For great players of past, present, and future, getting into the Hall of Fame is a final feather in the cap to culminate dominance. To be enshrined among the very best is an honor, but one that doesn't come without weeks worth of controversy leading up to the reveal of the inductees and the subsequent ceremony.
When induction to the Hall of Fame is left up to writers of varying degrees of merit, the picture of who is and should be in or out becomes pretty muddy. You have steroid grandstanding and suspected steroid grandstanding, which is a completely separate topic in and of itself. Aside from the guys with that cloud over their heads, there are players on the ballot who just deserve your vote. They deserve everyone's vote. To most of us, Greg Maddux is a Hall of Famer without question. If we were voting, it would be pretty impossible to leave him off our ballots. Had we been able to vote for Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle or any of the massive amounts of unarguable stars of baseball, we'd have had to put them on the ballot because there is no question that they'd earned it.
However, because the process of getting into the Hall of Fame is left up to those writers with varying degrees of legitimacy – before you think I'm being harsh here, there is a guy who writes about golf for a living that is given a Hall of Fame ballot – Maddux, like the greats before him and after him, will not be a unanimous selection for the Hall of Fame. You see, there is a Dodgers' beat writer in the world who has taken it upon himself to vote only for Jack Morris. That's it. The rest of the BBWAA voters can go about putting those people in who actually deserve it because this guy has decided to send a message.
Whether or not you think Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer, voting for him and him alone is pretty disgraceful on a ballot of so many deserving players. The reasoning behind not voting for Maddux? You guessed it, he played in the Steroid Era. An amazing pitcher without the cloud of steroids hanging over him isn't worthy of a vote because he was born in the wrong time period. He should have been 20 years older so that he could compete when the game was as clean as crystal is clear. Then and only then could he be worthy of Mr. Ken Gurnick's ballot.
The response to Gurnick's vote has understandably been spirited. You can't go not voting for Maddux and expect the masses to shrug that off. It's his vote and his opinion, sure, but having an opinion doesn't mean you are entitled to no recourse for having a bad one. Gurnick's actions don't hurt Maddux because Maddux will get in, regardless. No, the people that Gurnick's grandstanding hurts the most are the people who are on the cusp. Those guys who are teetering on the line of getting in and not getting in on a crowded ballot that is only getting more crowded next season. Those people are hurt by Gurnick turning in a ballot with one questionable name on it and no one else instead of voting for ten names or eight names or even five names. Making a statement with a ballot serves little purpose beyond making that writer the center of attention. The BBWAA threw a fit last year and inducted no one, causing the logjam situation of this year, and mailing in a ballot with only Jack Morris' name on it is the equivalent of another temper tantrum.
Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera will fall short of unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame for the very same reason. Someone out there is going to needlessly leave them off their ballot to make a statement. Obvious Hall of Famers to anyone who has watched or heard about baseball in the last 20 years, but two players who will be left off at least one ballot because a writer feels like stepping into the limelight for a week or so. In fact, Mr. Gurnick himself says that he would have left Rivera off, too. Having that happen won't cost either of them induction into the Hall of Fame, but it will cost someone at some point, and the fact that there is no recourse for writers who choose to do that is incredibly sad and evidence of a broken system.
Leave the steroid users out if you must. It's not a stance I agree with, but it's one that I can understand. If a writer is going to mail in a ballot that only serves as a slap in the face to what the Hall of Fame is supposed to be about, which is, to me, voting in the best players to recognize their accomplishments, I'd rather they sell their vote to Deadspin.
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