BY EVAN WEINER
Sometimes you wonder about the hotel owner in a place like Sharon Springs, New York who circles the calendar every January in anticipation of the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony which will occur later on in the year. You wonder whether he really cares about the stupid statements that the Cooperstown shrine gatekeepers, the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, spew out about the people are eligible for election. The old lines that Barry Bonds is a cheater and I cannot vote for Roger Clemens or Mike Piazza had to have taken something because he had acne on his back. The implication that every Major League Player who was in the game in the 1990s had to cheat.
No, that hotel owner in Sharon Springs or another in Utica or even Cooperstown village trustees planning Cooperstown's annual property tax rate care about one thing.
The baseball writers better vote someone into the hallowed shrine because it is good for my business. That weekend brings in money to hotels, restaurants, some businesses and is badly needed in central New York, a region that has suffered greatly in the decline of jobs over the past 50 years.
It is sort of implied by the Baseball Hall of Fame that the writers need to induct someone, after all this is business not fable land although sportswriters are in charge of writing sports fables.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is a business in the very small village of Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame weekend draws tens of thousands of visitors with 98 percent of them unable to get accommodations in Cooperstown which is not an easy place to find by car. Most of the people stay within a 30 mile radius of the museum so there is an impact on local economies surrounding Cooperstown including nearby Oneonta.
Cooperstown has some other attractions, too, The Fenimore Art Museum, The Farmers Museum and The Glimmerglass Festival. But the Cooperstown, New York website also points visitors to attractions in nearby Oneonta. It is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum that drives the local economy although the Cooperstown area is among the most scenic sites in the United States.
The Cooperstown Valhalla needs to get into the 21st century and get rid of the Baseball Writers Association of America as the museum's de facto guardians. The baseball writers should never have been selected to vote on entry into the Hall of Fame and there is a good reason for that. Baseball writers are journalists in theory although there is ample evidence that the scribes over the decades have been nothing more than extensions of baseball team's public relations departments and have been used by teams (The New York Mets/Dick Young v. Tom Seaver) to get whatever message the team wants out through willing writers who will gladly take one for the team. The conflict of interest is pretty simple, the writer votes on a subject that he must interview to do his job properly.
The qualifications for a voter are simple. A writer must be employed by a newspaper and reported on baseball games for 10 years. These are not a group of learned men who have devoted their lives to the study of baseball. In the old days, many of them were happy to be in the clubhouse jock sniffers, rubbing elbows with players and pretty much serving as stenographers for teams and the American League and the National League. Their newspaper bosses became de facto public relations arms for baseball teams by giving baseball free publicity on a daily basis, partly in an effort to sell newspapers. When the Hall of Fame was finally opened in the late 1930s, the trustees gave the writers, who did see many games, the able to vote for the players inductions.
Today, the number of newspapers has dropped significantly and those who remain have cut back on reporters and in some cases have turned to three days a week printing to save costs. One time baseball reporters have found new homes at the 30 team or Major League Baseball's website. Clearly though the days of when baseball depended on newspapers for publicity and to sell tickets are long gone. Still the archaic system of selecting Hall of Famers remains in place and is outdated as the 1939 New York World Fair Perisphere and Trylon.
The first player induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum took place in 1939.
The process is flawed. Back in 1986, the one-time Chicago Cubs great Billy Williams questioned the methodology used to select honorees and he got back a swift reaction from the then head of the Hall of Fame. Not much has changed in 27 years.
Williams’s public questioning in 1986 was the second straight year he criticized the Baseball Writers Association of America for the group's failure to put him into the Hall of Fame. He would eventually be selected in 1987.
But will the process of how to select a Hall of Famer change? The answer seems no. Part of the reason is political in nature; the BBWA zealously guards the right to make that selection. And in 1986, they got a major reassurance from the Hall of Fame President Ed Stack.
"This has been an effective way to vote members into the Hall of Fame," said Stack in 1986. "The baseball writers are concerned with retired major league players who have been out of baseball for at least five years and they can vote '' on them until they have been retired for 20 years.
"Thereafter, there is a three-year waiting period and in the 23rd year, the Veteran's Committee then will pick up the eligible players. They also pick up managers, umpires, executives and players from the Negro Leagues."
In 1986, the Veteran's Committee could have elected as many as two people at its annual March meeting. While the Veteran's Committee is allowed to operate quite different; the general voting for Hall of Famers is quite rigid. But why weren't people like Mel Allen, who has covered the Yankees since 1939 with a break in the 1960s and early 1970s, Red Barber, or Vin Scully allowed to vote? They certainly were around baseball long enough to know the greats.
