Losing Focus

How baseball writers have made the Hall of Fame all about them.

Baseball Hall of FamePerhaps the most irritating part of the great steroid ‘debate’ in baseball has been my realization that as the years go by, the less the conversation stays focused on the players and what they did or didn’t do. Instead, it’s gradually disintegrated into a platform for sports writers to talk about themselves, their faux morality, and defend the ‘sanctity’ of a game that really isn’t theirs to defend.

Their willingness to contribute towards the greater good would be well received by most if it weren’t for their hypocritical unwillingness to accept responsibility for their role in the scandal. After all, these were the same people who, as @bdobbs23 so accurately put on Twitter last night ‘ spilled gallons of ink extolling how good these players were for the game while they were playing,’ only to turn around later and thank said players with ‘enduring, ceaseless ridicule and vilification – personal of course – and cast (them) forever as charlatans and stains on the game.”

It’s also true that the more the scandal floats to the back of our minds, the more perturbed writers seem to be that fans are so ready to move on. It’s not because of the dismay at the fans’ willingness to let players cheat. It’s not their laissez-faire attitude towards character in their athletes, either. They’re irritated because we’re not paying attention to them anymore.

Not surprisingly, this year’s Hall of Fame vote has brought that into focus rather acutely. If the past week has shown us anything, it’s that what was a once an involved debate about PED abusers, ethics and its meaning in baseball history has fully devolved into a vapid exercise in egregious levels of self-masturbatory narcissism on the part of baseball writers everywhere.

As of 9:02pm tonight while I’m typing this, I count five stories in the past 40 minutes that have been tweeted/re-tweeted by writers that really aren’t about the players, but more about baseball writers, themselves.

Some of the highlights include:

  • Jayson Stark ‘agonized’ over his ballot. He also called attention to colleague Tim Kurkjin, who apparently ‘cares more than anyone’ about his ballot’ and is equally as distraught as Stark (although he isn’t quoted).
  • Sean McAdam talks about his PED-free ballot as if it’s a new form of organic food, but makes sure to show us all who’s boss first. He also gets adorably chippy at one point when he makes up a scenario where an imaginary person accuses him of being too judgmental, to which he heroically replies:“Why, yes — yes I am.That’s part of the process. As a longstanding member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, I’m being asked to give my informed opinion. And I have.

It’s the same stance I had more than a decade ago, before the ballot was full of tainted and allegedly tainted players. In those innocent times, I was judging a player’s career and his worthiness for Cooperstown.”

INNOCENT TIMES~! Like the ones where reporters like McAdam were standing around staring at pill bottles in lockers, fully willing to ignore them so long as they got a sexy narrative for tomorrow’s story.

  • The Sporting News spammed a whole swath of ‘writers feel stuff’ stories from all sorts of perspectives, including Gerry Howard, Bob Hille and Stan McNeill, who wrote no less that 37 billion look-at-me-and-how-I-vote stories leading up to checking off of each of their respective ballots.
  • And what accounting of systemic baseball writer narcissism is complete without The Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy, who is never out-done with regards to over-the-top, narrative-driven idiocy. In his piece, he lovingly referred to his ballot as ‘hardball anthrax’ and ‘poison’. POISON~!

And of course, nearly every article mentioned had a reference to the rules of the ballot, citing specifically the character clause (because don’t forget – everyone one of these voters must remind you that they are, in fact- GOOD PEOPLE) and how they just can’t bring themselves to check a box next to a baseball player’s name because of it.

Just smell that credibility, folks.

Hall of Fame voting can’t really be THAT hard, can it? You read a bio. You read some numbers. You put both in context. You check a box and send said ballot back in the mail. Is that something that’s really that difficult to do?

Apparently it is. It’s so hard in fact, that even easy players cases seem too difficult for writers to deal with. Or at least that’s what they’re going to say until they can’t get away with not voting for them anymore.

Simply put, there’s no ‘grappling’ or ‘agonizing’ that needs to take place with players like Barry Bonds. If we throw out ALL of his ‘steroid years’ (99-2006) PLUS a year (1998), and measure him solely on his production from 1986-1997, then he’s not just obviously a Hall of Famer, but suggesting anything otherwise would be gross incompetence.

