Yesterday Deadspin revealed that Dan LeBatard of ESPN and the Miami Herald was the voter who turned his ballot over to Deadspin readers and cast it pursuant to their collective vote. He didn’t accept any money for it but, ever since Deadspin revealed it obtained a writer’s vote a couple of months ago, the person who gave it up has been the BBWAA’s public enemy number one. Maybe even in his own mind, as LeBatard himself went on the Dan Patrick show saying that he now regrets what he did.
Contrite or not, since yesterday the knives have been out for LeBatard. A small sampling:
If I had respect for Dan LeBatard I don’t anymore. If he didn’t want HOF vote should have declined it, not give away to non-qualified voter.
— Tracy Ringolsby (@TracyRingolsby) January 8, 2014
A longer take came from Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, who took great issue with LeBatard. But, interestingly, seems like he would have been OK if LeBatard had asked ESPN readers to fill out his ballot instead of Deadspin readers:
People are missing the point about my ESPN vs. Deadspin argument. I’m just saying that LeBatard could have made his point better and had a much greater impact had he written a column or ESPN.com that said, “I think the process is broken and I believe you fans can create a better ballot than most of these hacks. So here’s a ballot. Each of you fill it out, and whoever gets 75 percent, I’ll check on my ballot and send it in.” Few could have criticized him for that, and since he could have said that weeks ago, he could have directed a lot of attention to his cause. Instead, LeBatard was effectively saying, “The BBWAA sucks, so I’m going to hand over my ballot to a website that also thinks the BBWAA sucks so I can make my point.” And oh, by the way, Biggio got only 3.3 percentage points more on the Deadspin ballot than the BBWAA ballot. And you know what? Maddux wasn’t unanimous on their ballot either.
I understand the generalized discomfort with what LeBetard did. It was played up by Deadspin as a scam in certain respects — “look at us, we bought a vote!” — and that set off a lot of alarm buzzers. And of course, Deadspin said right up front that the idea was to, more or less, mock the process.
But in practice, this was no different than a writer allowing readers to inform his voting which many voters have done in the past. No, he didn’t say anything about it beforehand, and no, his protest, such as it was, was not as effective as if he had longly and loudly argued the grounds of it before the vote, but the end product — a fan vote and a very good ballot as far as these things go, with no payment or other ethical lapse — seems pretty harmless. But it’s not being viewed as such by the voters themselves. I predict LeBatard will have his BBWAA membership revoked as a result and I expect he will be treated as persona non grata for a long long time.
But a question: does this play out different if a website other than Deadspin is involved? If it’s ESPN, as Shulman suggests, or FanGraphs or Baseball Prospectus or Baseball America, does it draw this level of ire? I seriously doubt it. I believe that Deadspin is the reason so many voters are pissed off at LeBatard. A great deal of the establishment press hates Deadspin and its product. Views Deadspin as pranksters at best, Everything That is Wrong With Journalism at worst. And many use Deadspin as a placeholder for all online media, and many of these guys feel threatened by online media in a general sense anyway. At least when they forget that they work in online media themselves:
Shame on the santimonious attention seeker who turned his vote over to a website. #sad
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) January 8, 2014
I dunno. LeBatard is a BBWAA member and any club has a right to police its membership, so if and when they bring the hammer down on him it’s not like we can say much. But I wonder why his particular protest is any more odious than the silly, look-at-me votes of Ken Gurnick, Murray Chass and many others in their ranks. Voters who, the BBWAA membership has told me quite loudly in the past week, are entitled to their opinions however silly and that we should — no, we must — respect them lest we be considered bullies or jerks or people of intemperate tone. I guess that doesn’t apply to LeBetard. He can be called a clown and a fraud until the cows come home.
He wouldn’t be, I’m guessing, if it wasn’t Deadspin involved. Even if the fact of Deadspin’s involvement was effectively no different than any other website’s would have been. And even if this particular protest was way less harmful to the actual voting results than the protests of the Ken Gurnicks and Murrays Chass of the world.