The Wall Street Journal‘s Jared Diamond and freelance sportswriter Mike Vorkunov run a mailing list and a site devoted to conversations with other writers about their work, their interests and their various processes. This week, they invited me to participate. We discussed the process of writing The Cooperstown Casebook, Hall of Fame voting and the biggest Cooperstown snubs. Here’s one of the 10 questions I answered at length, a question I’m asked with some regularity:
6. Why do people get so darn worked up over the Hall of Fame vote? Seriously, every year it’s total chaos on the internet for a month, and some of the rhetoric from fans is ridiculously intense. What is it about this topic that gets to people? And what sort of feedback do you get, especially when JAWS doesn’t bode well for a particular candidate?
Because baseball has such a connection to the icons of its storied past, such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax, the Hall is a place that transcends the limitations of its geographic isolation. Practically every fan has some strong reaction to the Hall, whether it’s, “I don’t care,” or, “I don’t think [this guy] should be in,” or, “I can’t believe [this guy] isn’t in!” Fans can conjure up those plaques in their mind’s eye every time they take stock of greatness, and they want their experiences validated. They want to say, “I saw [this Hall of Famer] play when he was in his prime,” or something along those lines.
Because of that, and because of the increasing transparency of the voting — with more and more voters revealing their ballots either before or after the results are announced — the annual election season has become a spectator sport unto itself, a companion to the Hot Stove transaction chatter. As I discovered in my first winter of blogging (2001-2002), and particularly when I wrote about that winter’s ballot (pre-JAWS), fans love to read about baseball during the harsh winter months, even if they don’t necessarily agree with you. They want to be reminded that spring, and baseball season, is coming!
With the rise of social media, the process has certainly become more unruly than it was in the past, because readers have access to the voters and not only can tell them that their ballots stink but offer lengthy rebuttals to a given voter’s position. They want to hold voters accountable. To some extent, the expectation isn’t of a democracy but of a republic, with the voters representing the will of the people.
Certainly, not everybody — fan or voter — buys into JAWS. Some who disagree believe that the metric’s position on a given candidate debunks the validity of the entire advanced statistical movement and its adherents; we saw that with the Blyleven/Morris debate just as surely as we did in the Cabrera/Trout 2012 AL MVP race. In both of those, a lot of the rancor and petty, childish name-calling was from those in positions of authority, the voters, even some of the big names. Spink Award winners going on about “sun-starved stat geeks” and the “vigilante sabermetric brigade” and nerds living in mom’s basement. That just poured gasoline on the fire and produced a spectacle that now draws even more people to it.
In case you were wondering…