National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY. January 20, 2020. 01202020 Cooperstown Kc15

Tuesday, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) will unveil its 2024 Hall of Fame Class, announcing which of the 26 players included on this year’s ballot will be enshrined in Cooperstown this summer, forever immortalized as baseball royalty. Tears will be shed, think pieces written and legacies cemented, the culmination of a months-long voting process that has gotten more insufferable with each passing year. What started as a victory lap for Adrian Beltre and other Hall hopefuls like Todd Helton and Billy Wagner has quickly devolved into the contrarian Olympics, a nauseating exercise in grandstanding with writers cast as politicians, stretching credibility with flimsy criteria, bad-faith arguments and exhausting crusades, among other attention-seeking antics.

Take this recent ballot submitted by Steve Kroner, for example, voting for Alex Rodriguez but not Manny Ramirez, overlooking A-Rod’s steroid use while somehow not affording Ramirez the same courtesy. It takes serious mental gymnastics to arrive at that conclusion, yet it’s not even the biggest head-scratcher on his ballot, inexplicably pounding the table for Mark Buehrle, whose career resume ranks second-worst among this year’s candidates (only James Shields has a lower score on Bill James’ Hall-of-Fame Monitor). Kroner’s sudden change of heart warrants an explanation, leaving us to wonder what prompted his decision to back Gary Sheffield and Carlos Beltran—neither of whom appeared on his ballot last year—while no longer endorsing Andruw Jones.

Pretentious, condescending, elitist; this is precisely the kind of self-seriousness that has driven so many fans away from the sport, gatekeeping Cooperstown with the fierceness of a particularly ornery nightclub bouncer (think 1 Oak on a Friday night). Commissioner Rob Manfred, to his credit, has made a concerted effort to make baseball more accessible to fans, yet the old guard continues to undermine his efforts, using their platform to relentlessly nitpick players the league should be celebrating.

There’s a certain narcissism required in denying Wagner’s greatness, rewriting history by framing him as a glorified specialist, conveniently forgetting how dominant he was in his Astros prime. Baseball writers, in their lust to zig where others zag, can’t wait to bring up the fact that he only pitched 903 innings, which would be the fewest of any Hall-of-Famer. Helton has been similarly dissected and picked apart, punished for the sin of playing his entire career at Coors Field. Helton’s candidacy finally seems to be trending in the right direction, but what makes him more deserving now than when he first appeared on the ballot five years ago? It’s all so arbitrary, a flawed system muddled by ego and inconsistency.

HOF voters love to poke holes, magnifying minor slights under the guise of protecting the sanctity of America’s pastime. Baseball’s affliction is easy to diagnose, suffering from a chronic case of “main character syndrome.” That cultlike devotion, priding itself in being the most exclusive Hall of Fame, has made baseball blind to its own hypocrisy. Does anyone truly think Scott Rolen, a productive but unremarkable player (he only cracked the top ten in MVP voting once), is more worthy of a Cooperstown plaque than Barry Bonds, the most unstoppable force the sport has ever known?

Writers have shown that this is the hill they’re willing to die on, disqualifying any player suspected of using PEDs. That’s a fine enough stance to take, though Hall voters tend to make it about themselves, demonizing individual players for a culture baseball created. When writers view themselves as moral arbiters it can often result in clumsy ballots like this from Mark Purdy, who wasn’t willing to give A-Rod or Manny the benefit of the doubt, but decided not to hold Omar Vizquel’s history of domestic violence against him.

Think about this. Only one player in the history of baseball—Mariano Rivera—was elected unanimously. What’s even more remarkable is that 49 people decided Pedro Martinez wasn’t a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Even proponents of the “Small Hall” theory can’t justify nine percent of voters snubbing Pedro, whose four-year stretch from 1997-2000 might be the most dominant we’ve ever seen.

Whether it’s pettiness, an unearned God complex or the manifestation of our collective brain rot, somewhere along the way, Hall of Fame voters lost the plot, letting their agendas get in the way. This decline, in many ways, mirrors our current sports media environment, rewarding the loudest and most controversial opinions at great expense to nuance and logic. Content is currency and nobody understands that more than baseball writers, especially during the sleepy winter doldrums with little else to talk about.

Dan Le Batard may have gone about it the wrong way, making an unnecessary spectacle by ceding his Hall of Fame vote to Deadspin in 2014 (the BBWAA would permanently revoke his voting privileges), but his larger point still stands. “I feel like my vote has gotten pretty worthless in the avalanche of sanctimony that has swallowed it,” Le Batard explained. “Just because accepted outlets gave us their platform and power, I don’t think we should have the pulpit to ourselves in 2014 the way we did in 1936. Baseball is always reticent to change, but our flawed voting process needs remodeling in a new media world.”

The most common criticism levied at baseball, as it devolves into a regionalized shell of what it once was, is that it’s out of touch, cloaked in a holier-than-thou arrogance that alienates casual fans. Wasted ballots like this, courtesy of known troll Dan Shaughnessy, aren’t helping that perception.

Most voters, it should be noted, aren’t as flippant as Shaughnessy, respecting the process by voting for deserving candidates that accurately represent the eras they played in. Maybe it’s on us for taking the bait, rewarding bad actors like Shaughnessy by giving them the attention they so crave. If Shaughnessy wants to use his platform that way, holding up a giant middle finger to players and especially fans, that’s his business.

Still, it’s high time baseball confronts its identity crisis, deciding once and for all what the Hall of Fame should be. Do we want it to tell the story of Major League Baseball, warts and all? Or is it just another vanity project for entitled writers, a roped-off VIP room that only they can access?


About Jesse Pantuosco

Jesse Pantuosco joined Awful Announcing as a contributing writer in May 2023. He’s also written for Audacy and NBC Sports. A graduate of Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications with a master’s degree in creative writing from Fairfield University, Pantuosco has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. He lives in West Hartford, Connecticut and never misses a Red Sox, Celtics or Patriots game.