Every December into January, the baseball world devolves into chaos because of the release of the annual Hall of Fame ballot. Barbs are thrown, players are broken down, and the whole thing becomes ridiculously repetitive, stressful, and irritating. One man has had enough, at least for this year. ESPN’s Buster Olney will be abstaining from voting his year, for the simple fact that abstaining will help the players he wants to vote for more than actually voting for them.
In his article for ESPN Insider, Olney explains his decision. In short, he’s not abstaining because of questions about how to handle PED users or other players from the steroid era, but because the arbitrary 10-man ballot doesn’t give deserving players their due. Last year, there were 17 players Olney felt comfortable voting for. He had to leave seven of them out because of the limit. Greg Maddux, as certain of a Hall of Famer as there is, was left off of 16 ballots, and Olney surmises from conversations with others that Maddux was left off in part to give a vote to a candidate who might not get as much support.
Hall of Fame voting has become a game. It’s not about voting for the best players anymore. Randy Johnson seems like a lock for the Hall this year. But would it make sense for a writer to not vote for Johnson and give a vote to someone like Fred McGriff, who is getting closer and closer to falling off the ballot? You could make that argument, and that’s why this whole process is so damn screwed up. Writers are forced to choose between gaming the system and voting for the ten best players, and nothing else.
Would Olney’s abstaining have made a difference last year? Well, no – Craig Biggio would have still fallen short of election, losing Olney’s vote and falling to 74.7% as opposed to 74.8%. Rafael Palmeiro would have stayed at 4.4% and fallen off the ballot. But with the electorate growing every year, we could begin to get more forward thinking writers like Olney clamoring for change and possibly abstaining. You’d think that the zero inductee debacle of 2013 would have resulted in significant changes to the Hall of Fame voting, but Dan Le Batard’s ballot donation to Deadspin last year caused more waves. That’s not right. Buster Olney is a respected veteran journalist, and if he’s thinking this way, it’s a sign that something needs to change.