Column: Two black eyes for MLB

The Baseball Writers Association of America voted three players into the Hall of Fame this year. In the eyes of many, though, the voting process has become a stain on the game. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

The Baseball Writers Association of America voted three players into the Hall of Fame this year. In the eyes of many, though, the voting process has become a stain on the game. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

In most cases, when Major League Baseball is able to steal the back pages from the NFL in January, it’s cause for celebration in the MLB offices. But as baseball officials are finding out this week, there may be such a thing as bad press.

Over the last seven days, baseball has found itself at the center of the sports world’s discussions, overtaking all chatter about the NHL, NBA and even the NFL playoffs. With the A-Rod suspension and a Hall of Fame controversy taking center stage, all is not well for a sport that values its legacy above all else.

On Jan. 8, it was announced that three new players would be joining baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Ordinarily, when the HOF announcements are made, there is quite a stir in the media. Columnists take to the paper—and the airwaves—to rail against the injustice of Player X falling off the ballot or to assault the perceived deficiencies of some borderline player who found himself on his way to Cooperstown.

In my mind, these conversations are good for the game of baseball.

But over the last few years, Hall of Fame Voting has been as much about the voting process as it has about the players themselves. Baseball writers—who happen to be a particularly stodgy and self-important bunch—have turned the vote into a referendum on the steroid era. By excluding the juicers like Bonds and Clemens, these writers are seemingly in favor of sweeping the entire time period under the rug, pretending it didn’t happen. Unfortunately, sometimes innocents (or presumed innocents) get caught in the crossfire.

Greg Maddux should have been a first-ballot, unanimous Hall of Famer, hands down. But he won’t be, because voters like Dodger’s beat writer Ken Gurnick—who left his ballot blank except for Jack Morris because he refused to vote for anyone who played in the “Steroid Era”—decided to politicize their votes.

Craig Biggio, who will undoubtedly be inducted next year, fell just two votes short in 2013 amid a number of voters who purposefully left their ballots blank for the same reason.

Why then, did the Baseball Writers Association of America strip Dan LeBatard—who outsourced his vote to the readers of deadspin.com, of which I am one—of his BBWAA membership and HOF vote? For making a mockery of the process? It’s already a joke.

Days after the Hall of Fame vote, news broke that Alex Rodriguez’s suspension was upheld, though reduced to 162 games, by an independent arbitrator. The long, exasperating investigation/saga, in which both sides came out looking shady, was finally over.

Or was it?

Rodriguez, in typical A-Rod fashion, vowed to join the Yankees’ Spring Training workouts in Tampa, although it’s pretty clear Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman and company would prefer not to see him anywhere near the team this year. Then, on Sunday night, “60 Minutes” aired a two-part expose on the A-Rod case that essentially played out as a victory lap for the MLB as Commissioner Bud Selig, Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred and A-Rod’s accused PED dealer, Anthony Bosch, presented the evidence—some of it damning—against the disgraced Yankees slugger.

But while it’s hard to deny that Rodriguez is guilty of juicing, the look is not a flattering one for MLB. Throughout this entire process, they have come across as bullies. On “60 Minutes,” they got the chance to gloat about their recent win, holding up A-Rod’s pelt as some sort of trophy.

MLB has an image problem. It’s not one that’s going away any time soon. In a time when other sports leagues seem deaf to concerns of their fans and players—I’m pretty sure today’s NFL stars don’t feel like playing an 18-game schedule—MLB comes off as unbelievably out of touch with its fans and the world at large. The league would do best to keep out of the papers until pitchers and catchers report.

Only 25 days to go.

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About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or sports@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.