Transparency will make HOF voting a whole new game

Ken Griffey Jr. received 99.7 percent of the vote when he was elected last year with Mike Piazza. Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It's one of the most historic Hall of Fame elections of all time. And there's an excellent chance that no one has told you why.

The funny thing is this history has nothing to do with who gets elected Wednesday, with all due respect to Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines or any other candidate in this momentous election. No, the history here is that it's the end of an era that dates back to the first Hall of Fame vote ever cast: This is the last Hall of Fame election in which voters can hide in the shadows, free to vote (or not vote) anonymously for whomever they please and never tell any of us why. And it's about time.

The world is changing into a better and more transparent place. Now, finally, Hall of Fame voting is changing with it. Anyone want to propose a toast? I'll definitely drink to that.

You probably missed this blockbuster news. But it came down last month, when the Baseball Writers' Association of America voted 80-9 to make every voter's Hall of Fame ballot public starting in 2018. The only reason for the one-year delay is 2017 Hall voting had already begun. It also gave time to iron out a few technicalities that will carve out the rules and mechanisms to make this happen.

Once this change does happen, never again will you have to wonder who the three voters were who left a player as great as Ken Griffey Jr. off their ballots. Never again, theoretically, will you have to wonder what the heck they were thinking.

Never again can any voter send in a blank ballot -- or a ballot with just one seemingly inexplicable name -- without the whole world knowing about it. If that means the internet erupts with fans demanding that those voters explain themselves, well, that's the deal.

Never again will you have to wonder who awarded those mysterious Hall of Fame ballots to the likes of Aaron Sele or Todd Stottlemyre or Felix Millan. Oh, it will still be legal to cast the most frivolous vote in America. It just won't be legal to leave America in doubt about who cast it.

I know that approximately 99.7 percent of all living Americans now officially think the media is comprised of a bunch of nitwits. But in this case, is it all right to give this group credit for opening that window, knowing how many rocks, bottles and insults are about to come flying through it?

No matter how we vote these days, somebody out there is guaranteed to decide we're the nation's foremost knuckleheads. Transparency is almost never pretty. But the writers decided they're OK with that. Amazing.

"We want transparency from the people we cover," said the outgoing president of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, the St. Louis Post Dispatch's Derrick Goold. "And now we have a chance to do that ourselves."

We do, indeed, even though that isn't how it works everywhere. The Veterans Committee just elected Bud Selig to the Hall of Fame in a private vote that turned out to not be unanimous. It still hasn't leaked who didn't vote for Bud or why. And you know what? Inside that committee, they don't care. So here's to the Baseball Writers, who decided as a group to be better than that.

But you should know that this decision was not as quick and easy as that 80-9 vote might make it appear. There were some vociferous voices in the room that day that warned us about taking this step.

In fact, those voices warned us that this is going to change Hall of Fame voting itself. You know what? They're absolutely right.

"I've already seen a lot of people change their votes from one year to the next," said one of the strongest dissenters to this decision, USA Today's Bob Nightengale. "People have changed their votes based on public opinion."

Now the pressure to vote for what he called "the popular candidates" is only going to get more intense, he added, once every ballot starts reverberating around the internet at warp speed. He's absolutely right about that too.

Is the pressure going to mount to vote for, say, an Edgar Martinez or a Mike Mussina in future years, if they replace Raines as 'The Guys The Really, Really Smart People Say We Should Vote For Or Else We're All Dopes?' Um, good chance it will, actually.

The dissenters think that's an ominous development. My personal feeling is: So what? The voters who get trolled because they have different ideas might not agree.

You know another way this is likely to change voting forever? One of these years, we're finally going to see an end to the dumbest tradition in all of sports: the writers' failure to elect ANYBODY unanimously.

How dumb is it that nobody has ever gotten 100 percent of this vote? Not Griffey. Not Babe Ruth. Not Hank Aaron. Not Willie Mays. Embarrassing. But in a universe in which everyone will know if you don't vote for a legend, that's about to change.

