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Why the Internet won't fix the Hall of Fame

Over the last few years, a sizeable subset of the internet baseball community has come to the conclusion that the problem with the Hall of Fame is the Baseball Writers Association of America. The BBWAA is too old, too filled with people who no longer cover baseball, too conservative, and too willing to punish over dubious claims of steroid use. I generalize, of course, but such opinions are not hard to find among baseball fans who publish their thoughts on the internet, whether in full articles or in a microblog.

And, basically, I agree with all of those thoughts on some level. But I take issue with anybody who suggests these issues are only an issue within the BBWAA, and that a different group — say, a group of internet baseball writers — would make a significant difference. And thanks to the IBWAA — the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (note: I’m not a member) — we know that isn’t the case. Observe, their 2014 Hall of Fame voting results:

Courtesy of LA Weekly

Note: The IBWAA elected Mike Piazza with just over 75% of the vote in 2013 after electing nobody in 2012.

A look at the 2014 Hall of Fame Ballot Collecting Gizmo from Baseball Think Factory reveals a ballot with miniscule differences. Piazza is out with the limited BBWAA ballot, and one imagines he would have cleared 75% again from the IBWAA group if he were on the ballot again.

Bonds and Clemens, clear Hall of Famers on on-field merit, only receive about 10% more support from the internet crowd. Jeff Bagwell still fails to clear 70 percent despite no hard steroid rumors — and I still say, if a rumor isn’t hard enough to report, it shouldn’t be hard enough to vote on. Edgar Martinez and Tim Raines still struggle to gain mainstream recognition. Lee Smith is inexplicably above Alan Trammell.

So the same ideas considered backwards from the BBWAA are still present in the IBWAA: saves are important, steroids are the worst thing to happen to baseball, a steroid rumor is for many as solid as a positive test. There are clearly a number of people in the IBWAA voting ranks who are glad to use their vote as a form of punishment for players who didn’t do it the so-called right way. As I outlined during the season, a Hall of Fame that puts punishment over celebration (even if it’s an internet Hall) is no Hall I can support.

The problem is the culture. We still live in a baseball culture that believes steroids are a problem with the players when baseball as an institution has never considered the roles of management and owners in its proliferation. We still live in a baseball culture that believes the game was pure in the 1930s and 1940s under an exploitative labor system and the color line and is dirty now.

Make no mistake: the members of the BBWAA, past and present, are largely responsible for that culture. These are ideas born from reporting and columns by BBWAA writers over the past, and their often reactionary nature shouldn’t be excused. But they are far from the only ones that hold these ideals, and any belief that the solution to this problem comes from simply “the internet” is an absurd one.

When I see the Hall of Fame, I see a broken institution. I see a monument to a culture built on a distorted history of the game, imparting purity and dignity where a direct look at the times will show none. Maybe the internet can help fix it. But we’re nowhere near that point yet.

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