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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Writer's Handicap For Hall

ST. LOUIS, Missouri -- Handsome and wise as they are, baseball writers have no business deciding which players should be in the Hall of Fame. A journalist's job is not to make news but to report it.


Yet, true confession, there is a certain excitement each December when the Hall of Fame ballot arrives. It is mailed to members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, whose 10 years of membership make them eligible to vote for as many as 10 players.


So I compromise. I vote (this time for three players). But even as the ballot is marked, my loyal assistant, Igor, tugs a soapbox onto a street corner. From that rickety perch I agree with the baseball author Bill James. He says the Hall of Fame voting is much too private an affair.


In his book about the Hall of Fame, "The Politics of Glory," James asked why only a few baseball writers are allowed to vote on the game's highest honor. Why not players? Fans? Umpires? TV and radio broadcasters? The more representative of all interests the vote is, the more certain the honor.


Anyway, the ballot arrived the other day. It listed 39 candidates, 15 of them eligible for the first time. Among those newly eligible were Manny Trillo and Chris Speier and Greg Gross and ... wait a second ... Chris Speier can be in the Hall of Fame and Pete Rose can't?


No, he can't. Nor should Rose be at Cooperstown as long as he is on baseball's permanently ineligible list. It makes no sense to rule Rose out of dugouts and then give him baseball's highest honor.


The better question is: Should Rose be banned at all?


The answer: Not on the evidence as presented.


No one has proved that Rose bet on games. The commissioner at the time, Bart Giamatti, even agreed with Rose after months of investigation that there would be no finding Rose had bet on games. Amazing when you think of it: Months of investigation led by John Dowd, a former prosecutor of Mafia figures, led to no such finding against Rose. That was the language of baseball's agreement with the man who has more base hits than any other player in history.


And yet Rose is banned -- because Giamatti double-crossed him. At a news conference, the commissioner said he believed Rose had bet on baseball. So while the game's official agreement never charged Rose, its hanging-judge commissioner did. And the commissioner's news-conference opinion came to be taken as the finding in the case.


As a result, Rose suffers the punishment without being found guilty of the crime.


Anyway, here are my votes for the top three.


3. Jim Rice: Power and average.


2. Phil Niekro: Uniquely great.