Here are three names that should have dominated the sports headlines last week: Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas. They are the names of the three players who were elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame for induction this summer.
Instead, the names that ruled were those of Dan LeBetard and Deadspin, and the fact that those names overshadowed those of Thomas, Maddux and Glavine says a lot about the state of journalism in general and sports journalism in particular in 2014.
For months, Deadspin, an especially snarky sports-themed website, had gone in search of a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America who would sell his or her Hall of Fame ballot. The crew that runs Deadspin then intended to let its readership cast the vote on behalf of the writer, who would sign the ballot as their own. Deadspin’s producers found a willing participant in LeBetard, a Miami-based writer who hosts a nationally televised talk show as well as a radio talk show that airs from coast to coast. LeBetard said he refused to take money from Deadspin, but was quite willing to give up his vote, earned after 10 continuous years of members in the association.
And so, 30-thousand Deadspin readers voted and settled on 10 eligible names which were sent to LeBetard. He signed the ballot, submitted it, announced what he had done then stood back in self-admiration like a child after his first successful potty training session.
The baseball writers wasted no time slinging, um, mud back on LeBetard by permanently revoking his Hall of Fame vote as well as suspending him from receiving a press credential to any game for the 2014 season.
The voting process by which players are selected to the Hall is decidedly flawed. A player becomes eligible for consideration five years after his final game and then can only be inducted when he receives 75 percent of votes cast. The voting is only open to members of the writers association, which excludes some knowledgeable broadcasters. It is absurd that Joe Buck, Bob Costas and longtime Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully are deemed as unworthy to select capable candidates for Cooperstown.
In addition, some complain that many writers hold on to their ballots well after they retire from active coverage and thus may have no idea who they’re voting for or against. Which brings us to the solid gripe that some writers invoke flawed logic for why they vote for some players and not others.
For instance, Ken Gurnick, a writer for MLB.com loudly announced that while he could vote for up to 10 players, he would only vote for one, pitcher Jack Morris. Gurnick’s rationale: Morris was the only player on the ballot who had not played during the steroid era, and thus his was the only career that could be thought of as authentic.
And it’s that very quandary, what to do about players who played during the time where use of performance-enhancing drugs was thought to run rampant, that has, in recent years, driven a rift between Hall of Fame voters.
LeBetard has railed against writers who will not vote for Barry Bonds, the all-time career home run leader, because they believe he took performance-enhancers. Same with pitcher Roger Clemens, a seven-time winner of the Cy Young Award. It’s against those backdrops that LeBetard sought to reform the system. His apparent belief was that by embarrassing the process, he could start a discussion about how the Hall of Fame could be changed and made better.
It’s a noble sentiment, but LeBetard should have known that a profession whose very purpose is to tell the truth cannot tolerate so egregious a misrepresentation, even for something seemingly so inconsequential as who are the best baseball players.
That Dan LeBetard chose to partner with such an anarchic force as Deadspin made his decision even worse. To recap, Deadspin was the site that revealed that quarterback Brett Favre sent pictures of his genitals to a woman, when the woman asked that that information remain off the record.
LeBetard owes so many people mea culpas for his stupidity, but his first and biggest apologies should go to Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas for ruining their big day.