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 a 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 percent 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.