Cleveland Plain-Dealer scribe Bill Livingston wrote a column explaining his decision to return his 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot blank.
I’m not voting again until baseball decides what to do about the elephant in the room, the so-called steroid era.
It was a confusing, controversial decade or so of rampant drug abuse, which has been ignored by the straw men in charge of the game. Clearly they, like many baseball writers, simply wish it would go away.
But it won’t.
The Steroid Era presents a challenge for voters who want to reward clean players and punish those who cheated. It is impossible to know for sure which camp players of the time fall into. Livingston writes that he’s grappled with the decision before but has reached a new conclusion. In the interest of presenting his argument fully, we’ll quote liberally:
For years, I voted for the users because ball scuffers and moisteners, bat corkers, racists and misanthropes, even alleged game-throwers, were already Hall of Fame members.
I felt well over half of the players were using PEDs in the wild, wild West days. It was the competitive environment. Bonds, Clemens and the others were the best of a sordid time.
The problem was that, as former Indian Kenny Lofton once complained, the cheaters crowded out the ones who were clean (whoever they might be) because the cheaters’ statistics were as inflated as their muscles.
I was unhappy about cheating the innocent.
I was also dissatisfied with rejecting the best players of a lawless, unprincipled era on moral ground, which MLB had willfully abandoned.
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.
Immediate reaction has been critical as many believe he’s passing the buck and pining for an unrealistic resolution to unburden his conscious. One could argue that the role of a journalist is to weigh the evidence and render an informed decision, no matter how difficult that may be.
But, while complete abstention is not the route I would take if I had a vote, Livingston’s unorthodox decision should be respected. For one, he’s earned the right to do this and, as evidenced by his column, did not come to this conclusion without thought.
He took it seriously, and that’s all we can ask for.
Hall of Fame voters are certainly not unassailable. They do things that reek of self-interest, self-importance and pettiness. They are, after all, human beings. But as long as they take the process seriously — as Livingston did — their decisions have merit.
Reasonable minds can disagree if the likes of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa belong in Cooperstown. There is no easy answer. The process of trying to find one has proven difficult. What Livingston is suggesting may be a pie-in-the-sky idea, but progress is not made without risk. It strikes me personally as someone who is trying to advance the conversation with the hopes of yielding a tenable compromise.
He must know that returning a blank ballot would cause backlash and did it anyway.
My question would be: did Livingston take the process less seriously than voters who allowed grudges and politics seep into their ballots? Did he take it less seriously than those who voted for Garrett Anderson in 2016 and Darin Erstad in 2015?
Livington’s blank ballot is not a dereliction of duty or a stunt to pull at the fibers of voting integrity. It’s a serious, yet controversial response to a problem that isn’t going away any time in the near future.