Greg Maddux deserves to be a unanimous Hall of Famer. Know what? So did Babe Ruth. He received only 95 percent of the vote. And Ted Williams. He cracked 93 percent. Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle got in at 88 percent. Bob Gibson was 84 percent and Rogers Hornsby 78 percent. Jackie Robinson – Jackie Robinson! – barely eclipsed the 75 percent threshold.
Thankfully, the world did not end upon the brave revelation from MLB.com's Ken Gurnick on Tuesday that, no, he did not vote for Maddux in this year's Hall of Fame election. And, yes, even if submitting a ballot bearing only Jack Morris' name with the rationale that he did not want to vote for anyone from the steroid era seemed logically specious, Gurnick was indeed brave by publicly admitting he left Maddux off his ballot. Because if history is any indication, there surely will be others, and nobody aside from Gurnick has put a name or face to such a choice. Everyone should be so bold to proffer an opinion knowing fiery criticism will accompany.
It is brave, too, because he knowingly made himself the face of a debate far greater than the ballot of one man or woman, the sort of conundrum that confounds the Hall of Fame, the Baseball Writers Association of America and Major League Baseball more than a half-decade after it first surfaced. And for that, I'd actually like to thank Ken Gurnick, with whom I vehemently disagree and still can manage to respect because he has spent decades in this game, in plenty of different capacities, and is far from some troll who wanted to send Morris and Maddux into the trending-topics column on Twitter.
He deserves our gratitude because his ballot will foster progress. Honestly. Amid all the noise about his ballot bubbled a worthwhile conversation about how writers with 10 years in the BBWAA must approach this eminently complicated issue. Gurnick's approach – ignore the steroid era, or at least some arbitrarily defined time where PED use likely was at its highest – drew the sort of criticism that, at very least, will make those of us who try to approach their ballots as open-minded consider the benefits and harms of doing the same.
And that, really, is what the BBWAA owes the public: to treat every ballot not just with an open mind but a level of intellectual consistency and logic that befits those given the privilege of casting a vote.
What once was a straightforward election based on performance now gurgles with questions of morality and ethics, of rules and rule-breakers, of how sportswriters, of all people, get to play judge and arbiter for the place that serves as the sport's historical heart. Even though the BBWAA has managed to do the best job of the four major sports inducting players into its hall, its position remains tenuous because of the perception that it does things wrong, because one ballot can speak louder than its 600-plus companions, even if they count the same.
It was Gurnick's right, as well as the others who left Maddux off, to vote as he did. It is the public's right to criticize his reasons for doing so. At the same time, the vitriol that pervades something as benign as Hall of Fame voting drowned out the more salient points being made about the standards to which those voting ought hold themselves.
The screaming to take away Gurnick's vote? Silly, even if he did later tell MLB Network Radio this would be his final ballot. Every election comes with votes that one side or another believes is not just illogical but incorrect. Nobody's vote was taken away because they voted for John Kerry or Mitt Romney. The Rent Is Too Damn High guy got 40,000 votes in the New York gubernatorial election. Forty thousand!
Stupid votes exist everywhere because they are part and parcel with elections, in which we are asked to provide our best, most-informed opinions and apply them to the particular task in front of us. Fans are not owed some sort of uniformity among voters to induct players who cross some supposed threshold of worthiness. That's the beauty of the vote. I appreciate that my colleagues have a place on their ballots for Jack Morris. He crosses their Rubicon. He did not mine.
Similarly, my votes for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens leave me open for criticism, the sort of which I understand. They were cheaters. They disrespected the game. They are in direct opposition to the Hall voting rule's character clause. For some, that is enough to keep them out. Because I do not know the full extent of that time period – who used, who didn't – I have trouble rendering judgment on the guilty knowing the same exist among the presumed innocent. And so it's a matter of wiping out the whole era, as Gurnick chose, or believing in the Hall of Fame's ability as a history museum to properly address the issues of PEDs on the plaques of the known guilty.
History is history, even at its ugliest, and the players who embodied it deserve recognition for their accomplishments no matter the transgressions.
Forming that perspective took a decade, and it's my evolution toward it that gives me hope today can, at very least, force my peers to think hard about their opinions and make sure they are strong, resolute and, above all, rational and consistent. Like it or not, the Hall of Fame left it up to the BBWAA to parse the steroid era without any guidance, and amid a deluge of criticism, the membership cannot take on an us-vs.-them mentality. Because it's not. Legislation in place to significantly expand BBWAA membership shows the organization's commitment to guiding itself forward as a progressive group that best represents writers today.
And, in turn, with the interconnectedness of our world doing wonders for our knowledge and opinions, hopefully the electorate will get smarter. That doesn't mean voting for one guy or not voting for another. It means the organization should force itself to make ballots public and put the onus on every voter to explain his or her vote. It is a tough choice to make, opening up yourself to potential ridicule. It is also one an industry that thrives on criticism would be hypocritical not to adopt.
The armchair analysis will harden some, but most voters are conscientious enough to at least listen, to recognize that amid the insults and screams there are some good points, points that can help us get this thing as right as possible.
At 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday, when the BBWAA releases the results of the balloting, Greg Maddux may well go in with a 99-point-something percent, the highest number in history. Considering what some of his superiors – and there aren't many of those – received, it's safe to say the BBWAA did get him right, even if it wasn't perfect.
And maybe it's best that way. It got us talking, and if one vote today can influence many more 10 years down the road, it will have been well worth it.