Saturday, January 11, 2014

Rewriting the Constitution, BBWAA-Style

The Hall of Fame fever has already broken—the baseball world moved on to Alex Rodriguez today—but I want to get in a final word before we all forget everything we've learned and do it all over again in 2015.

There was a lot of anger this week. There were people saying anyone who didn't vote for Greg Maddux should lose their right to vote. After one writer actually was stripped of his right to vote, the liberal writers and bloggers who condoned the Deadspin poll suggested that nonserious voters like Murray Chass get their votes revoked instead. And I've seen it written that the Hall of Fame needs to step outside its current voting process and form a committee to get PED users like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens into the Hall, because the current process clearly won't be voting them in any time soon.

I want to be 100% clear: as I've said many times, I believe Bonds and Clemens are Hall of Famers. I don't believe players should be banned for life from the Hall of Fame because they committed offenses that weren't even enough to get them banned a single game when they played. (For those who played during the drug-testing era, I believe that MLB's clearly delineated rules—50 games for a first offense, 100 for a second, and life for a third—set the ground rules for a player's eligibility. If someone fails three drug tests, he's banned for life, including from the Hall. If he fails less than three, he served his time and all should be forgiven.) I also believe that Murray Chass, Ken Gurnick, and others were wrong and destructive to have voted the way they did—opting for Jack Morris over Greg Maddux, choosing to leave slots on their ballot open when there are up to 20 Hall-worthy players, etc. etc.

But, to be clear, I also believe that millions of Americans were wrong when they went into the voting booth on November 6, 2012, and voted against my preferred candidate. Likewise, I hate that a small minority of people don't treat their vote with the respect that I, as a lover of politics and a junkie for government, believe it deserves. People make silly write-in votes, or they vote for third parties in extremely close and consequential elections. But that's their right; people disagree sometimes. And I don't support efforts to change the way we elect presidents because other people happened to be allowed to vote for someone else—and certainly not because a small minority of people acted really stupidly. (That's always going to happen.)

Therefore, while I sympathize deeply with those in baseball who are frustrated with the BBWAA's incompetence (in my opinion) to elect worthy candidates, I urge my compatriots to tone it down a bit and think about the reforms they're proposing. The key phrase in the previous sentence is "in my opinion"; other people can have different ones, and we need to accept that. I don't think I'm any more flabbergasted than any of you at the ignorance that some voters put on display, and I agree that they'll probably never come around and that that's unacceptable. But think about Rand Paul or Elizabeth Warren or whoever might be your own ideological opposite; they probably drive you up a tree too. "How can he THINK THAT?!?" you've probably yelled at the TV. Well, because this is America.

We have to be rational enough to draw the line between process and results. If we don't like the results—even if we find the results completely maddening, irrational, and corrupt—we can't automatically think the process must also change. It's easy to think we've crossed over that line where the ends justify the means: "Barry Bonds is so obviously Hall-worthy that any process that doesn't elect him is necessarily wrong." Except that's a big problem, because 65.3% of BBWAA voters—and probably a comparable percentage of the public—don't agree. Extend that logic to politics—"Ron Paul is so obviously the best candidate for president that any process that doesn't elect him is necessarily wrong"—and the undemocratic nature of that kind of comment becomes clear.

(It's this kind of logic that has led to laws, such as voter-ID laws, that load the die in favor of one party over another. Both sides have historically been guilty of trying to change the rules because they so desperately believe decision-making power must be taken out of the hands of those who disagree with them. I oppose these laws even more than I oppose laws that I'm ideologically against because they specifically undermine what should be the bipartisan priority of fairness.) People do have a right to their opinion, and saying so isn't a squishy way to evade the issue. It's a reality we have to deal with. Instead of trying to oppress others, it's something we have to learn to adapt to. That's the only way we can—hopefully—move on to the stage of trying to persuade others to our side and return to a productive dialogue.

Make no mistake—authority must be flexible, and so some rules must sometimes change. The Constitution has to be a living document, and the BBWAA bylaws must change with the times. That's why I support changes that vast majorities of the BBWAA (say, two-thirds or three-fourths) can agree on—just like we allow our Constitution to be changed via the amendment process. I believe eliminating the "you can vote for a maximum of 10 players" falls into this category; I don't think I've seen a single baseball writer still defending that rule. But when it comes to disqualifying certain voters for the contents of their votes—no matter how disrespectful—or forming committees that circumvent a majority, we should not even be considering it. It would, quite literally, be the BBWAA version of tyranny.

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