BBWAA writers not enjoying Hall of Fame voting like they used to

Lost in yesterday’s transaction news was this article by Kevin Draper of The New York Times. It’s titled, “Hall of Fame Voting, Once an Honor, Is Now Seen as a Hassle.” It’s mostly about the consternation members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) has had while filling out their Hall of Fame ballots that include players proven to have used or have been suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. Towards the end, there’s a nod to other “character” issues like Roger Clemens being a statutory rapist and Curt Schilling’s numerous offensive and hateful comments.

At the same time, Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal wrote on the same subject. He quotes Ryan Thibodaux, who runs the heralded BBHOF Tracker, who said that voting for Hall of Famers “just doesn’t seem like it’s a lot of fun” in 2021.

One of Diamond’s readers responded to him on Twitter saying, “I feel like not letting Schilling in is a contradiction because leaving someone out due to political views is not unifying nor tolerant. The message should be “even though we disagree, baseball is great because it binds us regardless of our differences.”

Diamond responded:

The Hall of Fame results will be announced tomorrow. I promise this will be the last I will harp on it, at least until next winter.

I would have responded to that reader differently. The Hall of Fame is not there to be “unifying” or “tolerant.” It’s a museum. It’s a private business that makes money off of tourism. If the reader suggested instead that it might not be business-savvy for the Hall to willingly enter into the battlefield of ideas, I might agree with that. But the Hall of Fame is not obligated to offer a neutral account of baseball history, or offer a platform to “both sides.”

The gist of the NYT and WSJ articles is that, for decades, BBWAA writers were simply arbiters of greatness on the baseball field. They were not arbiters of morality until relatively recently, when they began invoking the “character clause” so as not to vote for PED users. Because of the political polarization as well as the ubiquity of platforms on which to share our opinions, writers are getting criticized over every player they vote for, and every player they don’t vote for, for myriad reasons. Thus, the responsibility of voting doesn’t instill that sense of pride that it used to; writers dread the unavoidable torrent of criticism coming at them on social media. Mostly, the writers want to avoid politics and focus on the on-field performance.

If there is one thing that my readers take from me, I want it to be this: politics is inescapable. We make political choices every day without even thinking about it. Imagine waking up and going to Starbucks for a morning coffee. You go out to your Tesla. Tesla is vehemently anti-union on many fronts. CEO Elon Musk publicly threatened workers who planned to unionize, for example. If you buy and continue to drive a Tesla, you are funding anti-union efforts. You finally get to Starbucks, which has been accused of discrimination and pay gaps for immigrant, transgender, and Black baristas. You come back home and slip into your pajamas, which were handmade by a nine-year-old child in a Bangladesh sweatshop. You try to take your mind off things by scrolling through social media on your iPhone, which was produced in a Chinese “iPhone City,” where workers are commonly overworked and underpaid. You decide to be productive, paying your cable bill. Comcast, however, has earned money in uncountably immoral ways, including by continuing to include FOX News in its cable package. FOX News, you may recall, broadcast and continues to broadcast propaganda that helped incite and justify the insurrection on January 6.

No one has time to individually vet every single business they pay for goods or services, or every employer to whom they offer their labor, but this is the reality of life under capitalism (or, perhaps more accurately, an oligarchy, plutocracy, or kleptocracy). Your money is almost always being used in evil ways by rich and powerful people while preventing poor, underprivileged, disenfranchised people from attaining political and economic power. The decisions we make every day help keep this system propped up. I’m not blaming us, but is the reality.

Diamond attempts to circumvent politics, suggesting that Schilling isn’t being kept out due to his politics since Mariano Rivera, a fellow proud and outspoken Trump supporter like Schilling, was voted unanimously into the Hall of Fame. Diamond then brought up the time Schilling shared an image of a man wearing a shirt that said, “Rope. Tree. Journalist,” saying it was “not so fine” in comparison to Rivera’s conservative politics, which are “fine.”

But Schilling sharing that meme was politics. Schilling believes in the conspiracy that the media is made up of a cabal of leftists trying to silence conservatives. He bought Trump’s “fake news” slogan hook, line, and sinker. It was a more overt and more crass form of politics than Rivera’s smiling next to Trump and his going golfing with Trump, but it was politics nevertheless. Schilling’s politics are also conservative, proudly so.

Additionally, it is problematic that Diamond focused on the journalist-execution aspect of it. While awful, where is the similar outrage for Schilling’s transphobia, for his Islamophobia, for his anti-Semitism? Where was the outrage for Schilling’s support of easily falsifiable conspiracy theories surrounding the Parkland school shooting?

Therein lies the rub. For years, the BBWAA has been shrouded in privilege with its membership, which was made up of almost exclusively white men for decades. Privilege is me not thinking at all about the message I’m sending with my wardrobe choices while women consider it every day, lest they give men “the wrong idea.” Privilege is not fearing for my life when I get pulled over by a traffic cop the way a Black person does. Privilege is being implicitly respected for my opinions and analysis on sports — and many other subjects — because I am white and male.

Privileged BBWAA writers loved having their heads in the sand when it came to politics. It wasn’t that politics intersected with baseball all of a sudden; it was always there. But the writers were so privileged that they ignored it. Now, due to social media, and because more people who aren’t white men are in positions of power — including as editors of publications and as employees in MLB organizations — political issues aren’t as easily ignored. That many writers’ response to this pressure is to complain about it or quit (as referenced in Draper’s NYT article) betrays their privilege.

It is more than okay to refuse to vote for Schilling for his reprehensible politics and I wish more writers would own up to that. They owe it to their LGBTQIA+, Jewish, and Muslim colleagues, as well as those who are members of other disempowered communities. Schilling’s politics are antisocial and not becoming of a Major League Baseball player, let alone a Hall of Famer. It is okay to refuse to award him a platform this summer during the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Don’t hide from it; own it.