Baseball’s corner of the internet is not happy with Randy Miller, a veteran journalist who has covered more than 2,000 games. The reason: He doesn’t think that Tim Raines merits induction into the sport’s Hall of Fame.
Miller, now a New York Yankees beat writer for NJ Advance Media, is one of the more than 400 baseball writers eligible to vote on candidates for the Hall, and counts himself part of a growing movement that favors increased transparency in the annual election. So even though this year’s results won’t be released until next Wednesday, he unveiled his ballot online last week, contributing to an informal and public exit poll that offers an early glimpse at who will comprise the Hall’s Class of 2017.
The absence of a vote for Raines, one of this year’s favorites for induction, brought a furious response. One person on Twitter called it “downright nauseating.” Another wondered if Miller had “ever seen a baseball game in his life.” A third wrote that picking closers Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner over Raines “should be punishable by death.”
“We should be held accountable,” Miller said. “How do you not vote for Ken Griffey, Pedro Martinez, Tom Seaver? There are people who didn’t vote for them. They should have their name on it.”
The increasingly public nature of the Hall of Fame vote is in large part thanks to Ryan Thibodaux, a 35-year-old Athletics fan in Oakland who has inadvertently changed the Hall voting process. For the past four years, Thibodaux has run the Hall of Fame Tracker, a color-coded spreadsheet that compiles every public ballot in real time.
That has transformed a once-simple announcement into a two-month season of fierce campaigning, wonky statistical analysis and furious social-media mudslinging, all as the results come slowly into focus. Already, nearly 45% of the ballots have been made public; in 2014, only a third of voters revealed their ballots before the announcement.
Thibodaux’s efforts and increased participation efforts by the eligible voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America indicate that Raines and former Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell are very likely headed to Cooperstown. Hoffman, catcher Ivan Rodriguez and outfielder Vladimir Guerrero remain in the running.
But while Thibodaux’s exit poll has certainly livened the conversation, it has also raised questions about the integrity of the vote.
“Identifying how each person voted is actually in violation of principles of democratic elections,” said Jon Krosnick, a professor of communication, psychology and political science at Stanford University.
It seems clear that a shift toward open balloting is the way of the future. In December, the BBWAA voted by an overwhelming margin to mandate that all ballots be revealed after the results announcement starting in 2018. No longer, for example, would the three writers who didn’t vote for Griffey last year hide behind their anonymity.
But the real-time vote could be contorting the result. Currently, voters can release their ballots at any point—even before everybody has submitted their votes. This year, more than a third of the voting had already been revealed on the day ballots were due.
Voters can now watch Thibodaux’s spreadsheet, evaluate the reactions to certain ballots and then make their choices.
Costas Panagopoulos, a political science professor at Fordham University, said voters could fall victim to social desirability bias, which says that survey respondents tend to make selections that will be viewed favorably by others. That’s one reason why Panagopoulos says that “secret balloting might be advantageous.”
“If what we’re trying to do is elicit from people their true preferences, the only way to get at that is by excluding any external influences,” he said.
These aren’t just theoretical concerns. While so-called “strategic voting” isn’t a new concept, the rise of early results data has made it easier for people to partake in it.
Two years ago, a writer, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, waited until the final days of balloting before voting to ensure that Martinez and Randy Johnson would receive enough support. He explained in a blog post that, after seeing Martinez and Johnson would almost certainly be elected in, he declined to vote for them, choosing instead to use two of his allotted spots on more unheralded players.
Other voters have said they have used the data before casting a vote for a minor candidate, not wanting that player to receive less than the required 5% to stay on the ballot.
“It’s a useful heuristic for voters. It’s an information shortcut that enables them to make speedy decisions,” Panagopoulos said of Thibodaux’s data. “The basic point is, are people going to use the information? Yes.”
Jeff Bagwell of the Houston Astros is expected to be inducted based on early voting results.
Jeff Bagwell of the Houston Astros is expected to be inducted based on early voting results. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Social media plays a significant role in this: On the one hand, Krosnick said, attention-seeking voters could intentionally submit an unorthodox ballot to attract visibility. On the other hand, others might vote against their beliefs to avoid attacks.
Jack O’Connell, the BBWAA’s secretary/treasurer, says he knows of at least two writers who have stopped voting because of social-media outrage hurtled in their direction.
“I find it disturbing,” O’Connell said. “We want the writers to vote their conscience and not vote on, ‘Well, everybody thinks so-and-so belongs. I’m not so sure, but I don’t want to get criticized, so I better vote for him.’”
Thibodaux says he doesn’t post the Twitter handle of voters when revealing a ballot because “the responses are so vitriolic all the time” and tries not to inject his own feelings into the discussion. Ultimately, he doesn’t believe “there are very many voters who let the prospect of being yelled at on Twitter influence them.”
Raines, on the ballot for the 10th and final time, has already received a vote from at least 25 people who didn’t vote for him last year. Thibodaux attributes the flip not to conformity or social-media pressure, but to a larger embrace of analytics over traditional stats that highlight Raines’s greatness over 23 seasons with the Montreal Expos, Chicago White Sox and others.
Jeff Idelson, the president of the Hall of Fame, said he is confident that voters take their responsibility seriously, and the early ballot counting only “extends and expands the conversation” rather than sway the outcome.
It also keeps the Hall of Fame in the news throughout the winter.
“To be dominating the sports pages in December and January speaks to the passion of Hall of Fame voting,” Idelson said. “You hope that stays as a passion and doesn’t become something else.”