Ken Gurnick’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Ballot

I bet Ken Gurnick is actually a hell of a guy. I bet he’s smart, and hard-working, and often thoughtful. I bet he’s kind to pets and babies and houseplants and the elderly. A lot of writers I tend to respect, including Ken Rosenthal, Dylan Hernandez and Eric Stephen, speak very highly of him.  Here’s Hernandez:

Admittedly, I don’t know Ken Gurnick at all, so I’ll trust them. That said, his Hall of Fame ballot is one of the most tragically misguided I’ve ever seen.

In case you were under a rock this morning, Gurnick became the first writer to publicly admit to not voting for Greg Maddux, saying “As for those who played during the period of PED use, I won't vote for any of them.” Instead, Gurnick is going to vote for Jack Morris, and only for Jack Morris.

First of all, that doesn’t make sense. Gurnick went on MLB Radio and suggested that he defines the beginning of the “steroid era” as 1992 or 1993. Here’s the problem with that, as Rob Neyer pointed out earlier today, we have no idea when that era actually began. Players were using amphetamines in the 1960s. Tom House admitted to using steroids in the late 1970s. Jose Canseco debuted in 1985, and was rumored to be using as early as 1988. In fact, ’88-’95 covers almost half of Morris’s 18 year career, including his career-defining 1991 season and game seven start, and his 20-game winning 1992, when he was 37. So why, exactly, does Morris get a pass from Gurnick again?

But the majority of the outrage online was reserved for Gurnick’s omission of Greg Maddux. Now a confession: I don’t really care about Maddux. I mean, I do. I want him to go into the Hall of Fame this year. But, as the outrage surrounding Gurnick’s vote confirms, Maddux is going to go into the Hall of Fame this year. I couldn’t care less whether he’s voted in unanimously or not. That’s far, far, far less important than him getting in. Likewise, if the exit polling being done by the excellent Darren Viola and Leo Kitty is accurate, it looks like Tom Glavine is safe as well. You don’t get bonus points for polling 100 percent; there’s no inner circle of Stonecutters that you get into with your super cool unanimous selection decoder ring. Ultimately, that’s not the slightest bit important.

Gurnick’s refusal to address the alleged “steroid era,” however, has a real impact on the chances of candidates whose elections are less secure. Frank Thomas still will probably get in, but he’s not a sure thing. Craig Biggio will get in by the skin of his teeth this year, if he gets in at all. I’m worried about these guys, for whom an extra vote here and there could make the difference between getting in and being kept out.

Even more concerning are players like Fred McGriff, Larry Walker, Alan Trammell, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, and Jeff Kent (to say nothing of the players who have actually been implicated by PEDs). On such a crowded ballot, any one of them could slip below the five percent threshold for remaining on the ballot in 2014, depriving them of a chance to grow and broaden their support, and get elected late in their time on the ballot like Jack Morris, Jim Rice, Bruce Sutter, or Goose Gossage. Gurnick’s ballot and his inability to do the intellectual heavy-lifting to parse through the candidates of that era, actively hurts those players, doesn’t it?

Gurnick has said he’s going to pocket his ballot next year, as he can’t in good conscience vote for anyone who played in the modern era. That’s a small mercy. If only he’d been so smart and thoughtful a few weeks earlier, we all could have been spared this embarrassment of a ballot.