The American Baseball Hall of Fame (part 1 of 3)

Hi again.

I’ve been kind of avoiding this space because I have this enormous backlog of subjects about which I’d like to write, but they’re all…well, they’re all horrible. There’s nothing remotely positive in the whole stack. I don’t feel like being cynical, nasty or just plain negative right now, so I’m keeping these items for a rainy day, but I’ve been struggling to find something that I actually want to write about.

This being January, I’ve determined that “baseball” is the perfect subject. You may or may not be aware that the voting for the 2014 Hall of Fame inductees took place yesterday. Three players, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, and Tom Glavine, were elected to the hall. All three are overwhelmingly qualified candidates and their induction actually raises the standards of the hall a little bit (more on this in part 3). There were, however, probably half a dozen players who would normally waltz right into the hall who weren’t elected.

The reason for the omissions is this: steroids. The baseball writers, as a group, have decided that they’re not going to elect in players who are tainted with even a whiff of a hint of possible usage. Many of these writers have been very vocal about leaving off candidates like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and even, for reasons that escape me, Craig Biggio, citing the Hall of Fame’s “integrity clause.”

I’ve yet to hear a single explanation for these votes that makes any damn sense.

Ok, let’s start with the obvious: Using steroids was cheating. It was against the law and against the rules of baseball. No one disputes this. So why am I struggling to understand leaving the steroid-tainted players off of Hall of Fame ballots? First of all, there’s no precedent for it. Baseball has always celebrated players who cheat to try to win. King Kelly, back in the 1800’s, was famous for his cheating. He’s in the hall. Gaylord Perry is known for cheating more than anything else he did, and he’s in the hall. There are literally zero examples of players who deserve to be in the hall based on their records who weren’t elected because they broke the rules trying to win (trying to lose is a very different animal).

Those are small, individual examples. In the 60’s and 70’s, baseball was awash in the systemic use of performance enhancing drugs. Players semi-openly took as many amphetamines as they could get their hands on. The clubs and the league were fully aware of this. In most respects, this was exactly the same as we saw with steroids in the 90’s and 00’s. Using speed was both against the law and against the rules of baseball. No players were denied entry into the Hall of Fame for amphetamine use.

Now, one could say that speed isn’t anywhere near as effective as steroids. That statement might be true, even though there’s not a great deal of compelling evidence to that effect. But, let’s pretend that it’s an ironclad fact. If that’s the case, so what? If the issue is “integrity,” I’m not convinced that cheating effectively has any more or less integrity than “cheating ineffectively.” Sorry, but I don’t buy it.

I think the fact that the teams, the league, and the union were in on it counts, too. The entire game, for better for worse, was involved. Punishing the individuals who cheated, and who were good enough to warrant consideration for the Hall of Fame, and no one else seems unduly selective to me. The teams and the leagues were still allowed to benefit. No games were forfeited, no tickets refunded. The players who used steroids but didn’t have great careers, go unpunished. Punishing Barry Bonds for all of that doesn’t strike me as “right.”

Of course, precedent doesn’t have to be binding. A sportswriter is perfectly within his rights to say “Well, I’m drawing a line right here. I can’t do anything about the cheaters who are already in the hall, but no more. Anyone accused of cheating in any way is not going to get my vote.” Surprisingly, I haven’t heard this argument. Or maybe it’s not so surprising, because this argument essentially says that all of the players from the 60’s and 70’s who are in the hall shouldn’t be there. I haven’t heard anyone say this

Look, I do not like the cheating. I don’t think it does the game any good at all. But, I’m also not going to pretend that it hasn’t always happened, that cheaters have always been found worthy of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, and that the entire league hasn’t been encouraging this problem. Given all of that, I can’t think of a good, rational reason why players from the steroid era should be held to different standards than literally every other player in baseball history.

Ok, with that out of the way, we’ll talk about the players on the this year’s ballot in part two, and then we’ll look at all of the “overqualified” players who aren’t yet in the hall in part three.

 

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