Hall of Fame arguments are so bad because… the debate… is essentially an ideological one about how the sport should be covered… it is fundamentally nonsensical, irrelevant to an appreciation of great ballplayers like Kenny Lofton and Larry Walker. The worst element, though, is that the writers debating all of this have the franchise even though there’s no real reason for them to have it: They have no special knowledge of the game relative to anyone else, and they’ve never done a good job.
The first point here, that writers know little more than anyone else, shouldn’t be especially controversial. The voters are (theoretically) good at writing about baseball, which has no obvious connection to assessing what players’ legacies mean within the broad context of 160 years of history. No one who wanted to know who the most important presidents of all time were would think to poll political reporters rather than historians or the public. Why do the same in baseball?
The second point should be even less controversial. In 1938, there were more than 50 future Hall of Famers on the ballot, including Eddie Collins and Rogers Hornsby, the two best second basemen of all time. One player, Pete Alexander, was elected. This year, with at least a dozen truly great players on the ballot, it seems quite likely that none, or one at most, will be voted in. The intervening years comprised an uninterrupted run of botches and inexplicable calls.
In light of this, it’s hard to understand how the public would do a clearly worse job. Average baseball fans may not have any special insight into the men who play the game, but then neither do most Hall voters, who in many cases haven’t actively covered the sport for years. The fans wouldn’t always pick the right players, but then neither does a voting body that never got around to electing Johnny Mize and Arky Vaughan, genuine all-time greats.
The best thing about a public vote, though, would be its inherent legitimacy. If baseball fans were to vote in Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, that would end all sorts of handwringing over whether players who used (or, more often, are weakly alleged to have used) performance enhancing drugs are worthy of being honored alongside past greats of dubious character. If they weren’t voted in, that would offer clear proof that the public really does consider the use of steroids different from the use of amphetamines, racism, violent tendencies, or other characterological defects displayed by the already enshrined. Either way, the focus would be on baseball and memory, not on the useless philosophizing of 600 or so sportswriters.