Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Blank Ballots/Blank Values

Originally, my monthly message was intended as a tribute to the two most recent inductees: Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn. Although my work focuses on the upcoming Veterans inductees, I am sure that everyone in the baseball community salutes the careers of these gigantic achievers, and, perhaps more so, the dignity with which they have conducted themselves during and after their active careers.

However, once again a glorious baseball moment has been tarnished by the actions of a minority among the voting Writers. This comment does not refer at all to the McGwire situation. I have no problem supporting Mark McGwire, but I can understand that some voters could have reasonable policy concerns which will be resolved in time. It also will remain in due course to consider the quality of process accorded to McGwire, whose credentials are now questioned mainly because of suspicion and innuendo. But these are matters for later discussion. Not today.

At least one voter submitted a blank ballot and a few others simply declined to vote for Ripken and Gwynn. A blank ballot adversely affects every candidate, because candidates require 75 percent of all votes cast to gain induction. This is not the first event involving blank ballots. Years ago, some voters cast blank ballots to protest the ineligibility of Pete Rose. In effect, every eligible candidate, no matter how qualified, received negative votes, only because Pete Rose wasn’t on the ballot.

In the merits, how could any conscientious voter fail to support Ripken and/or Gwynn?
Not only the majority of evaluators rank Ripken and Gwynn among the top 100 players of the past century, both present specific classic features leaving no room to doubt their elite achievements.

Some rationalize that these players don’t deserve to be the first inducted by unanimous vote, because more achieving players fell short in the past. Voters are not asked who deserves unanimity; they are asked to determine whether particular candidates deserve induction now. If so, vote “yes,” non inclusion means “no.”

What if so many voters felt that unanimity should be denied and these abundantly qualified players would fall short of 75 percent? What if these candidates fell short of enough votes to remain on the ballot in future years? Yes, neither such result is likely, but some candidates have missed induction by a few votes. (See Nellie Fox – 2 votes, Frank Chance, Jim Bunning) Numerous inductees barely received enough with little or no room to spare.

Worse yet is the explanation of the voter who wouldn’t vote for anyone until he had more information about steroid usage. Based on the present state of tenuous evidence, that position is bad enough regarding players widely suspected of using steroids, but is totally horrible regarding candidates so highly esteemed for their contributions to the game, on and off the field.

How would we feel about a juror who refused to find according to the law and the evidence merely to make a point extraneous to the merits of the parties in the case?

The Writers’ induction process generally has yielded high quality members. I have some issues, mainly about the conduct of voting minorities. One of those issues concerns the failure of the Writers to provide unanimous support to anyone, even those regarded as “clearly supreme.” Because of the 75 percent rule, minorities can exert decisive influence on the process. Much of the suspicion about the way the Hall does business relates to the fact that some voters pursue special personal agendas and then write about them. Perhaps that is inherent in having news writers involved in news making.

The institution needs voters who act with the objectivity of judges. The candidates deserve at least that much. Aside from the honor, personal and financial interests are at stake. Voters have one job – to determine whether or not particular candidates deserve admission. That is a solemn enough responsibility. When utilized to “send messages” or to implement personal agendas, that power is abused.

No voters should be inhibited in reaching independent judgments regarding the qualifications of eligible candidates. However, a dubious voting history should provide a basis for decertifying voters. When a writer submits a blank ballot, it almost always indicates a lack of qualification. (I would not reach the same conclusion regarding elections of Veterans.) In my opinion, there has been at least one clearly qualified candidate in every election the Writers conducted.

Decertification of demonstrably unqualified voters and expansion of the voting population to include a broader scope of representation from the baseball community are measures worthy of consideration. Time and again, a handful of voters act and speak to remind us of the need to improve the process.