Dear BBWAA: Release Your Hall of Fame Ballots

Jim McIsaac

To the voting members of the BBWAA,

I'm sure you've all heard a lot of people offer their unsolicited opinions on how you should cast your Hall of Fame ballot this year. I know you're probably tired of hearing people like me whine about how being a designated hitter shouldn't be a disqualifier and Cooperstown is already littered with cheaters and dopers and Jack Morris' career ERA+ is worse than Ubaldo Jimenez's. If you aren't sick of these arguments I'd be happy to lobby for any of the 16 deserving candidates on this year's loaded ballot. But that's not why I'm writing to you today.

I'm not here to tell you who to vote for. I'm not here to tell you who not to vote for. I'm not here to tell you that you should vote for anyone at all (though for the record sending in a blank ballot this year is ridiculous). I have just one simple request: publish your ballots.

Two years ago, I looked at how BBWAA members who made their ballots public differed in their choices from those who kept their votes private—and there was indeed a difference. Most notably, anonymous voters were twice as likely to vote against Roberto Alomar in 2011 as those who revealed their choices, and while Tim Raines got nearly 50 percent of the public vote he barely crossed the one-third threshold on secret ballots. On the other side, anonymous voters were twice as likely to vote for Don Mattingly and thrice as eager to back Dave Parker.

Last year, I repeated my study and found a similar trend. Mattingly, Morris, and Bernie Williams all received nearly 10 percent higher support from anonymous voters than from their less secretive peers, while both Raines and the sole inductee (Barry Larkin) were judged more harshly by those who did not own up to their choices. What's more, the numbers offered compelling evidence that there was a connection between a candidate's worthiness and the demographic discrepancies of his support—i.e., people who cast secret ballots didn't just vote differently, they voted worse.

And so, in the spirit of accountability, I ask that you share your ballots with the world.

Secret ballots exist for a reason. Our democracy would not function properly if citizens were forced to publicly reveal whom they voted for for president or senator or dog catcher. If, in an absurd hypothetical situation, one of the voters representing my favorite team put Mike Trout third on his MVP ballot, I might be inclined to make a sarcastic comment about it. I can understand why a writer might want to avoid such a scenario.

The problem with that argument is that not everyone can vote for the Hall of Fame. You don't have to be a constitutional scholar or a policy wonk to vote in a political election. But to vote for Cooperstown, you have to have spent 10 years writing about baseball for a BBWAA-accredited publication, meaning that each voter should be able to choose and defend his or her choices well. No, you don't have to tell the world which Congressional candidate you voted for, but your Congressman can't hide which bills he supported and opposed.

There's already precedent for the BBWAA making its writers' votes public. This year, for the first time, the organization listed each voter and his or her ballot when it announced the results of the end-of-year player awards, so you can see (for example) if your favorite team's beat writer thought Adrian Beltre was better than Mike Trout. Sure, a list of 600ish names and ballots would be harder to sort through than the 28 or 32 that were released with the MVPs and Cy Youngs, but at least the information would be out there.

Or, if that's not an option, I beseech the writers: Do it yourselves! Last year at least 148 writers made their choices public, and so far 27 have revealed their 2013 ballots according to @leokitty's list. Write a column! Put it on a blog! Tweet it! Email it to your nephew and have him put it on reddit! I realize that some voters no longer have an outlet to express themselves in newsprint anymore, but in this day and age there are plenty of other ways to get the word out.

I don't care what your ballot looks like. Okay, that's not true. I do care. I can't imagine how someone could vote for Dale Murphy and call it a day or send in a blank ballot. But at least Bob Brookover and Mark Faller were willing to own up to their unpopular choices. There's plenty that I could say about the players they snubbed and their thoughts on Cooperstown in general, but I truly respect them for not only revealing their ballots but explaining how they decided on them.

Voting for the Hall of Fame is a privilege, not a right. It is entrusted to decade-long veterans of the BBWAA not as a self-indulgent popularity contest but as a sacred responsibility to the game and all its fans. If 50 voters or 500 voters or even just one voter doesn't take his or her duty seriously enough to be willing to stand by his or her choices, then the honor of crowning baseball's greatest names should be given to someone else.

P.S. Please vote for Kenny Lofton.

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