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What’s wrong with “innocent until proven guilty” for PEDs?

Jan 4, 2011, 6:25 AM EDT

Salem trial

Several writers who have defended excluding Jeff Bagwell from their Hall of Fame ballots have said that they don’t have a problem doing so even though there’s no evidence that he used steroids because the Hall of Fame is not a court of law, and the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” does not apply. The latest to do so was Ed Price yesterday.

I have a serious problem with this because even if it’s not a court of law, innocent until proven guilty is a fair and decent concept. There are a lot of places that aren’t courts of law that respect the concept that you actually, you know, have to be shown to have misbehaved before punishment attaches. School. Your office. Even a baseball field.  No one expects a criminal standard of proof — evidence beyond a reasonable doubt — but some modicum of a burden would be nice before one is punished. Or, in the Hall of Fame debate, one’s name and reputation is sullied. I don’t think “at least a shred of credible evidence” is too daunting.

Newsday’s Ken Davidoff dealt with this yesterday, and he hit on another reason why requiring some evidence is a good idea: consistency. As in, how can voters possibly be consistent if they don’t demand any evidence before throwing someone in the PED pile:

Price, with whom I’m friendly enough that we’re currently working together on BBWAA matters, writes, “This isn’t a court of law. Innocent until proven guilty does not apply.”

I used to feel exactly the same way. In fact, I referenced that here. But the more I thought about the haphazard way in which we learned about players from the pre-testing era, the less I could identify with such logic. I say, why not apply the “court of law” standards to Hall of Fame morality issues? Otherwise, there doesn’t appear to be an equal application of justice across the spectrum. No, we’re not deciding on people’s freedoms. But the Hall of Fame is taken extremely seriously by people both inside and outside the baseball industry. That’s why I’ve grown most comfortable with a consistent line of thinking.

There are a couple of great concepts there. The first being that one about our haphazard knowledge of PED use in baseball.  A couple of years ago I wrote an article for the Hardball Times Annual explaining how deeply flawed and under-inclusive the Mitchell Report was, and thus why using it as a go-to resource for PED use in baseball is a fool’s errand.  The point is that even with the Mitchell Report and the subsequent things we’ve learned, we have no idea who used and who didn’t, and thus pretending that we do without anything more (i.e. evidence of a specific player using) is madness.

The second great idea in Davidoff’s passage is how serious the Hall of Fame is taken by people in the industry.  I don’t think the Hall of Fame is hallowed ground or anything, but I do take it seriously. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have written 50 posts on it in the past few weeks. The voters take it seriously too, as is evidenced by the fact that every writer who goes on to hold Bagwell off their ballot has noted how important their task is and how difficult it is to approach the voting process.

It seems to me, however, that a serious undertaking requires an intellectually-serious approach. And to the extent I’ve taken issue with someone’s Hall of Fame ballot, it’s not because of their choices per se. It’s because they exhibit a fundamental incoherence of approach. Just some of the examples:

  • Applying different standards to two different but similarly-situated players;
  • Exhibiting blatant biases without any attempt to explain or to reconcile them;
  • Importing their own rules over and above that which the Hall of Fame itself sets forth;
  • Demanding, in effect, that players prove a negative in order to meet the voter’s standard;
  • Explaining away their votes by saying “it’s totally subjective, so I can vote how I want;”
  • Admitting that their reasons for voting in a certain way are too irresponsible to voice in public, yet continuing to adhere to and honor those reasons when casting their ballots.

If, as Davidoff says, as most voters say and as I believe, voting for the Hall of Fame is a serious undertaking, none of these things are acceptable. Because no serious undertaking allows for such intellectually unserious behavior.

But more important than any of that, no serious person flings a serious accusation at someone, either expressly or by implication, without at least having a single shred of evidence.

  1. JM Lattanzi - Jan 4, 2011 at 7:19 AM

    All of this stuff occurring with Hall of Fame balloting is a good microcosm of human nature. The presumption of innocence is a learned behavior; presumption of guilt is a base instinct.

    At the same time, part of what makes our society functional is that the burden of proof of the accusation is placed on he who makes said accusation, but obviously, the Hall of Fame voting rules didn’t account for what would be to come in the future, as I believe (and someone can correct me if I am wrong) the last major rule change was making anyone on baseball’s banned list ineligible for the Hall of Fame.

    Is a recalibration of the voting rules necessary? It may be if we keep seeing the behavior Craig lists above.

