One Hall of Fame voter recuses himself from “creating the news that drives the outrage”

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Tim Brown of Yahoo is one of the best in the business. I think he’s an ace reporter and when he takes his reporting hat off and switches to his commentary hat, he’s just as good. The same certainly can’t be said of all reporter/columnists. So at the outset, let us be clear that I have nothing but respect for Brown and hold him in the highest regard.

But I truly am baffled by his column today in which he explains why he did not vote for the Hall of Fame this year. It wasn’t as a protest like Buster Olney. It was not because of some odd oversight like Paul Hoynes. It’s not because Yahoo — like the New York Times or Washington Post — has decided to bar its reporters from voting due to conflict of interest concerns. Rather, Brown is just tired of the rancor:

I simply tired of helping – in a very small way – to create the news that drove the outrage. The condescending diatribes. The uncivil debates. The arched eyebrows and spittle. The campaigning. The agendas. The disregard – no, the pointed hatred – for a contrary opinion.

This baffles me because, as Brown notes, voting for the Hall of Fame, by definition, is a news-making act. In light of that, I’m not sure how one can expect zero criticism for engaging in that news-making act any more than players can expect to be immune from criticism for their own news-making acts. Sure, one should not expect or deserve insults, name-calling or ad hominem attacks, but that’s a very, very, small part of the broader online Hall of Fame discussion.

And Brown himself takes issue with parts of it that are not, inherently, nasty or personal. “Campaigns?” Well, of course people will campaign for players they think should be in the Hall of Fame. “Agendas?” In this context, that word is synonymous with “opinion.” Hatred and spittle is one thing, but someone saying “your opinion is X, my opinion is Y, and here is why I think my opinion is better” is neither of those things. It’s the very basis of debate on any topic at all.

Which I think is the real issue: the fact that a debate is being had at all or that criticism is being lodged. A lot of sports writers really don’t much care for that. Believe me, I know. They tell me that all the time.

It’s understandable why they don’t. If they, like most sports writers who are tenured enough to have earned a Hall of Fame vote, came up the ranks at a newspaper in the print-only days, debate with readers is not a natural thing. Back before the Internet and the subsequent explosion of sports content on it, the only real way a sports reporter interacted with fans is if they wrote a letter to the paper (and if the writer cared enough to read it). Or maybe they’d interact with fans at a bar or someplace. But the interactions were extraordinarily small-scale and extraordinarily one-sided. The writer controlled the terms of the debate, such as it was, and could wholly remove himself from even having it if he wanted to. Writers were the authorities. Readers were, well, just readers. Passive audiences, really.

Today, that interaction has been democratized. There are comment sections and Twitter. People who had no choice but to be fans only back in the day can now write and/or opine about sports too. They can start blogs, for example. And if they’re lucky enough, they can even start blogs that get popular enough to where it becomes their job. More to the point, they can interact directly with the authorities. With the reporters and commentators who work for the newspaper or its 21st century successors. And who, in the context of the Hall of Fame, actually make news.

Democracy can be messy. It allows for that rancor and spittle Brown dislikes. I don’t much care for it either, frankly, and would like to see less of it. But that’s the price of democracy. The cost of doing business. And just because there’s some of that spittle and rancor doesn’t mean that any contrary voice is, by definition, spittle and rancor. Sometimes it’s just a contrary voice. Indeed, so very much a lot of what is perceived of as rancor or incivility is really just competing opinion. A natural byproduct of the democratization of sports commentary.

It’s insane, in this day and age, to think that people are not going to disagree with you when it comes to a topic which inspires passion, be it politics or sports or what have you. People voice their opinion on those things because people care about those things. To be surprised by that is silly. To be so turned off by that that one removes oneself from the general discussion altogether — or if one systematically seeks to avoid discussion by blocking out contrary voices through any available means — suggests that, maybe, one is not well-suited for modern sports discourse.

Maybe that puts it too strongly. I don’t know. But I know this much: If you write on the Internet on a subject a lot of people care about passionately and people don’t complain you’re probably doing your job poorly. That Tim Brown has been subject to such complaints — and that his work and his judgment on all things baseball is so clearly superior to that of most of his peers — is proof that he does not do his job poorly. Not by a longshot.

For that reason, I would hope that he sees fit next year to jump back into things and engage with the fans and bloggers and writers and wackos who care about this stuff so deeply. Maybe it gets a bit chippy sometimes, but it’s leaps and bounds better than where things were 20 years ago when there was no democracy to be found in the sports world and the conversation was completely one-sided.