Here is my truth: I love the annual debates over Baseball Hall of Fame voting, and simultaneously do not really care who gets in. My life does not change one whit, nor does my well-being benefit or suffer in any way, if—say—Todd Helton does or does not have a plaque in Cooperstown. So why do I enjoy the debates? The arguing is the thing. The arguing, I believe, is a truer and more valuable evaluation of a player’s career and contributions than is induction or non-induction. I gain more appreciation of Helton’s work by spending four years (and counting) poring over his stats each winter, hearing the cases for and against, revisiting his highlights, sorting through what-ifs, seeing the various analytical examinations and reading the less quantifiable but still relevant paeans to what he meant to his fanbase. All of this stuff is fun. It’s fun to relive the career of a great player, or a very good one, or, hell, even a middling one. When a career ends we have only the memories, and the ideal way to unlock and cache those memories is to observe and engage with the debate over what they sum to and where they fit in the historical context of the sport. To put it another way: Remembering a guy is more active and more respectful than merely honoring him.
All of that being said, the very first 2022 HOF ballot to be publicly revealed may end up being the very worst of them:
If you’d like to read Delaware County (Penn.) Daily Times columnist Jack McCaffery’s reasoning for his choices and exclusions, he’s helpfully provided that. Though you can probably guess what it looks like before reading. Blatant homerism? Check. (His sole argument for Ryan Howard is that Howard once ran out a ground ball while injured.) Strong, simplistic, unexamined thoughts on PED usage? Check. Selective application of the character clause? Oh buddy, you betcha. The column has a fine sense of comedic timing, kicking off as it does with McCaffery’s line-by-line argument for why writers and only writers can be trusted to submit unbiased, educated ballots.
But in the spirit of the season, I’m glad McCaffery’s ballot exists. It’s a reason to head over to Baseball-Reference and run back Howard’s and Jimmy Rollins’s primes, even if it’s just to confirm that they probably shouldn’t make the cut. (It’s also an opportunity to reconfirm my belief that Bobby Abreu has a much stronger case than most give him credit for.) I’m going to spend roughly the next month doing this for various players, and listening to people both smarter and dumber than me lay out their arguments, and I could not be more excited. Certainly I have my own opinions, strong ones, about who is deserving of making the Hall of Fame and who isn’t, but the validation of my opinions takes a distant backseat to the process of formulating and weighing them. The journey is the fun part, and the destination is merely an excuse to take the journey.