  2. Adam - Jan 4, 2011 at 7:54 AM

    I’m genuinely curious now to see what the HOF does with the players who either have tested positive or people know they did PEDs (a la Manny Ramirez and Barry Bonds).
    If Bagwell can’t get in with his numbers, leadership and lack of evidence, do these guys stand a chance? And if they don’t get in the HOF is a joke.

    I also find it interesting that we don’t hear any “I need evidence” for non-power hitters and pitchers, even though they’ve been suspended as often, if not more so, for PED use. This is a widespread issue in baseball.

  3. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Jan 4, 2011 at 8:29 AM

    Unfortunately, many HOF voters have been voting completely subjectively for years. “He-looks-like-he-used-steriods” is just the current excuse to grind the axe against certain players. That sportwriters can be petty and hold a grudge is hardly new. The same can be said about sportwriters making serious accusations without a single shred of evidence. Sportwriters sticking with the truth is the best way to solve all these problems.

  4. Jonny 5 - Jan 4, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    “I’m genuinely curious now to see what the HOF does with the players who either have tested positive or people know they did PEDs (a la Manny Ramirez and Barry Bonds).
    If Bagwell can’t get in with his numbers, leadership and lack of evidence, do these guys stand a chance? And if they don’t get in the HOF is a joke.”

    Are you kidding me? Known PED users not getting in makes the HOF a joke??? I’d say the exact opposite is true. Bonds and WoManny Ramirez getting in would be the nail in the coffin that seals the fact that the HOF is actually a popularity contest, in other words, a joke. It’s already looking that way. Look at how many times Blyleven was denied until people with brains pointed out his stats. Journalists are voting for him now out of shame. Shame of being a person who really doesn’t do their duty of voting for the best players properly. It’s refreshing to me to see they can be swayed by the likes of Craig and other Baseball commenters and bloggers. If you must have WoManny and Barry in, then all of this debate over Bagwell is even more ridicuous. Because he isn’t known to have used, but that’s what will keep him out, if anything keeps him out.

    Keeping guys out because you think he may have done steroids, but have no evidence, is plain wrong. And then letting guys in who are known to use?? C’mon man, that’s really pushing wrong to a whole new level now isn’t it?

    • paperlions - Jan 4, 2011 at 9:04 AM

      No, it isn’t. There is strong evidence that the vast majority of players have used some sort of PED since the 50s. Singling out steroid use is silly as there isn’t even any evidence that steroid use is the most effective artificial enhancement.
      Your contention that Bonds and Manny being elected would confirm the HOF as a popularity contest is laughable. I laugh, ha ha. As a group, the BBWAA HATE each of those guys. If they were elected it would be despite their unpopularity and because of their tremendous skill as hitters, not because of they were liked.
      Thousands of guys took PEDs over the last 25 or so years. Assuming PEDs have any measurable effect on hitting (so far, none has been found, and in fact there is more evidence that PEDs helped pitchers than hitters), only a few players of that time frame have done anything approaching what players like Bonds/Ramirez have done. There were great baseball players, they should be in the HOF.
      You know what would be wrong? Punishing guys for doing something that was tacitly encouraged and endorsed by fans, the media, and those that run baseball. Everyone encouraged steroid use and ignored it for over a decade, now those same people want to punish those that did as encouraged?

      • Jonny 5 - Jan 4, 2011 at 9:41 AM

        Everyone has their own opinon. I’m a “smallish hall” minded person, and anyone implicated in proven PED use should not get in the HOF in my opinion. I don’t give a rats fuzzy a$$ how many people are suspected, it doesn’t make the known users exempt to me. Yeah, PED’s don’t make people better at sports. That takes some serious ignorance to conclude. Yeah, Bonds and Ramirez are great ball players, so was Pete Rose. Sure they played better than most, but they cheated, and we know it. To claim we haven’t the proof that PED or steroids helped batters, is like saying Umbrellas might not keep the rain off your head, even though most people use them, and they work.

        And because BBWAA members have a bad taste from Bonds and Ramirez, doesn’t mean they aren’t popular.

        My contention which I’m not moving from. Known Users are losers when it comes to the HOF. That’s it.

        “Everyone encouraged steroid use and ignored it for over a decade, now those same people want to punish those that did as encouraged?”

        No, everyone did not encourage it.Writers did not encourage it. That’s a lie. MLB turned their heads to it, as did team management. it’s a shame, but the choice is really up to the individual, is it not?

      • paperlions - Jan 4, 2011 at 11:07 AM

        So you don’t want anyone in from the last 50 years then? Because they ALL used amphetamines at some point, if not regularly. You can’t single out one activity as cheating and not others.
        I’m on board with this. Lasik surgery is cheating, enhancing eye sight beyond naturally given levels. TJ surgery is cheating, it helps players recover from injuries faster than if they didn’t have surgery. Let’s get rid of all artificial enhancements. That is no more stupid that focusing on only one and ignoring the rest.

