Why Bobby Grich will never be a Hall of Famer

Jim McIsaac

There were 16 members on the Hall of Fame's Amphetamines Expansion Era Committee, and we know that all 16 voted for Tony La Russa, Joe Torre, and Bobby Cox. We know the names of the 16 voters, and we know the 12 candidates on the ballot. The only other thing we know about the voting is that six or fewer voted for the nine other candidates on the ballot. That's the only other thing we know because that's the only thing the Hall of Fame announced, and none of the voters are talking, because they're sworn to secrecy. However, the San Francisco Chronicle's Bruce Jenkins was kind enough to write at some length about the process, and today I would like to share some of Jenkins' sharing with you ...

The results were announced Monday: the election of Tony La Russa, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox. I can't tell you how I or anyone else voted, or even the tone of the meeting. I can't reveal if someone pounded his fist on the table, argued vehemently against a candidate or made a spirited case in favor. We are sworn to absolute secrecy.

If it sounds a bit clandestine, consider this: Say it became known that I didn't vote for someone, and he fell one vote short. Suddenly, I'm a public figure. I cost him a place in Cooperstown, at least on this particular vote. I heard one of the committee members express this exact sentiment, insisting he wouldn't participate if his or anyone else's ballot became public.

This process bears no resemblance to the general Hall of Fame election, polling the massive whole of the baseball writers' electorate. Those votes are made public, and most of us are quite willing to explain our decisions in print.

Those votes are absolutely NOT made public, and the great majority of the voters do NOT explain their decisions in print. What's made public are the overall results; we do know exactly how many votes each candidate receives. But the individual ballots are not public. And while most of the voters might be "willing" to explain their decisions, very few of them actually do. Last year, 569 ballots were cast in the general Hall of Fame election; were 285 explanations printed, each with comments about all 37 candidates on the ballot?

When it comes to transparency, the rankings go like this:

1. annual award balloting
2. general Hall of Fame balloting
3. special committee Hall of Fame balloting

I commend the BBWAA for publishing full results, with individual ballots, in the annual award voting. Even those voters can't explain everything -- after all, there's an unlimited supply of theoretical candidates -- but that process is about as transparent as it could reasonably be.

But the Hall of Fame controls Hall of Fame voting, and the voting is largely a black box. I don't know why Jenkins is saying that one part of the process is transparent and one's not. Both are almost equally non-transparent.

The omission of Miller, who fought so successfully for players' rights and literally changed baseball's financial landscape, was widely criticized - as was the process that left him so noticeably short of the required number of votes.

"End the secrecy," wrote former Baseball Writers Association of America President Bill Shaikin in the Los Angeles Times. "Hold the committee publicly accountable. If one of the giants of baseball history does not merit admission to the Hall of Fame, have the courage to tell us why not."

The omission of Miller wasn't that widely criticized. Most baseball fans don't care. The omission was criticized by the Players Association, and by Joe Torre, and by a fair number of writers. What seemed odd was that Miller got eleven votes three years ago, and six or fewer this time. But as I wrote the other day, Miller's omission is not so terribly mysterious.

I totally understand the demand for transparency, but I can tell you this: Inside that room, it was vital that everyone was allowed to speak freely. The vote was taken after lengthy discussions of each candidate, and some intensely personal stories were told, for the purpose of illustrating someone's feelings beyond the shadow of doubt. And they were told only because we were bound to confidentiality.

Sorry, not following the logic here. How does someone speaking freely prevent me from explaining why I voted or didn't vote for someone? Let's say that someone inside that room said, "You know, I voted for Marvin Miller three years ago, but he and his family both have said that he didn't want to be elected to the Hall of Fame."

Would it really end civilization as we know it if Bruce Jenkins later said, "I didn't vote for Marvin Miller because he didn't want us to vote for him"? Hell, people have closed-door meetings all the time and say all sorts of things in confidence. Since when are you not allowed to discuss your own thoughts and decisions after one of those meetings? Jenkins seems to be suggesting that the committee members can't be trusted; that someone might come out later and say, "Well, I was going to vote for Steve Garvey but then Bruce Jenkins told me that Garvey stayed out late before the big game."

I found myself trying to imagine one of these passionate speakers brought before a news conference or television cameras to explain his ballot. He'd have to withdraw into a shell, opting for discretion, unable to express his true feelings and giving his critics only a clouded view of it all.

Hey, who said anything about a news conference or television cameras? There was a news conference to announce the elections of Cox, La Russa, and Torre. Many of the voters were at the news conference, but as spectators. It's not like the Hall of Fame would force anybody to explain their votes. And if the results are published and someone asks why you didn't vote for Steve Garvey, you can say whatever you like. You can withdraw into a shell, or express your true feelings, or something in between. The gag order is a supreme cop-out.

What I realized in Orlando, both in informal settings and the three-hour meeting, is that everyone in the room spoke the same language, far removed from the complex lingo of new-age stat devotees. At one point, someone asked if it was necessary to bring WAR, a trendy new stat, into any discussion. There was a bit of mumbling, mostly silence, and it never came up again.

... and there it is. It's not a Bruce Jenkins column without some good old Luddism.

No, this was a soundtrack from the game I first covered in the early '70s, with the now-defunct Santa Monica Outlook, and as a beat writer for the Chronicle (1977 through '89, when I was given a column). Within that realm, players, managers and writers treated wins, RBIs, batting average and ERA as invaluable measuring sticks - and never really felt compelled to adjust.

Congratulations, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. You have given a ballot for your highest honor to someone who believes that humanity perfected the search for knowledge in the 1980s. No adjustments necessary. Let the counting stats and batting average rule forever!

These categories are widely ridiculed by the modern-day faction known as "stat geeks," many of whom have decided that old-school thought is a bunch of nonsense and that they are the true geniuses of baseball evaluation.

Coming next on Clubhouse Confidential! Bruce Jenkins renders Brian Kenny, for the first time in his life, speechless!

I suppose Jenkins condescends because he feels that he's been condescended to. Maybe also because the older you get, the more difficult it becomes to learn new things, consider new paradigms. What's strange isn't that Jenkins remains stuck in the 1970s; what's strange is that he seems so damned proud about it.

Hey, I get it. There's a big part of me that's stuck in the 1980s. When Bruce Jenkins writes about baseball, I can't help thinking about this guy:

Just swap out a few words in there for baseball statistics, and you've got The Grumpy Old Sportswriter.

There's good news, though! None of the players on the ballot Jenkins considered actually belong in the Hall of Fame! So all of the willful ignorance and the condescension ... this time around, the only practical result was Jenkins writing another column that makes a bunch of people born after 1960 think he's a wooly mammoth who's just been discovered in the Siberian tundra. Might be a candidate for Worst Baseball Column of the Year, but let's not get our hopes up.

The problem is that Bobby Grich should have been on that ballot, but wasn't. The problem is that if Bobby Grich had been on that ballot, he almost certainly would have been dismissed out of hand by Jenkins and nearly everybody else on the committee. Because nearly everybody on that committee honestly believes that everything they need to know about baseball, they learned in kindergarten.

Once more, I have to mention that I don't really blame Bruce Jenkins or his colleagues for any of this. The Hall of Fame knows how the committee members feel about modern baseball analysis. The Hall of Fame chose to designate three newspaper writers and one statistician as "historians". If the Hall of Fame had wanted a balanced approach, they could have asked Bill James and John Thorn and John Dewan and Bob Costas to add some balance. The Hall of Fame scrupulously avoided balance.

The Hall of Fame has preserved a trove of baseball treasures, for which we're all grateful. Alas, they're also doing their level best to preserve an archaic, fundamentally flawed way of thinking about baseball. Because, by jiminy, they like it.

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