical, for the simple reason that I don't know what would happen.
The Hall of Fame might argue, and I might agree with the Hall of Fame, that ultimately the whole system does work, and probably better than it's ever worked before. Bert Blyleven's in the Hall of Fame, and so is Ron Santo, while the most ridiculous results -- Freddie Lindstrom and George Kelly and the like -- are almost completely a thing of the past.
Alas, there are still two huge problems with the system as it now exists.
One, the process has lost credibility as the BBWAA's electorate has been detailed. Ten years ago, nobody knew who was actually voting. Now, thanks largely to Maury Brown, we know almost exactly who's voting. And some of the names are pretty shocking: people who haven't covered baseball in a long time, or who never really covered baseball at all. As I said, this doesn't necessarily change the results much. But it looks bad, and looks are half the battle in these things. The BBWAA could fix this, easily. The fact that they haven't does not speak well for the organization. But then, organizations generally aren't good at policing themselves. Who watches the watchers, etc. In this case, the Hall of Fame should already have stepped in and said, "Look, if you don't reform your process, we're going to reform it for you." The fact that they haven't does not speak well for that organization, either.
Two, steroids. If not for steroids, we would be complaining about one player: Tim Raines.
Which is funny, because he might not be one of the 10 best candidates on the ballot this year. Just scanning the list, he probably would make my ballot, in the ninth or tenth slot. But after my top eight or nine, there's a group of candidates that includes Raines, Craig Biggio, Alan Trammell, and Larry Walker, and I have a terribly hard time deciding on just two of them. Without even getting into McGwire and Palmeiro and Edgar Martinez.
There's just this huge logjam, and it's largely due to the unwillingness of the BBWAA to elect players with the stink of steroids about them. Well, maybe not largely. Even if they'd elected Bonds and Clemens and Bagwell and Palmeiro and Piazza and McGwire, there still would be a logjam. But a manageable logjam. Now it's just a big old bloody mess, with no obvious way out. The Hall of Fame could rewrite the voting rules, removing the "morals clause" completely, and most of the voters wouldn't change their minds.
Ultimately, if the Hall of Fame really wants to reform the process and arrive at what most of us believe are legitimate and reasonable results, radical changes must be made. And I don't believe that will happen until the mess gets even bigger and bloodier. So get yourself a bucket of popcorn and find a comfy seat.