My views on this year’s Hall of Fame voting

I wonder if Red Bull will be considered a PED in ten years? (Photo taken by me in Baltimore in 2007)

It took me all morning to write this and I’m my own editor so I apologize ahead of time if there are any typos…I tried to track them all down but when the piece runs as long as this one does, sometimes I miss a few.  Also, this is long.  MUCH longer than I anticipated it being when I started writing it.  I apologize for the length.  I know the preferred length of blog entries is “SHORT” but as I was writing I realized how emotional this topic makes me and I decided to not edit myself too much.  Thanks, as always, for slogging through it!

I love the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  I love it.  The first time I ever visited it was 2004 after the Red Sox won the World Series and since then I’ve been there a handful of times although it HAS been a few years since my last visit.  For a baseball fan it is, honestly, just a magical place and whenever I go I just want to spend the day wandering the halls and taking everything in.  The gallery of the plaques, the place where you get enshrined into the Hall of Fame, is always the last part of the museum that I visit and it’s always the place that I spend the least amount of time.  I don’t often give much thought to why I feel that way about the gallery but with every year of voting someone else into the Hall, I think about it a little bit more.

It isn’t the plaques of the players bestowed with the highest honor in baseball that keep me coming back (although they are worth the trip), it is the exhibits.  If you haven’t been there, it’s a trip worth taking.  Along with Cooperstown being a beautiful, quaint place, spending time in the Hall of Fame is like spending time in your ethereal home.  If I feel this strongly about it, I can only imagine how those who have played the game, or been involved with it in any manner, feel about the place.  It’s special.

Which is why I’m bothered by the sportswriters who mock the fact that there is what many call an “integrity clause” in the voting.  There really is no such clause, it’s part of the rules.  The Hall of Fame website clearly lists the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s (BBWAA) election rules.  Rule 5 states:

Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

Emphasis is mine.  According to the rules, when taking into consideration which players to elect into the Hall of Fame, the people voting are supposed to consider the player’s integrity, sportsmanship and character.

Now we know that the voter’s don’t always do this.  If they did, there are many players honored there (Ty Cobb comes immediately to mind) who wouldn’t be there and there are many others (Buck O’Neil to name just one) who would be. Life is not always fair and people don’t always pay attention to all of the rules.  I get it.  But that doesn’t mean because the rules haven’t been adhered to in the past that we should just forget they exist.

Why do I write all of this?  I write it because I’m still trying to work out my feelings about this last round of Hall of Fame voting.   In spite of spitting in the face of an umpire on the field during a game, Roberto Alomar was still voted into the hall of fame.  Now, there are rumors that have been around for years as to why Alomar reacted so violently to the umpire and I don’t believe the incident should necessarily keep him out of the Hall of Fame (although it does seem to violate two of the three criteria I highlighted above), but there are voters, sports writers, who voted Alomar into the Hall of Fame this year who purposely didn’t vote for Jeff Bagwell based on the fact that they sensed Bagwell might have used steroids.  There is no proof Bagwell ever did anything illegal to enhance his performance, but some writers think his body type (long ago debunked as a method of determining PED use) and the fact that he played in the “Steroid Era” (are the 80s considered the MLB’s “Cocaine Era”?) are good enough reasons to suspect him which is good enough for them to keep him out of the Hall of Fame.

To be blunt, this pisses me off.

Over the years I have come to varying conclusions on steroids, HGH and PEDs in general.  I’m still a little confused but I believe one thing:  As many players as there are who have cheated or still do, there are as many who didn’t or don’t.  I believe this with all my heart and I don’t just apply it to PEDs.  While I also believe that there are plenty of players out there who sat by and knew of their teammates using (or cheating in other ways), I believe there are plenty who didn’t.  Every time someone says “The fans are as much to blame” for steroids as the players who used, I get angry.  Maybe I’m naive, but it never once occurred to me in 1998 that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were doing anything but having phenomenal years.  I’ll take the naive tag.  But I won’t take the “blame” for making players cheat.

