J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner and noted blogger Murray Chass has made a habit of becoming a spectacle when Hall of Fame voting rolls around. Three years ago, he announced that he would no longer vote for the Hall of Fame. A little while later, he informed his readers that he would, in fact, continue voting for the Hall of Fame, specifically to spite our own Craig Calcaterra as well as Rob Neyer and others. Last year, Chass submitted a ballot with only one vote for Ken Griffey, Jr. and no one else.
This year’s ballot doesn’t have any slam dunk choices like Griffey, given the link between performance-enhancing drugs and players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Curt Schilling, third on this year’s ballot going by Jay Jaffe’s JAWS statistic, has no doubt cost himself votes with his antics over the last year or so, specifically when he [EDIT: tweeted a picture of someone wearing a shirt] implying that journalists should be hanged. But with 34 players from which to choose, one can still very easily reach the maximum of 10 votes. A blank ballot should be impossible to rationally defend.
Chass, though? He voted for no one. He turned in his ballot, writing, “This ballot is intentionally blank.”
Chass explained his reasoning by quoting himself in a previous column. He wrote, “As for my HOF voting, in my first year as a voter, I voted for 10 players. [That was and is the maximum, which some voters want the Hall to raise; why I don’t understand.] By the time of my second vote, I realized that by voting for 10, I was saying I wanted to see 10 elected. What a horrible thought, to make people sit through 10 speeches in the hot July Cooperstown sun. I also realized that by having 10 players inducted on the same day lessened the honor for each. From then on I voted for only the players I considered the best of the elite.”
Of course, voting for 10 players doesn’t necessarily mean all 10 of those players will be elected. From 2000-12, either one or two players were elected to the Hall by the Baseball Writers Association of America. In 2014, three players went in and four were enshrined in 2015. Two players went in last year. The most amount of players inducted in one year is five, which happened once in 1936 when the Hall of Fame was established.
By abstaining, Chass is more thumbing his nose at the system, as others have put it. Chass, though, was happy to be part of the system when he accepted the J.G. Taylor Spink Award — the Hall of Fame award for writers — in 2003 and gave a speech. If Chass wanted to make a statement, he should have thumbed his nose then, as Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports suggested. He should have recused himself from voting so that the BBWAA could allow someone who values the privilege to vote for the Hall of Fame.
There are two potential immediate consequences from writers submitting blank ballots. One is that a player could fall just shy of the five percent vote threshold, which means they will never be on a BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot again (see: Kenny Lofton). The other consequence is that a player falls just shy of the 75 percent vote threshold, which means he have to wait until next year for a shot at election (unless it’s that player’s 10th and final year on the ballot).
Is it likely that Chass abstaining will be the deciding factor in a player’s non-election or falling completely off the ballot? Probably not. But it’s possible and worth considering when thinking of ways to combat what one feels is a flawed or meaningless system. For example, one should ask, “Is my crusade worth [Player] falling off the ballot?” Very rarely will that answer be “yes.”
Furthermore, rather than refusing to participate in the system, Chass could spend his time and energy trying to reform the system in a way he feels is better suited to honor great players. Consider a person who stays home rather than voting on Election Day because he or she doesn’t like either candidate put forth by the Democratic and Republican parties. Then consider that person also doesn’t do anything else either, like community organizing and activism. That person is only sabotaging his or her own ability to change the system.
I surmise, however, that change is not truly what Chass is seeking. This is, after all, a man who proudly announced he is only continuing to vote in order to spite some writers he doesn’t like.