Voters really can make the Hall of Fame about nothing but baseball if they want to

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Last night Bill linked Bob Ryan’s column about his Hall of Fame vote. I supplied a bit of a gotcha element to it in a tweet when, after Ryan said that he’d gladly vote for known PED users like Barry Bonds for the Hall of Fame if the Hall would give voters direction to do so and if they displayed a sign at the museum providing a disclaimer for the PED-era, I noted that there has long been such a sign. I would love to see the existence of that sign force Ryan to vote for Barry Bonds, but I don’t presume it will.

But the sign thing is just some snarking wise on my part. The real issue I have with Ryan is his insistence that someone needs to tell writers that it’s OK to ignore the PED stuff. Because, to hear him tell it, he’d really like to ignore it and vote for these guys.

He says that, back in the day, a Hall of Fame vote “was about baseball, baseball, baseball, baseball, period.” And he says that “The Hall should instruct voters to do so strictly on the numbers and accomplishments. Voters should factor out the possible intrusion of PEDs.”

Why should he wait for the Hall of Fame to instruct him to do this? Why doesn’t he just vote in such a fashion himself, like many others already do?

This is not me being flip. Because, before he writes that stuff, he takes people who may call voters who would exclude Barry Bonds and the like to task. He talks about how it’s about integrity and integrity matters. In this he is decidedly NOT taking direction from the Hall of Fame, which specifically allows people like Barry Bonds to be up for consideration and already has many players who used PEDs in it. Indeed, the Hall could, but has chosen not to, order voters that any player known to have taken steroids or HGH is ineligible for consideration. The Hall of Fame hasn’t done that, however, and Ryan and others have decided — as is their right — to make their own judgment about what is important here and vote accordingly.

So if Ryan has not needed the Hall of Fame to tell him how to vote before now, why would he need such direction from the Hall in order to change his vote going forward? Or, more to the point, how on Earth could Ryan’s integrity hinge on some administrative diktat from someone like Jeff Idelson or whoever? If Ryan has decided that the PED judging has become a drag and that the Hall of Fame should just be about baseball, he can do that immediately. He can do that with the ballot he currently has sitting on his desk.

And if he did, it would be a far more powerful and useful thing than an administrator in Cooperstown changing the wording on the ballot. Bob Ryan is far more respected by sportswriters who vote for the Hall of Fame than Jeff Idelson is. What if someone in Bob Ryan’s position said this:

“Look, this is dumb. Baseball has a long sordid history and a few hundred baseball writers aren’t the history police. We’re baseball people, and we should just vote on the baseball and let the historians make the judgments with the benefit of study and time. We should just vote on the baseball side of it, and in 2014, I begin to do just that.”

If he did, others would likely follow his lead. And once they did, that would do more to fix a broken process than claiming that the Hall of Fame is keeping a person with as much knowledge, insight and strong opinions as Bob Ryan has from doing what he wants to do.