      • Jonny 5 - Jan 4, 2011 at 11:18 AM

        Yes, it’s much more stupid actually. I’m not for the olympics being won by the use of PED’s never will. Why give an exception for my favorite sport? Why would you? And I already said “known users” should be kept out. Not the last 50 years of players over suspicion. Heck I’m for Bagwell getting in, he’s suspected, not a “known” user.

        Look, as I’ve said, I really don’t care all that much at this point. The water is wayyyy too muddy on this issue, and at this point, there is truly no fair way to discern who was using, and who wasn’t. My case is known users should be kept out. It’s how i feel. But we know Bonds gets in now don’t we? So how is it fair if other lesser players who used are kept out for being suspected, but not known to have used? It will happen. And it won’t be fair. But like I said, it doesn’t matter all that much to me at the end of the day.

      • Charles Gates - Jan 4, 2011 at 11:54 AM

        Why is Bagwell suspected (if that’s your notion and not a generalization of others’)?

      • Jonny 5 - Jan 4, 2011 at 12:07 PM

        I don’t suspect Bagwell of anything besides being a pretty awesome ball player. I don’t like deciding who did what without evidence, so I don’t.

      • Adam - Jan 6, 2011 at 4:44 PM

        “Known users” is an interesting term. Everyone “knows” Bonds used but he never failed a drug test and after 8 years there still has been no trial or verdict on the guy.

        Are we really going to require a federal investigation into every baseball player who anyone suspects used steroids?

      • jkcalhoun - Jan 6, 2011 at 5:00 PM

        Are we really going to require a federal investigation into every baseball player who anyone suspects used steroids?

        Which is not to suggest that a federal investigation is guaranteed to produce definitive results, as we have already seen.

  5. paperlions - Jan 4, 2011 at 8:43 AM

    The problem with preconceptions is that humans treat them as fact and base future responses/opinions on them. For example, in Bagwell’s case, if he denies he used steroids then someone that thinks he used them simply thinks he’s denying it and their opinion of him goes down. There is no response by Bagwell that can get around the preconception. There is no evidence that will dispel the preconception, as holders of that opinion will explain away anything as another lie. Once a person decides a thing is true, almost nothing can dislodge that notion. The fact that the original notion is baseless is almost immediately irrelevant in the life of the notion; for most people, notions are self sustaining as the ability to place notions in a larger mental/conceptual framework and apply all available evidence to consider the validity of the notion is not a common or fostered skill.

  6. rrrii - Jan 4, 2011 at 9:18 AM

    Craig, you’re fighting the good fight. But let’s be real here: school does not require proof before suspensions/ detention/ etc. Because I was near a fight that happened I got detention. Work does not require proof – don’t professional athletes get suspended before their court dates? Happens all the time.

    I’m with you that writers are not applying the same standards ‘fairly’ and have wildly different approaches for similarly-situated players. But to some degree I expect this (I don’t condone it, mind you). The Steroid Era has confused so many people. We don’t know the true impact of steroids on the game (v. say smaller ball parks, livelier balls, etc.). And it is going to take time for lots of people to get this sorted out in their heads.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Jan 4, 2011 at 9:23 AM

      To use your example, the writers aren’t suspending Bagwell because he was at the fight. They’re suspending him because he happened to be in school when the fight took place.

      • Charles Gates - Jan 4, 2011 at 12:10 PM

        And the school administrators were part of the crowd chanting, ‘FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!’

    • tigerprez - Jan 4, 2011 at 11:56 AM

      This seems very reasonable. If people have doubts about players from the steroid era, don’t vote for them until those doubts are removed to your satisfaction. I have no problem holding off on voting for ALL players from the steroid era until we know more about what PEDs did and didn’t do. It’s the “vote now! vote now!” crowd that is baffling. I don’t want to convict or exonerate anybody yet. Voting yes is clearly an exoneration. Voting no is more akin to an “I don’t know,” since you’ll get to vote again on it for 15 more years. The latter seems more reasonable if you need the time.

      And for those making the amphetamine equivalency argument, you need to look into what greenies actually did. They were performance enablers, not performance enhancers. In other words, no one threw harder or hit the ball further because of greenies. They simply helped players get on the field and grind out a 162 game season, just the same as a few cups of coffee gets you to work every day. Since they’ve been banned, some players say that they now realize that they actually made it harder to focus and hit (it was in a Washington Post article; look it up). They are the corked bats of PEDs.

