Friday, December 14, 2012

This Has To Be Trolling, Right?

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
I didn't want to get into the Hall of Fame debate.

I really didn't.

But with every article coming out more polarizing than the next, it was only a matter of time before I reached my tipping point.

Enter Howard Bryant. Now I've pretty much disagreed with everything he's ever written, it's only out of a great sense of self-loathing that I even read his work, but his article today asking people to stop blaming the writers really got me going. It wasn't just that he got up on his soap box to wag his finger at us mere mortals without a Hall of Fame vote, but it was the backwards anti-intellectual arguments he used to make his points which really got to me. So let's analyze his work:
The latest Hall controversy -- who deserves entry into Valhalla -- has taken place amidst a field of straw men (MacGuffins, to use the Hitchcock phrase), which divert the eye far from the truth, from what all the consternation is really about.
I assume this means there will be no straw man arguments in this piece.
The straw men are everywhere. Ex-players are angry (still angry) that the Baseball Writers Association of America and it alone has been bequeathed such Supreme Court-style privilege over initial selections and has had it for as long as there has been a Hall of Fame. Those players use this tired, annual charade as a vehicle for transferring decades-old player-writer grudges and grievances into a contemporary talking point. 
The anger the players may have for the writers is nothing compared to the contempt the writers have for the players. Take Mr. Bryant's entire article as an example. It probably also helps that writers actually have an outlet for their "tired annual charade" since you know, they are employed as writers.
Pretending to be progressive in recent weeks, Mike Schmidt, the Hall of Fame third baseman from the Phialdelphia Phillies, expressed his belief reform was needed, and offered a plan to do just that.
I've never seen a writer suggest that the Hall of Fame needed to be reformed.
There is also the angry new generation of new media, long without access or sources or voice in the traditional sense, yet convinced it knows what it was watching better than the reporters in the press box and often the players in uniform. 
"You kids better stay off my lawn!"
This Generation M (yes, for "Moneyball") has been enabled and empowered by changing times, changing emphases on player evaluation, greater democracy (both within the sport and at the keyboard) and the dramatic diminishment of the newspaper as a public force. In many ways, from enumerating the rise of statistical analysis in front offices to spreading the influence of analytics without traditional clubhouse reporting, the Moneyballers have enjoyed the spoils of reader and online attention.
This is where he really loses me. Moneyball has somehow become the symbol for all that's wrong with baseball from the "old-school" baseball men. Moneyball was a system looking to determine what types of skills are truly related to winning in baseball and how they could be used to exploit market inefficiencies. Shouldn't this be the goal of every front office? I don't understand why this is being looked at as a bad thing. Is it just a fundamental lack of understanding? People in baseball have worked EXTREMELY hard to formulate a system where players can be properly evaluated and future performance can be predicted and history has shown this method to be extremely effective. The disdain which seems to effervesce from Mr. Bryant because he doesn't seem to care to put the time into understanding some of these new metrics is exactly what is wrong with society. Since I don't care to understand what you're talking about I'm just going to belittle you into shutting up. It's disgusting and Mr. Bryant should be embarrassed, although I'm sure that thought never crossed his mind. People evolve and we get smarter. We no longer practice medicine the way we did 100 years ago, and nor should we evaluate baseball players the same way either.
 Where they haven't gained much ground in the overheated revolution and culture war is in the one area that infuriates them the most: the honor and responsibility of voting for baseball immortality. It remains gallingly in the hands of the BBWAA, a group that does not own their professional respect.
The lack of respect comes from the shocking lack of effort on many members of the BBWAA's parts to try and understand what has been learnt about baseball in the last two decades.
The straw men of reform and outrage stand hollow in the field, and only the hot air whistling through their stalks gives them voice to offer solutions where there is no problem.
