The most controversial vote

Updated: January 6, 2011, 11:36 AM ET
By Buster Olney

The camera pans across a large room framed by six retracted basketball backboards. A disco ball dangles from the ceiling. There are corsages everywhere, and the signs are made with papier-maché.

"You are looking LIVE at the gym of Cooperstown High School, where the news has just broken that Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven have been picked as the kings of the 2010 Cooperstown prom.

"Hello, again, everybody. I'm Brent Musburger, and I'm here with Rick Sutcliffe, and Sut, I can't say that anybody is really surprised that Bert and Robby got picked for prom kings. Bert was quarterback of the football team for four years, and Robby was always seen as the most brilliant guy in school. But as always, questions abound after the voting results are announced -- questions that started with last year's junior prom vote."

Sutcliffe nods his head and turns to the camera. "Brent, I'm with you on that. We know there's some flexibility in these rules, that the voters set their own personal standards, and the voters could pick as many as 10 kings on their ballots -- and I'm stunned that a guy like Jeff Bagwell, one of the hardest-working students I know, got only 41 percent of the vote. Or what about Rafael Palmeiro? Only four students in the history of Cooperstown High had a grade-point average as high as 4.0 and racked up as many as 16 varsity letters during their years here, and Raffy is one of them -- but he got just 11 percent of the vote.

"Now, we know Raffy got that three-day suspension just before finals this spring after insisting to Principal Vetter that the dog ate his homework, but is that enough to wipe out his whole record? I'm not sure, Brent; I'm just not sure."

Musburger lifts his microphone. "The most fascinating part of this process is always to hear from the voters themselves about why they voted the way they did, and for that, we'll take it down on the floor, with our Ric Bucher. Ric?"

Bucher, wearing a tuxedo -- his own -- stands at the center of a horseshoe of Cooperstown's finest voters. Some of them are wearing coats and ties, a couple are in beige dresses, one is wearing suspenders, and another a bolo tie. Most of them are holding Dixie cups.

"Thanks, Brent -- you're right, you just never know what you're going to hear from the voters, never sure how they make their picks. Let's find out."

"The guy standing to my right is Allen Chase, who seemingly has been part of this institution for decades. Now, Allen, I saw on your ballot that you didn't vote for either Bert or Robby, and the only person you voted for was Tim Raines. How come?"

Chase glances nervously at the camera. "Robby gave me a wedgie once," Chase says. "Back in the fourth grade. I don't vote for Bert because to me, he's just not king-worthy. Tim Raines is a nice guy, and I think he really cares about Cooperstown High."

"Interesting! Thanks, Allen. OK, over here we have George Wellman, who voted for Bert and Robby -- but not for Bagwell. How come, George?"

Wellman is chewing gum; he doesn't blink as he stares into the camera.

"Well, Ric -- can I call you Ric? -- if you recall, Jeff transferred in from Texas at the end of last year, and this is the first year that he's been on the ballot. I never vote for anybody the first time their name appears on the ballot."

"Wow. And why is that, George?"

Wellman absentmindedly pulls a string of his gum out of mouth and twirls it around his right index finger. "That's just the way I do it," he says. "This isn't a court of law."

"OK," Bucher says, and turns to another. "Now, to my left is Josie McCarthy. It says here you voted for Robby, Bert and Jack Morris -- but not for Mark McGwire, Bagwell or Palmeiro. Why is that?"

"They're cheaters."

Bucher looks into the camera. "Now, we should clarify for the viewers -- McGwire has admitted to Prinicipal Vetter that he wrote answers into his palm during his final exams as a sophomore -- although he also says it didn't help him pass the tests. Raffy had the dog-ate-my-homework thing. But Bagwell ... Josie, what makes you think he's a cheater?"

"He looks like one."

"What do you mean by that, Josie?"

"You know -- he looks like a cheater. He just has that cheater look."

"Can you be more specific?"

"He was in my English class last fall, and he sat next to Raffy -- and you know the whole dog-ate-my-homework thing. Anybody who sits next to Raffy has to be a cheater. Plus, he looks like a cheater. You know what a cheater looks like, right?"

Bucher pauses for a moment. "I'm trying to find that out from you. Are you saying it's because you know for sure that he cheated? Or were told from others in the class? Is it because he's got really big shoulders?"

McCarthy looks at Bucher incredulously. "I mean, come on -- he looks like a cheater. Get it?"

"I appreciate your time, Josie, and now we turn to Jimmy Heyder, who, it should be noted, works tirelessly and diligently in his role as Cooperstown crossing guard. I noticed you didn't vote for McGwire, Bagwell or Palmeiro, either -- can you say why?"