      The stuff about lasik surgery and TJ surgery being performance enhancers is just silly. Those things only restore the body to where it once was (and lasik appears to not do much of anything longterm for the hundreds of players who have gotten it). Neither of those give you added strength and less recovery time than you could ever achieve naturally, as steroids do. These sorts of arguments are why I have no problem with writers not voting for players from the steroid era. There’s so much distortion that no one knows exactly what any of it meant yet.

      • jkcalhoun - Jan 4, 2011 at 12:22 PM

        Voting yes is clearly an exoneration.

        I don’t agree with this. Instead, I believe that considering PEDs at all is an application of a standard ex post facto to an era that did not regulate their use. There’s no way to do that fairly, no matter how long you wait.

      • Bochy's Head/Timmy's Bong - Jan 4, 2011 at 2:53 PM

        “In other words, no one threw harder or hit the ball further because of greenies.”

        This is simply wrong. Amphetamines allow users to overcome fatigue and enhance the ability to focus. A fatigued player using amphetamines will most likely be able to throw harder and hit a ball farther than when without amphetamines.

        “The stuff about lasik surgery and TJ surgery being performance enhancers is just silly. Those things only restore the body to where it once was…”

        Also wrong, at least in many cases. Lasik in some cases results in better eyesight than ever previously possessed. And TJ surgery replaces one ligament with a different, usually stronger, ligament from elsewhere in the body. Some post-TJ pitchers throw harder than they ever did prior to surgery, presumably for this reason.

  7. BC - Jan 4, 2011 at 9:59 AM

    I threw in the towel on this issue last month. Vote in whoever. Look at their performance relative to the players of their era, and vote in who you believe were the best of the best. The whole PED issue has defeated me. Put in Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and whoever else.
    I mean, do we know how many players are already in the HOF that used amphetimines? Or even PEDs for that matter.
    I’m throwing my hands up in the air on this one, folks.

    • Jonny 5 - Jan 4, 2011 at 10:07 AM

      I’m kinda with you on this BC. The Hall debate has become a joke. And I’m sure there are PED users already in there. I’m not one to accuse without proof. But I mean it’s beginning to look alot like little league now where everyone gets a trophy, and I don’t think the HOF was meant to resemble that.

      I’d rather let in Shoeless Joe and Pete Rose before Sosa, bonds, and clemens though, by a long shot.

      • jkcalhoun - Jan 4, 2011 at 10:54 AM

        I’d rather let Bonds and Clemens in before Cap Anson. So what? Inclusion clearly does not require players to uphold standards of fairness that emerged at the end of their careers or afterward. If it did, there would have to be a provision for removing players who we would now judge to have acted unfairly and whose unfair actions had a demonstrably negative effect on the sport, such as Anson. But there isn’t.

        So let’s judge players according to their performance and actions under contemporary conditions and standards. I can’t think of any other way to do the job consistently and fairly. Applying those criteria, Bonds, Clemens, and even Anson are in. And they stay in. Somewhere in the Hall, not too far away from their plaques, we also document the eras in which they played and even how they have subsequently been perceived. Deal?

      • Jonny 5 - Jan 4, 2011 at 11:09 AM

        Deal. I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that there are already users in there. It’s not even remotely possible that there are no PED users in the HOF now. I won’t lose sleep over Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa getting in. I don’t agree with it, and can’t. But more than likely the most fair method is to ignore the whole PED issue when it comes to the HOF. We know that won’t happen, and we know guys who are borderline or just above will be kept out by suspicion alone while Known users get in because they were the best. And it will never really be fair will it? But at the end of the day, I really don’t care all that much either. May the chips fall where they will.

      • paperlions - Jan 4, 2011 at 11:10 AM

        Jonny, a smaller proportion of players are elected to the HOF now that at any point since its creation….which is exactly the opposite of what you suggest is happening. HOF standards are being set so high, that almost no one is getting in compared to previous eras….indeed, guys that clearly had HOF careers fall of the ballot (e.g. Lou Whittaker).

      • Jonny 5 - Jan 4, 2011 at 11:23 AM

        Of course, the players are getting better now. It’s big money now. We are far removed from the days where drunkard farm hands with winter jobs are making MLB rosters. I think we need to be more selective, it’s not a bad thing.

    • Jonny 5 - Jan 4, 2011 at 10:18 AM

      Before folks freak about the little league comment. I was exaggerating..

