Is Cooperstown Y2K12 Compatible?
Yesterday, voters inducted two former players, Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven, into the Baseball Hall of Fame. While the primary subtext to the story about the 2011 class has been the low number of votes players tied to steroids– including Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro– received and the implication that players associated with performance-enhancing substances might never make it into the Hall of Fame, ESPN’s Rob Nayer is looking ahead to 2012:
Given the history, there’s a pretty good chance that the Veterans Committee process won’t elect anyone [in 2012]. Which leaves only the BBWAA [the Baseball Writers Association of America, the main voting body for Hall of Fame induction] ballot, and there is an excellent chance that the BBWAA will, in all its collective wisdom, fail to elect anyone.
Yes, “fail” is a loaded word and not necessarily the appropriate word.
In this case, though, it’s highly appropriate. Because even after electing Alomar and Blyleven, and even considering that Bernie Williams will be the best new candidate on the ballot next year, there will still be a long list of highly qualified players on the ballot. And it’s quite possible that none of them will be elected.
A memberless 2012 class would be a failure in Nayer’s eyes because it would be “a bad year for the Hall of Fame.” This may sound like a tautology, but he meant something more specific: “For one thing, the Hall of Fame (and the Village of Cooperstown) relies on visitors, and visitors are attracted by new Hall of Famers; the Hall’s biggest weekend (by far) every summer is Induction Weekend. For another thing, it hurts the credibility of the election process — and ultimately the Hall itself — when the process so obviously fails.” For Nayer, this failure has two aspects. First, a memberless class would be a failure on its face because it would mean that no eligible players that year were worthy of induction, an outcome Nayer rejects because, in his view, there are plenty of eligible players worthy of induction. Second, it would be a failure because it would adversely affect the economic interests of the Hall of Fame and its host city, Cooperstown, NY.
Considering these in reverse order, the economic argument seems like a non-sequitur. Exciting new inductees may boost the Hall’s revenue in a given year, but over time, the Hall’s ability to draw visitors would seem to be based on its ability to maintain its integrity as a hall of fame. Even if pandering to popular whims is the best way to fund the Hall under its current business model, a commitment to mission and integrity (something apparently at the root of many BBWAA voters’ positions on players like McGwire and Palmeiro, for example) might suggest the need for more independent funding sources. The obligation to Cooperstown’s economy is even more remote to the Hall’s purported mission.
Second, it is not obvious that a result in which the voters elect no players to the Hall in a given year plainly is a failure. It may be the case that, despite Nayer’s opinion, no eligible player will be worthy of induction in 2012. Nayer views the election in 2012 of Barry Larkin, “the top non-electee” in 2011, as the best and most likely way to avoid the “Doomsday Scenario” or “Epic Failure” that would be a year in which the voters induct no one. If it is true, as Nayer writes, that there are deserving players on the 2012 ballot and the voters don’t induct them for nefarious or otherwise inappropriate reasons, then that result does look like a failure, something that impairs the Hall’s integrity and credibility. Neyer is but one among hundreds of voters, however, and it may be the case that the result he describes as an “Epic Failure” is the very result that would best uphold the Hall’s integrity. If none of the eligible players deserve induction in 2012 in the eyes of the voters writ large, then to induct one would be a dereliction of the voters’ duty.
When entities are created for the performance of a particular task– Congress, to legislate; prosecutors, to prosecute accused criminals; the BBWAA, to elect Hall of Famers– the entity’s exercise of discretion not to perform that task in a particular instance often is viewed as a failure, probably because it appears to conflict with the natural proclivity of the entity’s job description, which is thought of in positive, volitional terms. Are there times, though, when such an entity’s decision not to act in a manner in which it is empowered to act is the proper decision, and is Neyer’s 2012 “Doomsday Scenario” one of these times?