BBWAA writers continue to embarrass themselves with HOF ballots
Phil Rogers says he "took a beating" on social media after revealing that he voted for Omar Vizquel.
Phil Rogers of Forbes submitted his 2021 Hall of Fame ballot, posting a picture of it on Twitter. His four votes went to Mark Buehrle, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, and Omar Vizquel. Regular readers of this newsletter will know how I feel about this ballot already. Suffice it to say I’m not a fan.
Rogers, as expected, received a torrent of criticism for myriad reasons: voting for only four players, voting for Buehle (arguably not good enough), voting for Schilling (a virulent bigot), and voting for Vizquel (a domestic abuser) among them. It was the latter that brought him the most scorn.
Responding to conversations about Vizquel’s wrongdoing, Rogers defended himself:
Brandon Warne @Brandon_Warne@edddgu @Nick_BPSS @philgrogers @NotMrTibbs He admitted to hitting and choking her
Korean Miami Dolphins Stan #GSBOUT @KoreanHammerWhat about the character clause, Phil? https://t.co/vPYki1C0Fv
Melissa Geschwind @MGeschwind@philgrogers I would urge you to stop defending your vote for a moment and listen to what people are saying. This isn't a question of whether someone's stats warrant the honor - it's a matter of normalizing the abuse of women.
First of all, saying that he is “taking a beating” receiving criticism over Twitter for supporting an abuser is a really poor choice of words coming from a professional writer. (“Shades of grey” is also questionable.)
Secondly, one cannot say “the abuse of women is reprehensible,” then automatically believe the alleged abuser over the victim, who has made credible claims. Vizquel also admitted to hitting his wife and pulling her hair, but the charges against him were dropped. Dropped charges doesn’t mean there was no abuse; it simply means the prosecutor didn’t find enough reason to pursue the case further, which happens for a variety of reasons. For instance, abuse victims will oftentimes recant their story or refuse to cooperate with authorities for fear of further retribution from their abuser. They may also depend on the abuser for food, money, shelter, etc. and may also want to protect their children, if they have any.
This is not Rogers’ first go-around with this subject matter. He adamantly defended former Cubs shortstop Addison Russell in June 2017 after his ex-wife Melisa Reidy published a blog detailing years of physical and mental abuse. MLB suspended Russell 40 games following an investigation, which Russell did not appeal.
In the years that followed, when the Cubs were rumored to be considering releasing Russell, Rogers said again and again the team should value Russell’s production over his alleged off-field conduct. Despite the mountain of criticism he received on social media at the time, he doubled down in an article at Forbes, which resulted in yet more criticism he ignored.
I’m unsure exactly how old Rogers is, but I’ll guess around 63 years old, since he says he graduated from North Texas State University in 1978. He’s also white and presumably a cisgender male, shrouding him in privilege when approaching this issue. For the bulk of Rogers’ career, he rarely had to deal with reader feedback. If he did, it was by mail or via a chance public encounter. His fellow writers and editors were also presumably mostly white and cisgender men, creating a feedback void, if you will, on issues that affect marginalized people, such as domestic violence.
Rogers deserves every ounce of criticism he got for his articles and tweets, but he is also a symptom of a larger, systemic problem. Baseball writers, particularly those in the Baseball Writers Association of America, are still not a diverse bunch. Only a smattering of credentialed writers are non-white and non-cis-male. That’s why they’re able to overlook Vizquel’s abuse, as well as Schilling’s racism and transphobia: because they are not directly affected by any of those issues. This is not to say men can’t be abused, but rather that abuse is something experienced by marginalized groups at much higher rates.
For cis-women, trans, and non-binary people, they are at higher risk of domestic abuse. On the whole, they likely would not be as quick to overlook Vizquel’s behavior. A Muslim likely would be less willing to extend a vote for Schilling given his Islamophobic social media posts. Even if they initially weren’t, they would likely be more receptive to criticism, especially if it came from other marginalized groups, and be willing change their opinions.
Here’s an incomplete list of current BBWAA members. It’s very white and very male. That’s the real issue. Those running publications need to be willing to provide opportunities to people who don’t look like them, starting with paid internships and extending all the way into leadership positions. During that process, they will become credentialed by the BBWAA, helping to change its demographics.
Stephen Nelson discussed a related issue on MLB Network recently with MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park and Jen Mac Ramos of Baseball Prospectus. They discussed Kim Ng’s hiring as GM of the Marlins, as Ng became the first female GM and the first Asian-American GM in Major League Baseball, as well as media coverage of the topic. I highly recommend watching it if you have 10 minutes.
Beyond diversifying its pool of credentialed members, the BBWAA could also address this issue that comes up every winter ahead of January’s Hall of Fame announcement where the writers vote for bad people and some percentage of baseball fans criticize those writers. The BBWAA famously invokes the character clause in its rules:
Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.
It’s vague, which is part of the problem. The BBWAA should officially codify that players who write or act in bigoted ways (e.g. racism, sexism, transphobia, Islamophobia) or who have been accused of abusing other people (or animals) are ineligible for election to the Hall of Fame until further notice. If that player is proven to have been falsely accused, he can be restored to the ballot along with the years of eligibility he had remaining at the time of being made ineligible. If it’s important to them, they can even add performance-enhancing drug users to the list, since it seems to be an issue they collectively care about much more than abuse. This saves the writers from having to make judgment calls and saves us from having to go through the same song and dance every December.
Another option is to allow other people to vote on Hall of Fame candidates, either along with or instead of BBWAA members. They could include former players and coaches, and/or fans. However, we’re likely to run into a lot of the same problems since the group of retired players and coaches is also not very diverse and won’t be for a very long time.
People from marginalized communities can still have blind spots on certain issues, so diversification isn’t a panacea to all that ails the BBWAA. But it would be a huge step in the right direction. As with Congress, the fewer 60-plus-year-old cis white men we have running around wielding power, the better.
Happy New Year!
At long last, 2020 is over. Unless some enormous news breaks in the next 24 hours or so, this will likely be the final newsletter of 2020 I’ll be sending out. I would like to thank all of you for following along with me here since I started this newsletter in August. I hope all of you have a happy and healthy 2021.
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