Colourful imagery aside, I can't possibly agree that there is no problem. I understand that we are discussing a trivial matter such as baseball while there are children being shot in schools, but we're here and we're involved, so let's not pretend that this isn't important to us. There seem to be major disagreements in the world of baseball on how the Steroid Era should be viewed. In the world of baseball, that's a problem.
There are, however, two real truths to face. The first is that, since the Great Depression, the Hall of Fame has asked the writers to choose which players on the active ballot will be enshrined. The Hall can, any time it chooses, revoke this right and give it to Bill James or Bill Lee or Bill Gates. It has chosen not to do that, and for good reason. The system is not broken.
Fixing a broken system does not mean that it has to be handed over to a magical algorithm. The Hall of Fame has reformed the voting process many times in its past and will likely continue to do so into the future. The five-year waiting period after retirement didn't exist until 1954. Until the late 1950's voters were advised to vote for the maximum 10 players. In 2001 players dropped from the ballot became eligible to be voted in by the Veteran's Committee and the Veteran's Committee's procedure has changed many times over the years. Problems exist, and solutions are found.
The BBWAA is as much a part of the sport's lineage, for better and for worse, as the Hall itself. The awards the players respect and cherish the most -- MVP, Cy Young, etc. -- are the ones historically awarded by the baseball writers. On numerous occasions, both baseball (the Hank Aaron Award, for example) and the players association (the Players Choice Awards) have attempted to undermine or at least compete with the power of the BBWAA's awards, defeated by the same conclusion: the players, the ones who make up the game, want to win the same awards that DiMaggio and Williams and Mays and Aaron and Koufax won.
Try not to strain a muscle patting yourself on the back there. It's true, the players do value the MVP over the Hank Aaron award, but I think that has more to do with the definition of the awards than who is voting on it. If MLB decided to drop the BBWAA voting and adopt another MVP award as their official one, I don't think many players would notice.
Then there's the second truth: Despite the false narrative that voters are slightly less competent than NFL replacement referees, virtually everyone who belongs in the Hall of Fame is there. There are comets (Kirby Puckett, Ralph Kiner) and compilers (Don Sutton) and legends (Henry Aaron, Mickey Mantle). There are cases considered to be borderline by writers, executives, fans and players alike who were finally inducted (Bert Blyleven, Jim Rice), and those who still are not (Jim Kaat, Jack Morris). That's why they are called borderline. There are players who have been denied entry by the Hall and the game (Pete Rose, Joe Jackson and his Black Sox). The idea that the process needs to be reformed is nothing but a mask to resume hostilities or add a few seats at the table for people upset that they've never had one.
I think Ron Santo might disagree. This also applies just his standard to all the players in the Hall. A writer who voted for a player for 15 straight years only to see him drop off the ballot might take issue with this broad stroke of the brush.
The next straw man is that, because of the steroid era, the baseball writers are going to guess who deserves enshrinement based on who had big muscles or who had a suspicious career year. Thus, goes the thinking, the system must change. It is a disdainful mindset that doesn't just miss the bull's-eye, but the entire target altogether. It is the great MacGuffin of the game, and reveals a complete lack of respect for voters who for years have done the work, covered the games, and taken the privilege seriously.
From Dan Graziano: I don’t know for sure that Bagwell took steroids or any other performance-enhancing drugs to help him attain his Hall of Fame-caliber numbers. I don’t have evidence, like we do against Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. But I’m suspicious. And this year, that suspicion was enough to make me send back my ballot without the Bagwell box checked […] This isn’t about whether I believe what Bagwell says. It’s about suspicions I harbored long before he spoke out on the issue. It’s about where he played and when he played and the teammates with whom he played and a whole bunch of circumstantial evidence that I readily admit wouldn’t hold up in a court of law."