"With transparency, you're going to see a 100 percent guy," Nightengale said. "It might be [Derek] Jeter. It might be [Mariano] Rivera. But once these votes are public, how can anyone say they're not voting for Derek Jeter? They'll get lambasted."

Hey, you think? But you know what? That lambasting should have started long ago.

"Will this change votes? I don't know the answer to that question," Goold said. "But if it does change votes, I think it will change them for the better."

How? If you're voting knowing your choices will be out there for the world to pick apart, "it adds credence to that decision," Goold said. "It adds gravity. You need to ask yourself: 'Is this a stand I can defend? Is this a vote I can defend?' And that's a good thing."

When we cast our Hall of Fame votes, we're taking on an awesome responsibility. When we elect a player -- or don't -- those votes leave a permanent, historic mark on the players we're judging. So we SHOULD vote with an understanding of the gravity of each vote. We SHOULD take ownership of these votes. And we SHOULDN'T run from having to defend them.

The question some writers have, though, is this: Should everyone be forced to be transparent every single year? There's some dispute on that too.

"The No. 1 reason I was against this rule," Bleacher Report's Scott Miller said, "is that in this country, it's a democracy, and everyone has a vote on different things. And I hate to see a blanket rule that forces everyone to go in one direction. Personally, I've always believed in transparency, and every single time I've voted, I've written a column saying this is who I voted for and why. ... But there could be extenuating circumstances where a person might not want to reveal his vote in a particular year."

What kind of "extenuating circumstances" might that be? Here's a real-life example from a real-life writer who spoke to us (ironically enough) with a request to remain anonymous.

He covered a player who became a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He came to believe, from a source he trusted, that that player used PEDs. Although he didn't have a vote at the time that player appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot, he would not have voted for him, he said, based on his own standards of character and integrity. But if every ballot were made public, he's almost certain he couldn't have cast that vote because "I couldn't defend it publicly."

"To me, a secret ballot is a fundamental of democracy," he said. "You should be able to vote your conscience without having to explain your vote. But once it's public, you're open to public pressure. And that's not what we want in a democracy. We're not elected representatives. We're chosen to be part of a voting group."

Consider this dilemma a glimpse into the world of a baseball beat writer. You're around a team so much that you see that team and the men who play on it in a different light from the rest of civilization. Sometimes, that can make your life awfully challenging -- and confusing.

As a result, those of us in the business sympathize with someone like this. On the other hand, here's my feeling:

Despite his suspicions, if he could never write, say out loud or report publicly that this player used PEDs, he probably shouldn't be denying that player a Hall of Fame vote for using PEDs. Is that too high a standard to hold everyone to? Why do I have a feeling you'll let me know how you feel about that within the next 30 seconds?

But if you do, as I tell my peers in this business all the time, the constant noise that comes flying at us 24/7 nowadays is a good thing. The BEST part about sports is that we disagree. If people want to use their favorite social media platform to let us know how much they disagree with us, hey, that's what it's there for. And that's what we're there for.

Should we be running from disclosing our Hall of Fame votes because there are now haters on the internet? C'mon. We signed up for dealing with haters on the internet the minute we took this gig. They're not going anywhere. We're not going anywhere. Deal with it.

We should be able to defend every Hall of Fame vote we cast, just as we should be able to defend everything we write and everything we say into a microphone. That's life in 2017 America. Gotta deal with that too.

The fact is we've been heading in this direction anyway. As recently as 2013, only 125 ballots were being made public on BBWAA.com. By last year, that number had more than doubled to 307 public ballots on either the BBWAA site or Ryan Thibodeaux's invaluable ballot-tracking site.

That last step -- making every ballot public -- is one we needed to take. And it's one even the powers-that-be at the Hall of Fame have signed off on. The Hall's only request was that the BBWAA wait seven days before releasing the ballots. That way, the story on election night is who got elected -- not the voters who filled out the goofiest ballots. Fair enough.

Taking this step means Hall of Fame voting will never again be easy or consequence-free -- or possibly even fun. But that's no reason to go skulking back into the shadows.

"I understand the benefits of privacy," Goold said. "I really do. But I also understand the benefits of transparency when you're influencing history."