Looking for Electoral Reform via Baseball's Hall of Fame

Is Edgar Martinez the Gary Johnson of baseball? No, but his inevitable election to Cooperstown can teach us something useful about politics.


Never forget! ||| Fleer

Imagine if you will an election system in which your vote actually counted (at least, as 0.2 percent of the outcome); where early mail-in ballots were tabulated and publicized in something close to real time (though by outside aficionados, not any governing body), and where voters were pressured socially to not just reveal but also actively defend their selections.

Add a few quirks that cannot and should not ever be transferred to the world of politics, and what I've just described is the Baseball Writers Association of America's annual vote to enshrine (or not) new members of that sport's Hall of Fame. Due in significant part to external pressure on what was for decades a zealously guarded insider franchise, the process and context and results from that perennial exercise has changed in interesting ways over the past decade, enough to make you wonder if there are any applicable insights to our two-party drudgery outside the world of Cooperstown. Just one example: a decade ago, only about one in 10 voters made their ballots public; this year it will be more like three of every four.

So in today's L.A. Times, I ponder "What the Baseball Hall of Fame can teach us about elections." Excerpt:

Nevermind, I withdraw my support. ||| Donruss

"My voting theory is changing a bit," Sporting News' Ryan Fagan confessed last month. "I'm voting for the players who need the votes the most, based on current totals and trends. Ryan Thibodaux's Hall of Fame tracker is essential for this approach."

Thibodaux, a 36-year-old fan from Oakland, has over the past several years compiled a meticulous, constantly updated voter database based on public ballots.

Many writers grumble at the heightened scrutiny, as passionate fans bombard them with jargon-heavy statistical analyses and colorful insults. "Why not get a few more weeks of peace before I learn from the Twitterati why I'm an idiot who should have his voting privileges revoked?" groused the San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Schulman last month.

But the exposure to outside arguments has undeniably changed minds. Tim Raines last year, Bert Blyleven in 2011, and perhaps Edgar Martinez this year all benefited from sustained public campaigns by persuasive nonvoters.

Thibodaux's tracker helps the electorate see if a potentially worthy candidate is in danger of falling off the ballot (as Andruw Jones is this year), or whether someone is sailing so high above the 75% bar that a vote can safely be applied elsewhere.

"I'm now thinking I should have taken a more strategic approach, and withheld a vote for a lock such as Chipper Jones to ensure Andruw remained on the ballot," complained Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal recently.

He's the one getting jobbed hardest this year ||| Amazon

Nick Gillespie and I wrote in The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America about the symbolically fascinating Hall of Fame campaign of Bert Blyleven, which was spearheaded by a Long Beach investment banker named Rich Lederer who I happened to grow up on the same street as.

My two main suggestive bits in the L.A. Times piece are taking a closer look at ranked-choice voting, which I did in this space yesterday, and to begin the long-overdue process of having political journalists and commentators display even a fraction of the electoral transparency that their sporting brethren do. We here at Reason have been disclosing our presidential votes since 2004; you can read about those votes, and our evangelicism about practicing the openness that we preach, here.

Other pieces from the Reason archive having relevance to players on the 2018 ballot:

* "Major League Baseball's War on PEDs Is Still Petty and Pointless"

* "Barry Bonds Obstruction Conviction Overturned by 9th Circuit"

* "Why the Acquittal of Roger Clemens Should Mean the End of Washington's Steroid Witch Hunt"

* "Curt Schilling's Worst Offense Is Not a Transphobic Meme

Video evidence for the latter: