Wednesday, Dan Le Batard revealed that he'd essentially given Deadspin his Hall of Fame ballot. He also explained why he did it. The ballot Le Batard submitted wouldn't have been my ballot, but it was perfectly reasonable. There weren't any tremendous candidates missing, or marginal candidates present. It was a solid ballot that would have looked perfectly at home next to most other ballots, maybe just a standard deviation or so away.
The Baseball Writers Association of America was not amused, and immediately a) suspended Le Batard for one year, and b) prohibited him from voting for the Hall of Fame, permanently. Here's Deadspin's short take on that:
Le Batard did not accept money for his vote, only opened it up to fans. We've read their constitution, and there's no law against crowd-sourcing a ballot. (And Le Batard is not the only one to do that.) There's also no law against filling out a ballot just to antagonize bloggers, or against leaving names off to avoid a long Cooperstown ceremony, or against voting for a guy just to write a column about it, or against voting even though you're now a golf writer and haven't covered baseball in decades, or against being irredeemably stupid.
The BBWAA obviously didn't have time to conduct an investigation or any legal analysis of their own by-laws, or poll all their members to find some consensus. This move would necessarily have been the actions of a few people at the top of the organization. But a number of BBWAA members did take to the Internet to castigate Le Batard, using words like "clown" and "scumbag" on their way to divining his ill motives. Mind you, many of these same writers have been very quick to argue that it's just not fair to criticize anyone for, say, sending in a blank ballot as an anonymous protest.
As Deadspin notes, Le Batard is hardly the first to ask for help with his ballot. That's not why he's been disciplined. He's been disciplined because he very pointedly criticized the process whereby the BBWAA passes judgment on Hall of Fame candidates. I happen to agree with most his points.
But we've already hashed all that out. I want to make just a couple of tangential points.
One, the people in the BBWAA are not monsters. Not the rank-and-file, not the people at the top. They're fine people who would, for the most part, be wonderful dinner guests. But like every institution, the BBWAA is primarily concerned not with what's right, but with protecting itself.
For many decades, the BBWAA has been fighting a losing battle. First it was against television, then against the Internet generally, and then against MLB.com specifically. The BBWAA has never actually lost any of these battles; if you attend the All-Star Game or the Winter Meetings, you'll see what I mean. But just in terms of their actual work, the BBWAA's power has dropped quite a lot over the last 20 years as newspaper circulation has plummeted.
But there's one place where the BBWAA's influence hasn't lessened at all: Hall of Fame voting. In fact, the BBWAA has more influence than ever, as some writers -- the Hall calls them "historians" -- are now included in the various Veterans Committees as well. Bruce Jenkins, for example, helped elect Greg Maddux and Joe Torre this year.
So the BBWAA is incredibly possessive, both as an institution and individually. There are Hall of Fame voters who believe they earned the right to vote for the Hall of Fame decades ago, and you'll have to pry that ballot from their dead, cold hands. I'm talking about people who, for whatever reasons, haven't covered baseball in decades. But once you give someone something, they usually don't want to give it back. Human nature.
Two, the people who run the BBWAA aren't stupid. But like all of us, they will occasionally do stupid things.
Summarily disciplining Le Batard was stupid. I'm not saying it was wrong; I don't have the energy this morning to think through all those issues. But it was stupid. They've disciplined Le Batard because they believe his public statements have damaged the organization's credibility. They're right about that. What they don't understand -- again, because we all have blind spots and do stupid things -- is that disciplining Le Batard just hurts their credibility even more. A strong, self-confident, far-sighted organization might have made a public statement of disapproval, while acknowledging the value of dissent and announcing that Le Batard's concerns will be addressed by the membership in the coming months.
But now the BBWAA just looks weak.
It's a long war, and it's not lost yet. But in this week's skirmishes, the BBWAA took one hell of a beating.