There is nothing wrong with the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s an inconsequential institution, designed to inflame the passions of the easily inflamed, so there isn’t anything that could be meaningfully wrong with it. Seriously, who cares? It means nothing. If anything, this year’s Hall of Fame voting was perfect. Understanding the perfection requires understanding the true purpose of the voting: exposing sports writers.
Thanks to ESPN’s Dan Le Batard, who gifted his Hall of Fame ballot to Deadspin’s readers, the overwhelming “Ugh, go away” vibe of sports writers has never been more apparent. The ostensible purpose of Le Batard’s system bombing was to expose the asinine biases that influence voting, adding an element of chaos to a needlessly sanctified collection of plaques in the middle of nowhere. Fair enough, given that only three players got in, despite there being at least 10 worthy inductees on the ballot.
That ignores the greater accomplishment. I mean, anytime you get Jon Heyman to drop a misspelled HOT TAKE tweet, exposing a streak of Downton Abbey-level pettiness, you’re doing something important. Then there was Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News, who showed off a slick way with words in tweeting out an ableist slur that he quickly deleted. Not to be outdone, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle dismissed it all as a publicity stunt, because of course someone with his own ESPN show is hurting for publicity. The list goes on, predictably, and it includes such supposed bastions of reason and thought as Dan Shaughnessy, Gregg Doyel and Tracy Ringolsby — all of whom spewed forth mighty condemnation, relying on the same brand of urgent moralism, divorced from reality. The reflexive and near-universal need to misinterpret Le Batard’s motivations — which he laid out in plain, unfussy English — is what’s interesting, since these dudes are supposed to be, y’know, smart and stuff.
While Le Batard and Deadspin have added a thoughtful touch of anarchic glee to the Hall of Fame voting process, their enduring success will be in pulling back the curtains and revealing an elitist electorate for what it is. Maybe there was some stretch of time when Hall of Fame voters functioned as the truest distillation of our collective baseball knowledge, but it’s not a time worth remembering, given the present. The modern world of sports writing is fully incompatible with the old-guard standards of legitimacy and value. Putting in your years on the beat and landing that column with a major daily is a fine personal accomplishment, but not one that should ever confer an assumption of competence from others. Keep in mind that most any Hall of Fame voter you know of got their Smart Baseball Guy card by following some variation of that generic career path.
Seeking reform from the institutions that allow this state to go on is unrealistic, if not a bit dumb. Both Le Batard and Deadspin know this, no matter how much they may hold out hope for meaningful change. Rather than foster that hopeless hope, anyone who bothers with sports is way better off taking this as a fresh start. The people and places your parents and grandparents looked to for knowledge and reason are now permanently lost in their own time. Intentionally or not, Le Batard and Deadspin have made an eloquent argument for ignoring sports writers.