Opinion: Cherry bombs in the cathedral: Baseball’s image problem

Tyler Kieslich is the sports editor for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]

Tyler Kieslich

When I first discovered the blog Deadspin, it was something of a personal revelation — in a sports journalism landscape that over the last few decades has become a mostly literate exercise in inanity, it was refreshing to read something that took itself seriously while having the courage to point out the absurdity of sports and sports coverage. But mostly I kept coming back to the site because it makes me laugh. When was the last time a Woody Paige column made anyone feel anything but utter existential terror?

The site’s announcement that it would be “buying” (the money was to be given to charity) a vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame in order to allow its readers to vote on the ballot was funny, yes, but it was also an inherently political act. Ever since the conversation about baseball transformed into a conversation about steroids and how those who used them deserve retribution, voting for the Hall Fame has more or less become a competition between sports writers to decide who is the most moral among them. 

When the Miami Herald’s Dan Le Batard was revealed as the writer whose vote was given to the Deadspin readers, his critique of the “sanctimony” of the process — that the writers know any better than fans about who deserves to be preserved for posterity — was met with that same sanctimony. Le Batard was called an attention-seeker by the same people whose finger-wagging at players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, two of the best players of all time, has turned attention away from the players to the process in which they participate. 

At the heart of the issue is the collective unwillingness of the baseball writers to accept anything other than a confusing status quo. New stats and metrics can’t be trusted, and drug-users or bad interviews aren’t worthy of a plaque in the same building as such pious demigods as Ty Cobb (racist), Micky Mantle (amphetamine user) or Sandy Koufax who reported being “half-high” on the mound due to the amount of non-anabolic steroids he took).

Funnily enough, there was nothing radical about the Deadspin ballot. The readers voted for Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Curt Schilling. The idea that Le Batard somehow debased the process is absurd, especially when you consider that another writer’s ballot consisted solely of Jack “3.90 ERA” Morris. 

Baseball has essentially insulated itself from its fans. This is Le Batard’s critique. In the reveal-post on Deadspin, he wrote:

“Baseball is always reticent to change, but our flawed voting process needs remodeling in a new media world. Besides, every year the power is abused the way I’m going to be alleged to abuse it here. There’s never been a unanimous first-ballot guy? Seriously? If Ruth and Mays and Schmidt aren’t that, then who is?”

Le Batard has since been stripped of his Hall of Fame vote and kicked out of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Clearly allowing fans to decide who should be in their Hall is a sin that deserves to be punished. In baseball, democracy is a first-degree offense.

In the end, the stunt amounts to little more than a cherry bomb going off in what Le Batard calls “the cathedral we’ve made of sports.” But Le Batard cannot be the only voter who had these anxieties about what baseball’s Hall of Fame has become. If others had the audacity to stand up for they believe in, it might actually be possible to blow the whole thing up. Then we can all stop worrying about the game’s “purity” and appreciate its beauty.