COOPERSTOWN NY – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) -If you love baseball and care about the Hall of Fame, it is time to familiarize yourself with a principle called “The Observer Effect.” It is chronicled in science, but it is about to be a real thing in baseball. It could shape who ends up with a coveted spot in the sport’s shrine in the coming years.
The basic idea is that a process is changed when we are able to see it. This comes into play next year when the secret balloting by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America for the Hall of Fame becomes public. On the next ballot, every voter’s choices will be revealed and open to scrutiny.
Baseball Hall of Fame
Plenty of ballots were made public before Wednesday night’s announcement that Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were ticketed to be enshrined. But the difference between the vote totals that were public and final tallies was telling. And, as interesting as the candidacies for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were already, they may be much more so next year.
First the news on those two: Out of 442 votes and with 332 (75 percent) needed, Clemens got 239 (54.1 percent) and Bonds got 238 (53.8 percent). Each, in his fifth year, is up almost 10 percent. Of 14 new voters we know about, 13 picked both.
The thing here is the difference between the choices of voters who went public with their selections and voters who stayed private. Just before the results were announced, there were 250 voters who revealed their ballots, and Bonds was at 64.4 percent and Clemens at 63.2 percent. Clearly, many of the voters who resisted scrutiny by the general public left them off. Here’s a theory as to why.
Every voter who went public, either by posting on social media or writing about it or turning it in to one of the trackers, likely received a reaction. The experience here was a fusillade of responses, some approval but more than half who were upset with an omission. Angry people like to speak out, especially with the cover of social media anonymity. There is no doubt that the scrutiny played a role.
Most voters don’t want their choices torn apart. Was that the case for the majority who left Clemens, Bonds or both off their ballots? It remains to be seen. Will being outed with their ballots move the vote totals?
And that is why watching the tallies for Bonds and Clemens next year is so interesting.
Given the enormity of circumstantial evidence that those two used performance-enhancing drugs, it is clear the electorate initially didn’t want to give them a pass. Many voters felt voting for them insulted the game’s integrity. Some were looking for the Hall of Fame to take a position. Some hoped for more information. And others decided to withhold their votes for a period of time to communicate their disapproval.
Next year, everyone will be watching. How the electorate responds to that could be extremely interesting.
There is another thing. Raines didn’t make the cut for nine seasons. In his final year on the ballot, he got in overwhelmingly (though for transparency, without this vote). Many voters who hadn’t selected Raines in years past went for him on his final chance.
Some voters are comfortable with the public seeing them change position on a player; the decision here was to include Bonds and Clemens this year because they were superior to others from their era voted in despite suspicion of drug use. But how will the electorate feel about changing their disposition in the disinfecting sunlight?
Once the voting is entirely public, will voters resist the public calling them a “flip-flopper” by doing what so many did this year with Raines?
Next year may be the best chance Bonds and Clemens have to get in.
How the electorate changes — new voters are taking a softer stance on those from the so-called “PED era” — is an unknown. Some of the hardliners are removed from covering the game and will have their voting rights expire.
Trevor Hoffman, a bellwether for closers, came up five votes short this time around. But maybe the biggest injustice in this year’s Hall of Fame voting is that Vladimir Guerrero didn’t get in. His credentials are impeccable, and he carries no taint of PED use, but he was still 15 votes shy. Both are likely to get in with first-year nominees Chipper Jones and Jim Thome next year.
Bonds and Clemens? The guess here is that they don’t get in next season but they come within a couple dozen votes of qualifying. Tainted as they are, they both probably will get in eventually. But if the bump isn’t there next season — with every vote there for the fans to dissect — maybe the writing will be on the wall.
“The Observer Effect” could be very much on play in the coming year.
COOPERSTOWN, NY – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by Sport XChange) – When people find out that you have a Hall of Fame ballot, they ask you a lot of questions. More often than not, the first one is “are you voting for the ‘steroids guys’?” And for many years my answer has been an unequivocal “no.”
The way I saw things, it was on the voters to value the integrity of the game, above all on this most prestigious honor.
I’m having a harder time giving that answer this year.
No, I haven’t filled out my ballot yet. It feels a lot harder this time to leave off people like Barry Bonds and Rogers Clemens, who were two of the most spectacular performers in baseball history and who captivated the imaginations of more than a generation of fans.
There seem to be a number of reasons why it’s gotten harder.
Perhaps the biggest was this month’s near unanimous first-ballot selection to the Hall of former commissioner Bud Selig by the Eras Committee (which used to be known as the Veteran’s Committee).
Selig was supposed to be the ultimate protector of the game’s integrity. Instead, he chose to ignore that performance-enhancing drugs were beginning to run rampant in baseball. After the strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series, where Selig led management, the great 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa brought eyes back to the game.
Of course we now understand that all of that was about performance-enhancing drugs. But, for the person presiding over the sport, getting the fans back was critical.
Like Bonds’ time in baseball — where we so often hear the argument that he “was a Hall of Famer already” before he allegedly added PEDs so he could become the single-season and all-time home run record holder — Selig’s time in baseball included good and bad. He was the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and a key figure when ownership was proved to have conspired to collude and keep player salaries down, which was proved and resulted in a $280 million decision against them.
But he also oversaw expansion of the game into Denver and Miami, an extension of the postseason and huge monetary growth.
So if it was all right with the MLB’s highest executive that PEDs were in the game, should it matter to us, the voters?
But there’s more. It’s not just about Selig.
The Hall of Fame honors the greatest performers from the game. It includes players who may have excelled because they were not competing against the very best: many of the biggest talents played in the Negro Leagues because the sport was not integrated. It also includes those who didn’t compete against the very best because so many of the biggest talents were serving in the military.
In both cases there were Hall of Famers who had an edge; so too was the case for players who are alleged of using PEDs.
To some extent the Hall of Fame is about connecting baseball fans with what they saw, the stories they heard and the legacies they studied. If you were a Giants or Pirates fan over 30 and go to Cooperstown, how do you feel about Bonds not being a part of it? If you loved the Red Sox in the 1980s and 1990s, and were riveted by every game Roger Clemens pitched, do you not feel something is missing when you go to the Hall?
Another thing that is troubling is the reaction to Mike Piazza’s election to Hall of Fame last year. My ballot was public and other voters used an accusatory to tone when bringing up that I voted for him. There was no direct tie between Piazza and PED use and so, in my role as protector of the game’s integrity, I saw nothing wrong with voting in the game’s most-accomplished hitting catcher.
But who knows? There is a chance that we, who have a ballot, have already voted in someone who was a PED user. We could have elected someone who wasn’t even suspected. No one knows. There’s a part of me that wishes someone in the Hall of Fame would out himself and end the agonizing debate every year over who belongs.
So in reconsidering the position, there is this question we face this year. Jose Canseco says he took steroids with Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez. Yet while a ‘cheat’ himself claims he witnessed the superstar catcher using, he never tested positive. So what are we to think?
And what of Manny Ramirez? He tested positive more than once. And he is probably the greatest right-handed hitter I’ve ever seen.
What is the measure for induction? Obvious use but no positive test? Alleged use? Tested positive but still the best?
Looking down the ballot, I see clear-cut choices. I also see a whole lot of questions.