Each year around this time some Hall of Fame voter writes a column about how miserable it is to be a Hall of Fame voter. It’s a chore, they say. It’s thankless. It’s the worst part of a baseball writer’s job!
To be sure, there are a lot of actually bad parts of a baseball writer’s job. With a few exceptions, the pay sucks, as does the job security. There is too much travel. The deadlines are pretty bad. If you’re on the daily beat the inability to make any plans between, say, 3pm and 1am for over 160 nights a year has to be a drag. Being a baseball writer beats shoveling coal into a coke oven, but it’s not like there aren’t some things to complain about.
Complaining about the Hall of Fame voting baffles me, though. For one thing, it is itself an honor. You don’t get to do it unless you get a job a lot of people would kill for, get accepted into an organization which bestows great privilege on the writer and then stay in both the job and the organization for a decade. The substance of voting is pretty easy too. To do it, you engage in the sort of historical baseball analysis and argument most devoted fans have done since they were 10-years-old. “Was Shlabotnick as good as McGillicuddy? Could Kinglehoffer, if sent back in time, hit Old Smitty’s screwball?” Hell, people have those arguments all the time for free. When you add in the fact that, while filling out a ballot, the voter is sitting in the warm comfort of one’s own home on a cold December night, it actually seems like it’d be one of the best parts of the gig.
Yet the complaints persist. The latest complainer: New York writer Wallace Matthews, who says today that he hates voting so much that he’s giving up doing so.
There are a lot of reasons why Matthews is giving up voting. He thinks it’s too hard to determine how to vote due to steroids. He calls the task “thankless,” because he now dislikes and disrespects people he voted for in the past, like Curt Schilling, because of his outspoken and controversial statements (note: he is particularly upset with one that was threatening to journalists). He is also apparently upset that some people who have been inducted with his vote are not thankful for it, relaying an anecdote about an unnamed player — clearly Bert Blyleven — who he feels insulted him after the fact. Indeed, a whole heck of a lot of Matthews’ displeasure with voting seems to be based on people not sufficiently appreciating his efforts in particular and the efforts of journalists in general. All of which seems rather narrow and self-centered of him, but it’s his choice, so more power to him.
I used to feel very differently about this, but I can now see abstaining from voting for the Hall of Fame on ethical grounds. Indeed, over the past couple of years I’ve come around to the idea that it’s probably too great a conflict of interest for the media to both make the news — which is what selecting members of the Hall of Fame is — and to report on the same news in their chosen field. A lot of newspapers prevent their employees from voting for that very reason. I’m not and likely never will be a voter, but if ever given the privilege, I’d probably decline it at this point.
But I can’t see not voting simply because the world doesn’t thank you for it. Or, as I wrote about at length last year, simply because people may criticize you for it. As I wrote then, the inability to accept criticism is pervasive among sports writers of a certain age because, for most of their career, they didn’t have to accept any. Now that they have to put up with the same sort of scrutiny to which they subject newsmakers it is intolerable? Please.
Matthews’ refusal, though, seems a few steps beyond other Hall of Fame vote complaint columns we’ve seen in recent years. It’s not just that it’s hard and it’s not just that people complain. It’s because he is not sufficiently thanked and appreciated for voting. Because he, on some level, feels personally betrayed by those he has supported. That’s pretty crazy, isn’t it?
Oh well. I suppose we’ll continue to get these sorts of columns forever. Or until a benevolent dictator takes over MLB and the Hall of Fame does what probably should’ve been done a long time ago: putting together a committee of baseball historians and scholars to handle Hall of Fame inductions. Maybe they’ll find the task less thankless.