"That's true, broadcasting is much more important as a part of the media today because of television and other forms of the media," said Stack, who obviously follows the baseball thinking of making sure the newspapers are taken care of first, and then worry about the rest. "There has been no provision made to include them into the voting system. It has been looked at, but nothing has happened.
"I don't really foresee a change in the distant future," he continued. "I think that the writer's election has been effective and it is just cast in concrete. Of course changes can happen, but it is not going to happen in the next few years."
"While it is true that newspapers do give the game free publicity, it is television and radio that keeps it financially solvent. But the role of television and radio seems to be very passive. Pay rights for contests and not ask for other considerations.
"Heretofore, there has not been any pressure from radio and television people, but I am not saying there will be in the future, but there has not been any pressure from them my way," Stack concluded.
Twenty seven years later neither Bob Costas nor Vin Scully have a vote although Scully certainly was more involved in more baseball games watching the action than the average writer who was busy doing something else. The argument against the broadcasters has been that they were paid by a team or an ad agency and would be too partial to players from a team. But many writers wrote program pieces for teams and got other perks including free tickets. In Dick Young’s case, he wrote promotional material for the New York Mets and eventually his son-in-law, Thornton Geary, worked for M. Donald Grant and the Mets.
In 1977 Young showed his true allegiance. He was the lead writer in the Mets assault of Tom Seaver’s character during a contract dispute between Grant and the Mets and Seaver. Young wrote that Nancy Seaver was jealous of California Angels pitcher Nolan Ryan’s wife Ruth because Nolan Ryan was being part more money than her husband. Left out of the conversation was Young being on the Mets payroll for years and the family connection with the Mets.
The writers think they actually matter to baseball but they are little more than conduits. In 1987, Jack Lang was retiring from the New York Daily News after a 40 year career covering Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees and New York Mets games for various New York area publications. Lang was the secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers of American and was as one time St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog once said (of baseball writers in general) “a real baseball man.”
(Baseball in the 1980s and 1990s still had managers like Herzog, John McNamara, Gene Mauch who refused to talk to radio or TV reporters and only did so after they addressed the real reporters first---the baseball scribes.)
Major League Baseball had a luncheon to honor three longtime baseball scribes who were leaving the business. United Press International editor Milton Richman, New York Post writer Maury Allen and Lang. Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth thank each of their meritorious service to the game and wished them well in future endeavors. Lang was stunned, after all he did for baseball, he wasn’t rewarded by the industry with a job.
The present day voters are tearing down the candidates for the wrong reason. Bonds and Clemens were tried in court and pretty much beat drug possession charges. If that is good enough for the court system, then it should be good enough for Cooperstown. The writers played an essential part in rebuilding the baseball brand following the 1994-1995 players strike when newspapers still had some sway in shaping baseball opinion. The writers, who were dependent on a baseball's renaissance for their careers, led the cheerleading when the Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in a battle in 1998nto break Roger Maris's single season home run record.
They were blissfully ignorant looking at the size of the players in the 1990s in comparison to the size of players in the 1970s and bought the line that the players training methods were better than the previous generation. The writers, with the exception of the Washington Post's Thomas Boswell, were willfully ignorant of the fact that United States President George Bush signed into law in 1990 legislation that banned steroids use without a doctor's approval and seemed equally ignorant about the ongoing chemical experiments in the Texas Rangers clubhouse by Jose Canseco. The Texas Rangers general managing partner at the time was George W. Bush, the former president's son.
The St. Patrick Day 2005 Congressional hearing on steroids and other banned performance enhancement drugs came as a body blow to baseball writers who unleashed pure venom on those who testified before a House committee and others. The writers looked like stooges and were out to regain their reputations, whatever that perceived perception was and is.
Perhaps one day Cooperstown area businesses will start the process of demanding that the area's star attraction get rid of the 19th century mode of transportation for voting, the Baseball Writers Association of America and get real baseball experts who don't have to stoop to new lows on a daily basis (just watch ESPN's First Take or Around the Horn and see just far silly the sports journalism business has gotten as it tries to pander to 12-18 year old boys with the dialogue driven by the likes of Skip Bayless, Rob Parker, Stephen A. Smith, Woody Paige and others who will never be mistaken for Jim Murray, Shirley Povich or Red Smith).
The baseball scribes will be interviewed and their importance or perhaps impotence will be exposed again with the latest Baseball hall of Fame vote. The National Baseball Hall of Fame is very important to other businesses in an economically crippled part of the United States that needs players to be inducted annually without the banal offerings of voters who believe they need to explain their vote. Perhaps it is time for those who live in central New York to flex their muscle and get the Hall of Fame to oust the writers and get some real experts to judge players instead.
After all their livelihoods may be at stake.
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