BAYHAM: The Other Disappointing Election

After spending the past year writing dozens of columns about the presidential race, I figured I might as well air my grievances about another ballot that didn’t go the way I had hoped: the election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Unlike the electorate for president, those empowered to elevate individuals to Cooperstown are in a select club, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America- a group so exclusive it doesn’t even include broadcasters or former players.

Now admittedly, I’m somewhat of a “homer” in that I have been a fan of the Houston Astros’ Craig Biggio since childhood. Biggio has played multiple positions on the field, starting off as a catcher before moving over to second base and then outfield before shifting back to second. And though a solid fielder, Biggio established himself as a Hall of Famer as a batter…and sometimes as a target.

Biggio is one of the game’s best-hitting second basemen, with a career .281 batting average, 291 home runs, 55 triples and 414 stolen bases. Surpassing the 3000 hit mark is generally viewed as an achievement that assures a player of induction in the hall; Biggio finished his career with 3060 hits.

The seven-time all-star, four-time Gold Glove winner also has the distinction of having been hit by more pitches (285) than any other player but one, Hughie Jennings- and Jennings played ball in a time when Louisville was a major league city and Baltimore had a National League team.

But the category where Biggio really distinguished himself was in doubles. Biggio batted 668 of these extra-base hits, ranking him fifth on the all-time list.
The four ahead of him, in order, are Tris Speaker, Pete Rose, Stan Musial and Ty Cobb. Three Hall of Famers, all four legends.

And he did it playing his entire career with one team in twenty seasons, something that is unheard of with Major League Baseball’s current big money free agency.
The eight players below Biggio in this category are all Hall of Famers, which begs the question, why was this Hall of Fame caliber player denied election on a first ballot?
Were there really 10 other players on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot with better credentials than Biggio or did the “expert” scribes simply strike out?

In order to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, a player needs to receive 75% of the vote from the ballots returned. Baseball writers can vote for up to ten individuals on the ballot or for fewer…or none at all. Not all ballots are returned, which brings down the vote threshold. However a returned blank ballot does the opposite, counting towards the total vote needed for induction.

Biggio received 388 votes out of 569 returned ballots, for 68%, 39 votes short of the required 75%.

The2013 ballot included 37 names and a total of 3,756 votes were cast, for an average of 6.6 votes per ballot. Apparently a number of baseball writers chose to leave some of their duty in the dugout. And then there were five who didn’t even bother going to the stadium. senior writer Howard Bryant was one of those who made the effort to send in his ballot but didn’t bother marking it.

Bryant tried to clothe his decision (or lack thereof) in a garb of sanctimonious outrage about performance enhancing drugs or something or other, but Biggio was never implicated in the steroid scandal that has tainted the record book and led to almost as much gnashing of teeth as the players’ union that wrecked the game. So why take it out on Biggio or Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher Jack Morris, who is approaching the end eligibility?

How 100+ sports journalists who ostensibly cover the game would pull an intentional walk on what should have been an easy first ballot election for Biggio defies logic, though such stupidity (yes, because that is what it is) is hardly unprecedented.

Take the case of Corky Simpson who used to write for the Tucson Citizen and member of the BBWAA. Simpson didn’t vote for the all-time stolen base leader and the sport’s greatest leadoff hitter when Rickey Henderson appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot but allocated votes to eight other players (!).

Simpson was later called out for his ludicrous votes and apologized for his unenforced error.

A few months ago, I had an opportunity to chat with Biggio about his chances of being elected on a first ballot. Biggio wasn’t optimistic , though I’m certain his reservations had nothing to do his production as a plaer but knowing how many other “Corky Simpsons” contaminate the process of gaining entry to the hall.

Biggio will almost certainly meet the 75% in 2014 as the embarrassment of the BBWAA’s hall shutout has initiated a backlash of criticism and questioning about their role in selecting inductees. Biggio’s longtime teammate and the 2013 ballot’s third place finisher Jeff Bagwell, was blunt in assessment, calling his friend’s induction delay a travesty.
There’s clearly something wrong when deserving players have their date with Cooperstown needlessly delayed if not upended by baseball writers who clearly lack judgment, objectivity and perspective. It’s obvious some of these voters revel in playing spoilers while others use their privilege to draw attention to themselves.

American Idol judges display more professionalism in their task than far too many baseball writers charged with serving as Cooperstown’s gatekeepers.

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