The moose on the ballot.

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This Year's Futile Hall of Fame Protest

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame system is broken, and a veteran journalist wants nothing to do with it.

ESPN’s Buster Olney has a piece up explaining, “Why I’m abstaining from HOF voting,” in which he decides to leave his ballot out of this year’s vote in protest of the many problems with the process. In particular, Olney calls out the 10-player maximum, blank protest ballots cast by other voters, and the treatment of candidates who played during the steroid era.

As Olney writes, the arbitrary limit on the number of players on the ballot often forces voters to exclude deserving candidates, which is wholly contrary to the entire point of the Hall of Fame. Players such as Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling and Tim Raines shouldn't be “borderline,” but the crowded ballot renders them so.

The problem is compounded by the continuous buildup of players suspected of performance-enhancing drug use and layover candidates from the previous year’s ballot. The “retroactive morality” of many baseball writers, as Olney puts it, obstructs the path to the hall for deserving stars. If we could clear the ballot of the names Bonds, McGwire and Sosa, it would significantly boost the candidadicies of the Mussinas, Schillings and Raineses.

Finally, Olney blasts self-righteous voters who send in “protest ballots” -- blank ballots that serve no purpose outside of hurting every player’s candidacy because they lower everyone's percentage of "yes" votes. He concludes that not sending in a ballot at all is the best thing he can do for Mussina et al.

Outside of that, however, it’s unclear what this act of defiance can actually accomplish. Hall of Fame voting has needed a significant overhaul for years, and as we know, Major League Baseball is particularly resistant to change.

Olney’s certainly not the first writer to call for a fix, nor is he the first to use his ballot to do so. Last year, ESPN’s Dan Le Batard sold his ballot to Deadspin, which in turn filled it out with readers’ votes, in an attempt to make “a farce and mockery of the increasingly solemn election process.” That goal was certainly accomplished, but outside of Le Batard being subsequently stripped of his vote, no changes resulted.

Olney is a highly respected writer who carries much more influence in the insular world of baseball. If anything, his buttoned-up, establishment reputation sends the message that those calling for change to the Hall of Fame process aren’t just the young radicals who populate the mastheads of sports blogs.

While I certainly hope the baseball establishment will take notice, there’s little reason to expect any real reforms; the system is built to inherently resist change. The one problem Olney didn’t cite is actually the one with the greatest impact, and the one most in need of amending: Hall of Fame voters retain their voting privileges for life. Increasingly out-of-touch journalists unable to adapt to the constantly evolving criteria for induction thus hold disproportionate power over the election process. That’s how you get years like 2013, when the writers petulantly failed to vote a single candidate in. That’s why Bruce Sutter has a plaque in Cooperstown but Mike Mussina is still waiting for his.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Kavitha A. Davidson at kdavidson19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net