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I’m getting out of the Mocking-Hall-of-Fame-Ballots Business

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It’s Hall of Fame season and that means everyone with a vote is writing columns or tweeting out their ballots. Even people without votes are doing it.

Normally this is also the season where I write a lot of posts ripping bad ballots, bad reasoning behind those ballots and, often, ugly rhetoric and innuendo from voters (Hi, Pedro Gomez!). I really don’t feel like doing that this year, however. Indeed, I’m getting out of the mocking-hall-of-game-ballots business.

It’s not because there aren’t bad ballots being cast and spurious reasoning being offered in their defense. There certainly are. I’m just having a harder time caring so much about them and if you’re going to criticize something, especially if you’re going to do it sharply like I often do, you have to care about it.

Which isn’t to say I don’t care about the Hall of Fame or the players on the ballot. I do and always will. I’ve simply decided that Johnny Sportswriter of the North Haverbrook Picayune and his “Lee Smith, Fred McGriff, Ken Griffey and no one else” ballot and his column in which he accuses online writers of living in their mothers’ basements isn’t worth getting mad about. If a couple of decades of advances in baseball analysis and writing hasn’t penetrated his thick skull, he’s not listening to me either.

In a lot of ways it’s similar to how I’ve changed my views on music criticism. I used to get mad when people liked stuff I didn’t and didn’t like stuff I did. I would argue about it all day. Eventually, though, I stopped. Not because people I argued with suddenly understood that my tastes were great and theirs sucked. And not because I got to some zen “hey, everyone’s opinion is equally valid” place. After all, even even in matters of personal taste there are some baseline objective criteria in play (and baseball analysis is still way more objective than music is). No, I gave up on that because I simply decided that one person being wrong or ignorant about something does not require me to yell at them. There are other things worth yelling about and there is only so much yelling one can do.

And really, what are the stakes here? We’ve now gone several years without one of baseball’s all-time best hitters, all-time best pitchers and the all-time leader in base hits not in the Hall of Fame and no one has died. Barry Bonds is no less great because some self-important moralists decided that he shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. My memories of Bonds playing are not sullied. If asked I will explain to anyone why Bonds was, in fact, great even if I’ve done it 1,000 times before, but I’m not going to use the now regrettably arbitrary fact of his Hall of Fame induction or exclusion as the jumping off point. If Johnny Sportswriter wants to continue to patrol some imaginary beat and believe that he’s protecting people from something he can do it. I’ll be over here talking about baseball players and games and stuff. The stuff from which the matter of Hall of Fame induction has become increasingly removed but which matters a whole hell of a lot more in an absolute sense.

I won’t entirely cede the field here. I may still tweet some barbs and jokes about someone’s Hall of Fame ballot from time to time. If someone’s Hall of Fame column is vile and petulant and borderline slanderous — as many have been over the past few years — I may write about it. And in no way will I ever accept Johnny Sportswriter’s defense of his dumb ballot — “hey, it’s my opinion and my opinion is my opinion” — because I don’t recall reading anyplace that opinions, by their very nature, are incapable of being dumb and uninformed. But I’ve decided that dense men simply casting bad votes is not worth putting anyone on blast over anymore. Partially for its own sake and mostly because that little exercise has very little to do with the fun business of talking about baseball.

Well, maybe Murray Chass. His bad opinions are at least kind of entertaining so I reserve the right to talk about them when he releases his ballot. Always gotta save room for Uncle Murray at the Christmas table.

The harrowing tale of the end of Bobby Jenks’ baseball career

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Bobby Jenks was a key part of the 2005 world champion White Sox. By 2010, his effectiveness as a closer fell off and he signed with the Boston Red Sox for the 2011 season. He’d pitch in only 19 games that year, suffer a back injury and would never pitch again.

In the year or so after that, we heard that Jenks was arrested for driving under the influence. And then we heard that his back surgery was botched, and his baseball career was over. Then, after years of silence, we learned last spring that Jenks won $5.1 million in a medical malpractice suit against the doctor who performed his surgery.

We did not, however, know all the details until Bobby Jenks wrote about them at the Players’ Tribune this morning. This is must-click link stuff, folks.

Jenks talks about how a seemingly innocuous pitch to Jorge Posada in an early-season Red Sox-Yankees game in 2011 was the last pitch he’d ever throw. He talks about the presumably simple surgery that would supposedly get him back on the field. And then the scary complications in which he almost died due to leaking spinal fluid resulting from the botched surgery. Then, after using painkillers to deal with back pain, Jenks’ fell into drug addiction, all of which culminated in him finding himself half-naked and crazed in a car that didn’t belong to him with police and rescue workers surrounding him.

Jenks got clean but his wife left him. And then he mounted a multi-year lawsuit during which he learned that the reason his back surgery was screwed up was because the surgeon was performing two surgeries at one time, which is an apparently common practice called “concurrent surgery,” that sounds like it totally should NOT be a common practice.

Yet Jenks has survived. He’s been sober for over seven years and he seems to be in a good place. But boy did he have to go through something harrowing to get there. Definitely take the time to read it.