From 1986-1997, here are your MLB leaders in fWAR over that period:

  • Barry Bonds – 100.9
  • Ken Griffey Jr. – 67.9
  • Wade Boggs – 66.7
  • Cal Ripken – 66.1
  • Rickey Henderson – 64.9

Bonds wasn’t ‘better’ than the field, he was almost TWICE as good as the next best player. That’s a 12-year sample size, a shade more than an entire decade. To put that into perspective, you could add three Jack Morris fWAR totals together and not get one Barry Bonds during that that time span. To find a period where one player was that much better than the rest of the field, you have to go back to Babe Ruth in the 1920s, and no one’s arguing that the Bambino is not a Hall of Famer.

Finding that information took a whopping 2 minutes on Fangraphs. It took me five minutes to write it. That’s seven minutes to make a coherent case for one man’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame – and that’s even making the concession that PEDS affected his performance later in his career and created and unfair advantage.

It wasn’t hard. It certainly wasn’t ‘agonizing’. In fact, it was easy. It was really, really easy.

So please, spare us the dramatics. Save us the backslapping. And save us the lazy, overlapping, self-congratulatory, morality diatribes that masquerade as ‘protecting the game’ but in all reality are nothing more than a means to use it to project one’s own self importance.

If the BWAA writers can’t even handle simple cases like Bonds – or can’t be bothered to take 10 minutes to click around on the internet, even – then they shouldn’t be allowed to vote for the Hall of Fame.  This year’s process has exposed their laziness, their increasing pettiness and brazen unwillingness to evolve with the game.

Perhaps expecting them to ‘get it’, is expecting something they’re simply not capable of handling anymore. For every great writer in their ranks, there are 15 who are completely clueless. It’s been readily apparent for some time that the game, its metrics, its fans and players have far surpassed their membership’s ability to comprehend them as a meaningful whole.

This year’s Hall of Fame vote magnifies a shifting trend in baseball – one that’s moving away from mainstream writers as the primary conduits of baseball information – and one that is moving towards resourceful bloggers, researchers and the less politically-connected.

Each year, the BWAA looks more and more out of touch with the game it pretends to protect. This year, they’ve set an new low, even for them. Thankfully – some day – it’s going to be time to move on from the BWAA and towards a Hall of Fame voting system/committee made up of people who actually know what they’re talking about.

That day can’t come fast enough.

Categories: Barry Bonds Baseball Hall of Fame Baseball Writer's Association of America Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame Induction 2013

A world-class baseball nerd, baseball fan, and baseball man, Hunter Golden agreed to terms with Fire Brand of the American League in September of 2012 in exchange for an oversized baby bottle, football helmet filled with cottage cheese and naked pictures of Bea Arthur. In January of 2013, he was named Editor. He likes run-on sentences, enjoys over-using hyphens, and smelling books. When it comes to serious stuff, Hunter is a professional writer (no, really), father of two, Husband of one and whose natural habitat is Western Massachusetts and agreeable parts of Connecticut. Follow him at @hunterGbaseball on Twitter or shoot him an email at [email protected]

7 Responses to “Losing Focus” Subscribe

  1. ChipBuck January 9, 2013 at 8:20 AM #

    Great piece, as always, Hunter. I've often found the concept of reporting to be interesting. The old adage is that reporters and columnists don't root for players or teams; instead, they root for storylines. Why? Because it gives them something to write about…get caught up in. It doesn't really matter if the narrative is true or not. What matters is that it's compelling. While most would never think this about a reporter (one who's primary job it is to *report* the news), much of his/her job is to embellish his/her pieces with a bit of style and penache that frequently turns the piece into folklore…or in other words, glorified fiction. There is a creative element to today's news reporting (and certainly the commentary) that drives the content.

    • ChipBuck January 9, 2013 at 8:21 AM #

      But you're right. The voting has become more about the writers than the careers of the players we're supposed to be examining. It's funny, actually. Think about all of the long-time veteran reporters who are claiming ignorance on their place in the steroid issue, all while claiming to be the window into the clubhouse. They're the ones who claim have insider information and have unparalleled insight into the teams and players. My question is this…did they drop the ball and hide knowledge of the steroid situation in hopes of not losing sources or access? OR did they do such a poor job that they failed to notice the signs? Either way, the BBWAA failed.

  2. Gerry January 10, 2013 at 1:54 PM #

    Hunter, your best piece yet. Thanks for putting your finger on a troubling issue, one that most reminds me of Steve Martin playing the preacherman. After a couple of years listening to these same chameleonsdenigrating every aspect of the Sox and its players, it's good that someone is finally calling them out. Great points, Chip.

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