      • BC - Jan 4, 2011 at 10:23 AM

        I actually think the Veterans Committee should be punted. They’re much more guilty of letting folks in the Hall that don’t belong there.
        At this point I have no problem putting Bonds, Clemens and Sosa in – they were among the best relative to their peers in their era and over a significant period of time.
        I’m just punting on the whole PED issue. I’m tired of it, frankly.

  8. bleedgreen - Jan 4, 2011 at 10:19 AM

    People also need to learn that Free Speech is only guaranteed against persecution FROM THE GOVERNMENT. I get tired of people complaining about a corporations firing people for saying things they don’t like, and then crying the free speech card.

    • BC - Jan 4, 2011 at 10:28 AM

      Most corporations have a corporate communications and media relations policy, and make it very explicit, as well as a condition of continued employment. You want to work for them, follow the policy. You don’t, and you could be fired. Such is the nature of at-will employment.

  9. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jan 4, 2011 at 10:34 AM

    Heh, you said “similarly-situated”…you lawyer. Good post. I still withhold my opinion on this topic as I am not educated enough on it, nor do I want to be. I simply would like baseball season to begin NOW!

  10. granted42 - Jan 4, 2011 at 11:08 AM

    Using their same method of determining guilt, I would say these writers cheat on their wives, file questionable tax returns, and steal office supplies from their employers. I have no evidence of this, but obviously, I don’t need any.

    • Jonny 5 - Jan 4, 2011 at 11:25 AM


  11. lardin - Jan 4, 2011 at 11:22 AM

    Innocent until proven guilty applies only in a court house or other legal procedure, to determine if the GOVERNMENT can take away a persons rights.Therefore anyone not sitting on a jury is free to make up his or her mind based on whatever factors they like. This includes sports writers voting for the hall of fame

    • paperlions - Jan 4, 2011 at 11:54 AM

      No, jurors are not “free to make up their minds based on whatever factors they like”. Jurors receive instructions, part of which is to follow rules of law.

      • jkcalhoun - Jan 4, 2011 at 12:14 PM

        He was speaking of “anyone not sitting on a jury”, i.e. not jurors.

        Sportswriters voting for the Hall of Fame are given guidelines that leave a lot of room for interpretation. However, because the results of the voting obviously matter to a lot of people, if their voting is perceived as biased, illogical, or uninformed, the voters will be subject to criticism. In response to criticism, claims among voters that “I can vote however I want” are likely to lead to questions about whether the voting procedure and the voting body are adequate.

        So, sure, let them abuse the privilege while they have it.

      • lardin - Jan 4, 2011 at 2:28 PM

        Juries are limited to the evidence presented to them at Trial and must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. That is why OJ was found not guilty of killing his wife, but every one knows he did it anyway. To quote a movies I just saw, “It’s not what you know, its what you can prove.” Sports writers do not have to meet that standard. They can vote based on what they think they know, not necessarily what they can prove…

  12. Walk - Jan 4, 2011 at 2:16 PM

    I have given a fair amount of thought to what i would do if i had a hof vote in the steroid era. I believe i would feel a great deal of pressure at the very least and doubt on anyone i voted for or against when there was no clear evidence of ped use. The only thing i could think of is that maybe they should make a minor voting change. Allow a voter to vote with reservations. If a voter chooses this option then his vote is void and doesnt count as one of the percent needed to stay on the ballot or get in. Secondly if after a number of years to be determined a player admits to use or compelling evidence is made available then the reservation is activated and the player is moved from hall limbo or wherever he is to be placed.

  13. frankvzappa - Jan 4, 2011 at 3:26 PM

    innocent til proven guilty doesnt apply in a US court either…the yellow outline of the flag makes it a military flag under maritime law, so the constitution does not apply and is not allowed in the courtroom…

    • Bochy's Head/Timmy's Bong - Jan 4, 2011 at 4:10 PM

      Wow, who knew how much depends on a “yellow outline.”

      BTW, my wife got me your “Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar” CD set for Christmas. Best gift ever.

  14. 1historian - Jan 4, 2011 at 4:50 PM

    If someone is accused of taking steroids all he has to do to prove his innocence is to submit VOLUNTARILY to testing. Forget what the union says, just stand up and say “I DEMAND a test to prove my innocence.” That is the ONLY way to do it.

    If a person refuses to take a test for ANY reason it is only natural in these times to suspect that that person is taking drugs.

    It is not unfair, etc. – it makes sense.

    • jkcalhoun - Jan 4, 2011 at 11:19 PM

      No, it’s a stupid nuisance.

      How about this: I accuse you of cheating on your taxes. As we all know, such cheating is rampant. Now are you compelled to submit to an IRS audit? Of course not. You’d just tell me to shut the hell up.

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