So there goes another theory Mr. Bryant.
The truth is that the writers are reduced to being a mop, left with cleaning up a colossal mess created by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association for enormous profit. 
No one is asking them to do any of the sort. In fact the BBWAA has explicitly not changed the instructions that accompany the Hall of Fame ballot.
The fans also must take their share of responsibility simply because professional sports franchises respond only to loss of revenue. To the people watching, steroids were always someone else's problem, not an issue to get in the way of the fun and games -- until their guy was accused or their team wronged
This is true although I fail to see the relevance to Hall of Fame voting. The fans were responsible for segregation too but Ty Cobb still got voted into the Hall.
The journalists whose job it was to hold the institution accountable failed, too, for too little reporting allowed a corrupt culture to flourish.
I think this is a point that deserves much more than one line in Mr. Bryant's piece. He continually states the importance of the writer and how their access makes their word carry so much more weight than the bloggers. Access is good, but it's what you do with that access that's much more important. Where were the journalists breaking the big steroid in baseball stories in 1998? For a group of people who spend so much time around athletes their investigative journalism skills clearly have to be questioned. Are these votes against the Steroid Age players just trying to correct for past oversights by journalists?
The emerging Generation M, influenced by its Godfather, Bill James, and his capo, Billy Beane, is also deeply culpable for allowing their calculations to blissfully ignore steroids and, through that omission, attempting to legitimize the whole dishonest era (and themselves) by attempting to make the game revolve around only numbers.
For the life of me I have absolutely no idea what this means. Apparently people who value numbers are in the mafia and the calculations were setup to ignore steroids. I don't know, this is mostly nonsense.
It is no surprise, then, that two of the Gen M standard bearers, power and on-base percentage kings Manny Ramirez and Jason Giambi (directly linked to Beane and James) were both disgraced by steroids.
Along with half the league, most of which didn't have the power or on-base percentage of Manny and Giambi. Greg Zaun took PEDs and I never saw him mentioned in Moneyball. I also don't remember any Scott Hatteberg steroid rumours and he was the face of Moneyball. No straw man here, let's move on. 
The biggest culprits, though, remain the people who could have prevented the current mess but were too busy building record numbers of stadiums and collecting record-breaking contracts.
Give someone an inch and they'll take a mile. I'm not saying that was okay, but that was the culture then so we have to evaluate it in it's proper context. Just like we have to evaluate the segregation and greenie eras in their proper context.
Focusing on whom the writers select and whom they do not is the easy way, the lazy way, the cowards' way to complain about the broken past.
 I object to being called lazy, this is already over 2000 words.
It continues to hand the leaders of the game the free pass they have had since Brady Anderson wafted his first home run (on his way to 50) over the fence way back in 1996. Nobody in baseball publicly questioned that feat then, and nobody has publicly admitted they saw anything amiss in a clubhouse since, and yet the entire charade collapsed around them in a heap of subpoenas and diminished record books.
So it's a good thing we have you now Mr. Bryant 16 years later to retroactively correct everything.
It is also an intellectually vapid and historically naive position, for anyone who knows anything about the Veterans Committee knows that no voting body is more insular and petty and crony.
The irony, it hurts.
To assess how the Hall of Fame will look over the next decade is to stay on target, to maintain focus on the institution of baseball and all it did not do. It is to consider the consequences when Reggie Jackson stated the obvious, that Alex Rodriguez used steroids and that affects how people will think about his career. The Yankees silenced the Hall of Famer.
True, but it won't affect any of the numbers Rodriguez put up, MLB has made sure not to change any of those. So the numbers don't change, and he never broke any rules, seems like you have to analyze the numbers for what they are.
It is to think about Jeff Conine, who last week said he believed the Hall of Fame should be free of the steroid taint, but that same Conine played 17 years in the major leagues during the steroid era and was, like his union brothers, silent.
 Again Mr. Bryant, where was your mid-90's book on steroids? It didn't come out until 2005. Convenient.
More than anything else, if there is to be anger that the Hall of Fame may not enshrine perhaps the greatest pitcher of his time (Clemens), perhaps the greatest player of all time (Bonds) and the one of the great, most exciting sluggers of his time (Sosa), it should be directed at them for the choices they made.
They aren't the ones with any control over the issue now. It serves no purpose to be angry with the players. It's the writers who seem to have just recently discovered their backbone. Since the writers are the only people with any authority at this point, it's extremely justified to direct the anger at their pettiness.
It should be directed at Jeff Bagwell, who now if not inducted will be conveniently cast as a "victim" of the steroid "witch hunt" when the truth is that Bagwell never once during his playing days voiced a single bit of concern that he was a clean player being tainted by dirty players. Like everyone else, he rode along and took the money.
I think I just wrote something about being petty.

He continues to swing at hypothetical straw men for a little more but I think that's enough from this article. My opinion on Howard Bryant's Hall of Fame voting has been formed for years and this most recent tirade only strengthens my opinion. He's about as inconsistent as they come and plays by his own personal set of insane rules.

He doesn't vote for players on the first ballot unless they are on the "A List". 
The first Hall of Fame class consisted of Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb. This is the standard for the first ballot. 
This is obviously ridiculous, but it's the reason that Rickey Henderson was the only player he voted for on the first ballot, and "Greg Maddux will be the next candidate."

To make it even more frustrating he adds that "all [players] are equal once inducted, but the first ballot should be reserved for the definitive." I think he's trying to set a record for most contradictions in one paragraph.

Mr. Bryant seems to truly value the 15 year period of eligibility. He didn't vote for Andre Dawson in 2008, but did in 2010 when he finally captured enough votes for entry. I would love for him to tell me what Dawson did between those two years that suddenly made him Hall of Fame worthy.

According to Mr. Bryant, year-to-year "one uncast vote matters little." I guess that depends on how many people take his point of view.

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