Never underestimate the sensitivity of a Hall of Fame voter

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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.

Angels’ Andrelton Simmons opts out of final 5 games

Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Shortstop Andrelton Simmons has opted out of the remainder of the Los Angeles Angels’ season.

The Angels announced the four-time Gold Glove-winning shortstop’s decision Tuesday before they faced the San Diego Padres.

Los Angeles (24-31) is still technically in the playoff race with five games left in the regular season, and Simmons clearly caught the Angels by surprise, although the club said it respected his decision.

The 31-year-old Simmons, who can be a free agent this winter, is finishing his fifth year with the Angels. After spraining his ankle in late July and missing 22 games, Simmons is currently batting .297 with 10 RBIs while playing his usual stellar defense, albeit with four errors in 30 games.

“At this time, I feel this is the best decision for me and my family,” Simmons said in a statement. “We don’t know what the future holds, but we would like to sincerely thank the Angels organization and Angels fans for welcoming and making us feel at home.”

Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged he was caught by surprise when general manager Billy Eppler told him about Simmons’ decision Monday night after Simmons went 1 for 4 with an RBI single in the Angels’ home finale. Maddon texted Simmons, but hadn’t heard back by Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ve really enjoyed this guy a lot,” Maddon said. “I’m a big fan. This guy is a good baseball player, and I’ve enjoyed the conversations, too. It’s just unfortunate. He’s really a big part of what we’re doing right now.”

Simmons is a favorite of Angels fans for his defensive wizardry, and owner Arte Moreno has described Simmons as perhaps his favorite player to watch on the roster. Simmons has batted .281 with 36 homers and 281 RBIs during his five seasons with Los Angeles, and he won the Gold Glove in 2017 and 2018.

“He’s a thinking kind of a player, and I’ve enjoyed him a lot,” Maddon said.

Simmons will be a free agent this winter, and the Angels have an obvious replacement for him in David Fletcher, who has a .374 on-base percentage while regularly hitting leadoff for the Angels during his breakout major league season. Fletcher has been playing second base since Simmons’ return from injury.

But the Angels haven’t publicly closed the door on Simmons’ return, and he could be given a qualifying offer. Maddon has repeatedly said he would like Simmons to return in 2021 if possible.

The Angels haven’t had a winning season during Simmons’ five years in Anaheim, although Simmons said last week he wasn’t discouraged by the lack of team success. Simmons played his first four major league seasons in Atlanta, and he hasn’t appeared in the postseason since 2013.

Simmons also said he hadn’t been involved in any recent contract talks with the Angels, but he had enjoyed playing for the club. When asked if he wanted to return to the Halos, Simmons said he would have to “plead the fifth.”