The Dan Wetzel Podcast returns to discuss … baseball?
Sure, because the chaos surrounding the Hall of Fame voting process was too much to ignore – based on media attention you'd think Dan Le Batard was inducted Wednesday, not Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas.
So Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports national baseball columnist, a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America and a Hall of Fame voter, joins to discuss the giving away of votes, the flaws in the process, whether Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, et al should get in, and even the joys of internet comment sections.
Check it out here (or on iTunes). It's free and a really good discussion.
The discussion is far more in depth, but my problems on this issue are two-tiered.
One is overarching: that the media should never vote for anything (Halls, MVPs, All-Stars, whatever) because it's not our job, we probably aren't qualified to do it (perhaps no one is), there are general ethical concerns and, ideally, we report the news, not make it.
That isn't going to happen, though, so the more precise problem with the BBWAA isn't that the organization is exclusionary and has too few voters – it's that it has too many.
The issue with Le Batard isn't that he relinquished his vote to Deadspin.com, who used a reader poll to select its choices. This was some tip-of-the-cap/old school/Don King level self-promotion. You have to respect the move that garnered him a ton of publicity, that, like it or not, is the lifeblood of at least part of the modern media. And the ballot submitted was reasonable and smart. Plus, who really cares? It was one of 600 ballots. No innocent kittens were murdered here.
No, the problem is Le Batard had a vote in the first place – and has, by his account, for 20 years. He acknowledges he isn't qualified to make the pick. He likely never was. He's a general columnist that only occasionally covers baseball.
Yet the way Major League Baseball and the BBWAA operate, and the way MLB allows (or at least did) the BBWAA to determine the ability of media outlets to cover the sport, is a core problem here.
To properly cover baseball, particularly in the postseason, it is almost inherent that a writer belong to the BBWAA.
For years, when Yahoo Sports was just starting up last decade, I tried to cover the baseball playoffs. Because I wasn't a member of the writers' organization, MLB PR would deny me a badge that allowed access to the pre- and (more importantly) postgame clubhouse. That meant I was at an extreme disadvantage to the competition because I couldn't speak to the players (other than the ones brought out for often passionless podium sessions). It's tough to write a column without that access – especially when everyone else had it.
I asked how do I get into the BBWAA, and the answer was cover 140 (or something like that) baseball games a year, which simply wasn't practical for a website that at the time had just one or two writers. I simply wanted to cover the playoffs, when our audience was most interested. No dice, MLB said; or at least, no talking to Derek Jeter.
MLB was essentially the only sports organization that acted this way. The NFL, NBA, NCAA, NHL, NASCAR, PGA and others understood that during their championships or major events, media that weren't there every day arrived. They saw the extra coverage from non-hardcore outlets as a boon.
MLB saw it differently. It was frustrating and nonsensical for those of us on the outside. It is the prime reason I vowed never to cover baseball if I ever had the opportunity to stop. That became possible once we hired Passan and Tim Brown, both of whom produce columns on the sport far superior to anything I could.
So I've never been back. Dealing with MLB was a headache. I don't even watch baseball anymore.
If you want to cover the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals or the Daytona 500, you don't have to join the various writer organizations of those sports. That's good, because a general columnist shouldn't be in those organizations. They are for the day-in, day-out media who need a collective voice with their respective leagues about various issues that come up.
The problem is, had I been forced to stick with covering the baseball playoffs, I would have needed to find a way into the BBWAA. If your media organization is established enough, they'll waive the minimum number of games standard.
As such, while the BBWAA is made up of many people who write exclusively and thoroughly and smartly about baseball, there are also plenty who don't – editors, former writers and columnists such as Le Batard.
They aren't "baseball writers" and don't claim to be, but because it is such an advantage to be in the BBWAA, they have to join. Eventually some of them get a Hall of Fame ballot despite lacking the passion and/or expertise the job should require.
If the BBWAA is going to accept the thankless job of selecting Hall of Famers – again, it shouldn't – it needs a smaller core group to do it, not the 600 currently. And that smaller group should include non-writers – nothing wrong with broadcasters or say, influential bloggers and stats mavens who have changed the way the game is consumed, but aren't hanging around doing interviews.
This isn't the 1950s anymore.