Having written that, there is a part of me that has come to understand why there are players who did this.  I understand the need or want to excel and I get how the temptation to cheat when you know no one will find out unless you tell them, could be intoxicating.  It’s an old parlor game:  Would you  do “X” if you knew you would never get caught?  I’d like to say no.  I THINK I’d say no.  But I really couldn’t tell you with total conviction that if someone put an offer in front of me to do something that would give me a leg up on everyone else, or just some unbridled pleasure, I would turn it down.  Because of this, I have a difficult time passing judgments on people who used at a time when MLB wasn’t testing for it.  But I will.  At least for some of them.  (I’m nothing if not inconsistent.)

If I had a vote for the Hall of Fame, Mark McGwire would never get in.  If I’m being honest, PEDs aside, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t vote for him.  But the fact that he has admitted to using them makes this easy for me.  He cheated.  I get that there was no test in MLB, but he took illegal steroids (they were illegal regardless of MLB’s testing policy) during the season that he broke the home run record.  Many argue his home runs are what would be getting him into the Hall of Fame.  Since  he has admitted to using an illegal enhancer to hit those home runs it makes the decision easy for me…he doesn’t get in.  (As a reminder, McGwire’s claim is that he took PEDs not for performance enhancing but for his health.  He still maintains that he would have hit those home runs without the extra edge…it’s too bad this isn’t Fringe and we don’t have an alternate universe we can hop over to and find out if this is true.)

A sports writer I admire, Joe Posnanski, wrote, in one of his many columns dedicated to this year’s Hall of Fame voting he gives a detailed and passionate argument for Mark McGwire’s entry into the Hall of Fame.  Although I enjoy him as a writer, I disagree with his arguments but respect his opinion nonetheless.  The one aspect of this defense that I don’t agree with, and that has altered my view of Posnanski slightly, is his interpretation of what McGwire did in front of Congress:

But when he was pulled before Congress, he refused to lie. He was not ready to tell the truth, but he refused to lie. He became a private person and, as far as I know, at that point he never once lied about steroids. And then, one day, he came forward and said what he said. He did not blame anyone else. He asked for forgiveness. Did he tell everything? Was he hard enough on himself? Was he contrite enough? I don’t have any better answer than anyone else.

He refused to lie is some of the most blatant revisionist history I’ve encountered in a while.  What McGwire did in front of Congress was as bad as lying…and he treated Congress and baseball fans like idiots.  “I’m not here to talk about the past” is burned into MLB’s history and to celebrate it as something selfless and good is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  In my opinion, what he did in front of Congress speaks volumes to his “character and integrity” and it isn’t in the positive way Posnanski tries to spin here.  So, yes, McGwire is an absolute “no” on my Hall of Fame ballot.

But what of Jeff Bagwell?

I tried to find the most asinine explanation for not voting him in (I am of the belief he should have been voted in this year.  If you disagree, I’m happy to hear your arguments regarding his stats) and I think this is probably it.

This isn’t about whether I believe what Bagwell says. It’s about suspicions I harbored long before he spoke out on the issue. It’s about where he played and when he played and the teammates with whom he played and a whole bunch of circumstantial evidence that I readily admit wouldn’t hold up in a court of law.

But this isn’t a court of law. This is a Hall of Fame vote. I don’t need proof beyond a reasonable doubt in order to cast a vote for any candidate in either direction. I could refuse to vote for someone because I didn’t like him personally, though I think that would be wrong. I could refuse to vote for somebody based on racial or ethnic or religious grounds, though I think that would be despicable. I could withhold a vote because I don’t want people in the Hall of Fame who have blue eyes, or owned cats, or ever played on a Texas team. It’s my vote, and the only standards to which I am beholden are my own.

So yeah. I’m suspicious of Bagwell, and what that means is right now he doesn’t get my vote. If he registers a “yes” with 75 percent of the electorate, then congratulations to him, he earned his way in. If he doesn’t, I promise to grant him my full consideration in every future year in which he appears on the ballot, as I do with every candidate every year. But where I am with the PED guys is I don’t vote for them. I haven’t voted for McGwire or Palmeiro. Right now, I don’t plan to vote for Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds. I could change my mind, but that’s where I am right now on the issue. And in order to be consistent with that position, I don’t feel I can vote for anybody I suspect, even if that standard casts an unfairly wide net.