Heyder's posture is perfect. "The character clause," he says. "Ric, you've read the rules, right?"

"Yes. But, Jimmy, for our viewers, can you explain?"

"When you get the prom ballot, the administration provides you with a list of rules..."

"Wait a moment. Just to clarify, Jimmy -- the student body is voting, but you have no say in the rules? These come straight from the Cooperstown administration?"

He was a drug user, and that is not good citizenship.

-- Jimmy Heyder, senior

"Yes," says Heyder, and then looks at the stone tablet he holds. "Rule No. 5 is crystal clear: 'Voting shall be based upon the student's record, achievements in extracurricular activities' -- and here are the key parts of this, Ric, so pay attention -- 'integrity, citizenship, and contributions to the school.' Based on that, I couldn't possibly vote for McGwire, Raffy or Bags. I voted for Dale Murphy, but I did not vote for Tim Raines ... you heard about his drug past, right?"

"Yes, he's talked openly about that for years, and has admitted making a grave mistake; he takes the blame fully for that. In fact, he has been one of the most popular and helpful students in school, and has gotten great grades."

"Sorry. He was a drug user, and that is not good citizenship. I'd think you'd understand that, Ric."

"Jimmy, what I am trying to understand is this -- you are well aware of the history of the greatest prom kings ever at Cooperstown High. Babe Ruth? What a party animal. Ty Cobb beat up other students. Gaylord Perry wrote a book after he graduated about how he cheated on tests. Mickey Mantle was hung over day after day, and not just through first period. In the homecoming notes from last year, there was a note about how Willie Mays took some amphetamines to get through the school days.

"It's pretty clear that a strict application of Rule No. 5 would eliminate almost everyone from prom king contention. And, on top of that, there is such a wide range of opinion on the importance of Rule No. 5 -- some voters use it, some don't -- that the results are so inconsistent that they appear laughable. Jimmy, does that concern you?"

Heyder stares right into the camera. "Absolutely not. This is my prom, and I decide who is king around here," he says.

Bucher draws the microphone back to himself. "Well, Brent and Sut, there you have it -- a cross-section of thought among the Cooperstown prom voters. To summarize the voters' standards ... well, sorry, I really can't do that, because I don't understand what the hell they all just said. Back to you."

Musburger straightens

"Thanks, Ric. Sut, you and I will be back here next year, and already I can't wait for the drama, the storylines. Will Raffy ever overcome the dog-ate-my-homework thing? Will Bagwell ever stop looking like a cheater? Is Barry Larkin skinny enough to satisfy the voters? Will the collective voting ever make sense?

"Well, probably not. But we'll see you down the road -- LIVE!"


The Hall of Fame links:

• The writers' 'roid rage has hurt Bagwell, writes Richard Justice. Mark McGwire and Bagwell were shunned, writes Jeff Blair. Bagwell was not surprised, as Zachary Levine writes.

• The impact of steroids on the voting has been felt, writes Nick Cafardo. The baseball writers are now the jury, writes Michael Silverman. The Hall of Fame voting is out of whack, writes Bernie Miklasz.

• Rafael Palmeiro was really disappointed that he got only 11 percent, as Dan Connolly writes. The steroid confession did not help Mark McGwire, writes Nathaniel Vinton. Hall of Fame voters won't be giving steroid-era players a pass any time soon, writes Bill Shaikin. Hank Aaron is getting his wish, writes Jeff Schultz.

• The vote for Blyleven gives Edgar Martinez hope, writes Larry Stone. Martinez was disappointed in his vote drop.

Fred McGriff is at a disadvantage with voters, writes John Romano.

Barry Larkin is in great position for the 2012 voting, writes John Erardi.

• If Alomar could have one moment back, it would be from Sept. 27, 1996. For Alomar, the second time around is better, writes Richard Griffin. Ken Davidoff shared his Hall of Fame day.

• Others won't soon forget Blyleven's hook, writes Patrick Reusse. Blyleven fondly remembered his days with the Pirates, writes Rob Biertempfel. It was a whirlwind day for Bert, writes Tom Powers. The writers finally got it right, said Blyleven. The two former Indians will be inducted together, writes Paul Hoynes.

• It's pretty cool that Pat Gillick will share the stage with Alomar; Gillick traded for Alomar in 1990 in the blockbuster trade with San Diego. Ken Fidlin recalls that moment here.

• I got a bunch of e-mails from readers asking what caps Blyleven and Alomar would have on their plaques. The Hall of Fame will make that call, but to me, the decisions are easy: Blyleven's plaque should have a Twins cap, and Alomar's should have a Toronto cap.

Moves, deals and decisions