When a Writer Fails a Protest

MLB Hall of Fame

Bill Livingston created significant buzz among the saber-rattling community last week when he published a piece detailing why he abstained from voting for the Hall of Fame class of 2017. With the key issue being that Livingston had actually failed to abstain and along the way displayed a complete lack of understanding for the important process in which he is given a key voice.

As Livingston noted in the attached column:

I had aΒ 2017 ballot. I returned it signed, but blank, with an explanatory note.

Livingston maintained that his explanatory note somehow provided a power to void, but as the rules state, the signed blank ballot counts.

In a world where margins are tiny and players need 75 percentΒ to reach the Hall of Fame, this sort of click jockeying is particularly galling. Indeed, signing the blank ballot is a strange choice for someone abstaining. Why not merely write an article voicing that he is abstaining? Or just send a note to the Hall of Fame of his intent to abstain? Hell, take a page out of Hoynes’ book and just lose your ballot altogether.

Sending the ballot in, with a note, or not, counts. A voter who has consistently had the power to vote on the Hall of Fame misunderstanding the system and not contemplating the implications of his actions is reprehensible. The error, though so simple and obvious is in many ways just the tip of the iceburg in an arcane joyride for attention.

To close and at the center of Livingston’s choice to abstain is the following:

MLB has to make up its mind

MLB officials should devise a formal ruling on the steroid era. At least, they should define it chronologically, probably from 1990 to the start of drug testing in 2003.

Designate that era as a separate voting classification, or use an asterisk for suspects, indicating the likely use of PEDs — whatever baseball does, some kind of guidelines need to be set up.

Until they decide what to do about the stain on the game, I abstain

There are two key issues which arise based on this argument. The first is the following, The Baseball Hall of Fame while clearly related to Major League Baseball is an independent museum in a delightful community in Upstate New York. As Rob Manfred indicated in regard to Pete Rose, though Rose is banned from Major League Baseball, Major League Baseball does not have the authority to block Rose from being Hall of Fame eligible.

Therefore, even if Major League Baseball was to make a unilateral choice to banish all proven steroid users from baseball, they could not and would not be able to alter the Hall of Fame’s voting format.

Perhaps more galling is for a writer with one of the most powerful newspapers in the country to punt the difficult questions facing voters. Livingston throws his hands up and begs Major League Baseball, which does not have the power, to make the tough ethical decision involved in voting. Livingston, with his platform, has the opportunity to lead, to make an argument about how the voters should treat those from the steroid era. Rather than using the voice of columnist, the voice whose duty is to cover, report and analyze the sport, Livingston would like to pass the buck on deciding the challenging questions of his time.

In abstaining, Livingston failed, but the greater disappointment is his willingness to toss aside his voice as a columnist and someone who covered these players in favor of a mea culpa.

  • jpftribe

    Livingston and Hoynes need to take up fishing and let Labbe and Grove do some actual sports reporting.

  • JM85

    Livy just needs to go away.

  • BenRM

    Yeah he totally failed. It’s a meaningless and cowardly “protest.”

  • matt underwood

    the old guard – hoynes, shaw, livingston – all need to be sent to pasture. just lazy old men that write lazy stories. they all seem to have a “you kids get off of my lawn!!!” attitude.

    pluto you are on watch – while your sunday “view from pluto” is something i look forward to, no more of those stupid “talking to myself” articles.

  • NankirPhelge

    Good article, Michael. Completely agree. Livingston is old enough to make up his own mind. He doesn’t need the BBWAA to tell him what to do.

  • NankirPhelge

    I really like Shaw and Hoynes. But I agree that Livingston is past his prime.

  • tigersbrowns2
  • Chris

    Easy there, Mr Underwood. At least they don’t need to be informed on-air of fundamental baseball strategy.

  • tsm

    Age discrimination? I prefer the balanced view of those who have seen more than just recent history. This doesn’t negate your basic point that some may have gotten lazy, but the phrase – youth is wasted on the young – exists for a reason.

  • scripty

    It was his ballot to submit. I have no problem with it.

    Note – I worked in press boxes with him and many of the now-aging CLE sports media, I actually loathed Livingston and Dolgan whenever they showed up. I actually think his writing improved a bit in recent years.

    And while you are not making the argument, I remember when the New Media (bloggers and commentery-laced reporting) said the old guard needed replaced, and now less than a decade later I see many of those bloggers outta the game or just as hackneyed as their original targets.

    The abuse of PEDs, the weak individuals who comprised the MLBPA, the complicit and or lazy media who ignored the issue, and the MLB organizations created an outrageously thorny issue that will last longer than anybody involved. I actually think in a “baseball as society” way, it’s a definitive discussion how things go wrong and bite you so much after.

    A lot of bad things went down, and if a clumsy ballot draws a little ire, so be it.

  • Steve

    What balanced view are they bringing? I’m not sure Livingston even follows the game anymore.

  • Steve

    “It was his ballot to submit. I have no problem with it.”

    Sure, and if he submitted it as he wished, that’s fine. That a veteran writer can’t figure out how to follow the rules to vote the way he wished is a bad sign.

    “the old guard needed replaced”

    They do. The problem is the only people with voices are the newer writers, so they get assumed to be the replacement, but that doesn’t need to be the case. The BBWAA was originally chosen because they had a near monopoly on baseball knowledge. That’s nowhere near the case anymore, and there are plenty of highly qualified baseball historians and analysts who aren’t writers in some paper or on a blog.

    “an outrageously thorny issue that will last longer than anybody involved”

    Baseball has had, and survived through, many a thorny issue. Including PED use for the 30 or so years before Canseco showed up. They can easily treat this era just as they did all the past ones. The problem is there is little rational discussion, simply vilification of star players.

    “a clumsy ballot”

    This isn’t simply a clumsy ballot, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the process works because someone couldn’t be bothered to rub two brain cells together. And this laziness is not unique to the HoF voting process, there have been many writers who have submitted poor ballots because they don’t take the process seriously enough.

  • tsm

    Not an endorsement of Livingston, but an elder reporter has seen a lot more than one of the younger ones, and often is not as fascinated by the latest superstar.

  • mgbode

    If you write a long missive about how you are abstaining from the ballot, then you should probably make sure you follow the rules to abstain rather than cast a vote.

  • mgbode

    an independent museum in a delightful community in Upstate New York

    Hattery, time for some dye as your roots are showing πŸ™‚

  • Jaker

    If he doesn’t want to vote, replace him with someone who will. That way they can vote yes or no, not standing to make a point.

    And if he wants to make a point that is fine, but write the article, don’t do it through abstaining when you actually aren’t.

    I never liked the way they decide the HOF, and stuff like this continues to make me think there has to be a better way. Kinda like how a “game of inches” is constantly being determined by two guys holding a ten yard chain

  • CBiscuit

    I think you may have been a little harsh on them. I heard that after reading this, they all put in their 2 weeks’ notice today.

  • maxfnmloans

    How many votes did Lofton miss the 5% threshold by?

  • NankirPhelge
  • mgbode

    different types of roots

    but, gray hair is distinguished. obvious roots showing from having your hair dyed and letting it grow out is, well, not.

  • Steve

    Rather, they treat every young superstar as nowhere near the ones they saw in their own youth. The are no less blind.

  • Saggy


  • Saggy

    meh – Pluto isn’t even a planet anymore. I don’t care about a view from a dwarf planet.

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