Where I am with the PED guys” stands out here since there is absolutely no proof Bagwell is a “PED guy”.  So already this guy is being inconsistent.  I’ve already written that I’m good with people not voting for players who have been proven to have used PEDs.  But when you start voting against players because you just have a feeling based on practically nothing, well I think maybe the BBWAA should go over their membership yearly and put down some more stringent standards for which writers they let vote.

I get that there are probably players in the Hall who have used PEDs and we’ll never know about them.  I get that there are other drugs that could be considered PEDs, like amphetamines, that most likely helped a Hall of Famer or two get to where they are now.  Rollie Fingers and Gaylord Perry (both in the Hall) scuffed balls and threw spitballs.  Bats were corked, recreational drugs were taken and players were just all around assholes yet so many of them have found their way to Cooperstown.

This does not make me believe that any flawed player should be allowed in just because others were before him.  The idea is that we’re supposed to move forward and grow, not stay stuck in the past to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.  So if there is a justifiable reason to keep a player out of the Hall of Fame even though his numbers dictate that he’s good enough to be there, I have no issue with writers deciding if a player has the integrity, sportsmanship and character to be there.

If you’ve stuck with me this long, I appreciate it, and hopefully you’ll remember that I mentioned Roberto Alomar’s spitting incident early in this entry.   I have been trying to find a incident with Jeff Bagwell, anything to indicate that maybe there was something else behind the persona he had publicly, that would make someone think he was cheating.  I haven’t found anything yet.  I’m not trying to indict Alomar here, his career wasn’t exactly full of temper tantrums and spitting incidents either, but I’m wondering how the player who DID have such a public show of poor sportsmanship gets in when the one who has no such event in his career doesn’t when both of them PLAYED IN THE SAME ERA.

How do these holier than thou sportswriters know that Roberto Alomar wasn’t using PEDs?  If you suspect Bagwell because of the era he played in why aren’t you suspecting Alomar?  (Note:  I am not accusing Roberto Alomar of using PEDs.  I’m saying that the argument about Bagwell possibly using is flimsy.  There is as much “evidence” to prove Bagwell used PEDs as there is that Alomar did…which is to say there is NO evidence.)

If you’re interested in comparing the players, here is the link to Bagwell’s stats and here is Alomar’s.  On my ballot, they’re both getting in.  I refuse to pretend that Alomar was clean and Bagwell wasn’t just because Bagwell had bigger arms (or some such ridiculous explanation).

I know my views on steroids have been inconsistent.  This is because, as I’ve said, we move forward, we learn knew things, we get more insight.  We will never know how many players did or didn’t use PEDs in the “era” of steroids just as we’ll never know how many players used other drugs or other ways to cheat.  While I don’t think the fact that there are cheaters (or men of bad character) already in the Hall of Fame to excuse voting in others, I don’t think you can just stop voting for anyone because you assume everyone is cheating.  Show me proof that someone is cheating and I’ll be right behind you, supporting your decision to not vote them in.  But tell me you aren’t voting in players just because you think they might have cheated and I will wonder why you are allowed anywhere near a Hall of Fame ballot.

There is no perfect answer, but I’ve been asked a lot this week about how I feel about steroid users being in the Hall of Fame.  The truth is, they don’t have to be voted in by the writers to be in the Hall of Fame.  The accomplishments of all Major League Baseball players are there forever for all to see.  Hell, even Pete Rose has his place there (even though it isn’t in the gallery of plaques) as does Barry Bonds.  Do I think known users should be voted in?  No.  And I know that means those lucky enough to never have been caught would possibly be rewarded over those who have either been outed or who have come clean on their own.  This isn’t fair.  But I think it’s less fair to knowingly start voting cheaters into the Hall of Fame.  It’s as unfair as NOT voting in players who have never been proved to have cheated.  Like I said, there’s no perfect answer.

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