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The Hall of Fame gives voters a clear signal: moralize about steroids even more

Jan 6, 2011, 6:21 AM EDT

cooperstown

In the past couple of weeks many Hall of Fame voters expressed dismay at the dilemma they faced regarding PED users and the character clause in their voting instructions. Some — including Ken Rosenthal and Jayson Stark — have openly asked the the Hall provide guidance on the matter.  Well, the Hall did so last night. In the course of this interview with Joe Posnanski, Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson made it clear that the Hall is pleased with and fully expects writers to continue what they’re doing :

“Baseball has historically been held to a very high standard, right or wrong. There’s a certain integrity required when it comes to baseball’s highest honor, which is being inducted into the Hall of Fame. The character clause exists as it relates to the game on the field. The character clause isn’t there to evaluate and judge players socially. It’s there to relate to the game on the field … The voters should have the freedom to measure that however they see fit.”

Asked if that means that the Hall is fine with keeping out Bonds, Clemens and players like Jeff Bagwell for whom there are only baseless steroid suspicions, he made it pretty clear that it is:

“When you look at the Hall of Fame elections, you see that those who are elected are representative of that era. The Hall of Fame election is a continuum. And the standards have upheld the test of time. We believe they work. We believe the voters have exercised a great understanding about the candidates in the Hall of Fame. I think when you look at who the writers have voted into the Hall of Fame, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t belong there …

… Am I worried that this era will be under-represented? No. I mean, you have a set of guidelines and rules in place. … I think we are happy with the way the voting has gone, we’re happy with the diligence of the voters who have participated, and the chips will fall as they fall.”

I think that there is a 100% certainty that voters will be citing this interview for years as a basis for being even stronger in their moral indignation at PEDs than they are now. Those who have no compunction about smearing Jeff Bagwell with both their words and their vote now have the approval of the Hall of Fame itself. Those on the fence now have the cover to join the high-horse crowd.  Those of us who find this all tremendously troubling will be shouted down with reference to Idelson’s words. We’ll be asked who the hell are we to protest when the man who runs the Hall of Fame himself has told us that he’s just fine with our playing the Morality Police. And they’ll have a good point.

But I fear that as a result of this we’ll also have a Hall of Fame on the fast track to irrelevance.  Because of the manner in which the Hall of Fame has set up the voting of the Veteran’s Committee, the Hall is now and likely forever will be without Marvin Miller, the architect of the free agency era and without Buck O’Neil, the man who did more than anyone to ensure that the Negro Leagues didn’t just disappear into the mists of history.

Because of the Hall’s slavish devotion to Major League Baseball’s official banned list, it is without the game’s all-time hit king, Pete Rose and, even if I personally oppose his induction, it is without Shoeless Joe Jackson, who many believe belongs.

And now, because it has sided with the steroids hysteria crowd, it will be without the home run king, one of the greatest pitchers of all time in Roger Clemens and countless other players who played in the 1980s and 1990s. Mike Piazza? He’s out. Pudge? Gone. Bagwell? Forget it.  And of course, given the total lack of scrutiny on the matter every other player of that era could suddenly and baselessly find themselves blacklisted like Bagwell has been. Indeed, if the voters are intellectually honest about it, they’ll have no choice but to give the entire era a miss.

What will become of the Hall of Fame if it continues down this path?  I raised that question on Twitter last night. Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe and I discussed it a while. He (and many others) believe I’m overreacting. I suppose that’s possible.  But I think the Hall of Fame is important. And it’s important not by some immutable law of the universe. It’s important only because people believe it’s important. They go way the hell out of their way to a village in upstate New York because they believe the museum represents something official and — though I cringe at the invocation of divinity — they believe it is hallowed baseball ground.

What happens when people in Texas stop believing its important because Jeff Bagwell isn’t in there? When Giants fans scoff at it because Bonds is out?  When Rangers fans — or hell, Latino fans — think the place unfairly kept out Pudge Rodriguez?

None of those exclusions is major in and of itself, I suppose, but legitimacy can be a fickle thing. I already believe that the moral standards being applied by the BBWAA and the Hall are out of step with that of most baseball fans. I think, with Idelson’s words, that trend will accelerate.  And I fear that as it accelerates, the Hall of Fame will find that it speaks to fewer and fewer people as time goes on.

UPDATE: For some more spleen on this, go check out Bill’s take over at The Platoon Advantage.  Also, the comments to this post are shaping up to be quite strong so far, so I highly recommend that you check them out below if you don’t normally do so.

UPDATE II:  Crashburn Alley takes things even further. Is the Hall of Fame [gulp] like that museum on Creationism?

  1. wowbaggertheinfinitelyprolonged - Jan 6, 2011 at 1:31 PM

    Whilst some of the argument to date, especially as per Jeff Pearlman, has been that anyone playing prior to the establishment of a proper drug testing system is suspect (as no-one was tested, therefore no-one can fail), how do the minions think this might pan out in 5-10 years time?

    By then candidates coming on to the ballot for the HOF will have been subject to testing. I suspect most people here would say that, for example, A-Rod should be in the Hall for his accomplishments, even though many might not like him, or his “failings”.

    Some of the BBWAA will steadfastly refuse to vote for people like him, obviously, although by 2022 the voter profile is likely to be somewhat different from what it is today, but what about, for example, Albert Pujols? He can be seen as the “testing era” equivalent of Jeff Bagwell. Will the BBWAA ignore the fact that he will have maintained, till retirement, a clean record, or will the same criticims about his size, the spike in his HR’s from minors to majors and the othr insinuations bandied about re Bagwell be applied to him too?

    For the avoidance of doubt, there is nothing adverse imputed to Pujols – he merely strikes me as a good example of what some writers seem to be calling the “well he must be juiced if he is so good” class.

  2. jkcalhoun - Jan 6, 2011 at 2:12 PM

    On another note, I’m doubtful that anyone with training as an historian, archivist, or museum curator — all of which Idelson lacks, as he’s basically a public relations guy — would have responded to Posnanski’s questions similarly. Idelson’s approach to the Hall’s mission as revealed in this interview, and mainly his willingness to allow the Selig era to be distorted in the Hall’s presentation of it, leads me to wonder the Hall is generally faring well overall in its job of “preserving history”.

    I’m no historian either. Do we have any here who are willing to comment?

  3. IdahoMariner - Jan 6, 2011 at 4:12 PM

    “When you look at the Hall of Fame elections, you see that those who are elected are representative of that era. ”

    so…does he not see that he is speaking out of both sides of his mouth?

    • jkcalhoun - Jan 6, 2011 at 5:02 PM

      He’s a public relations guy. Whenever necessary, it’s what he does.

      • ta192 - Jan 6, 2011 at 5:31 PM

        Agree, my first thought was, “He doesn’t want to ruffle the feathers of the BBWAA, so he’s throwing out some meaningless double talk generally defending their right to act jerky.” I think the Hall wants to avoid controversy. By keeping out the players associated with this particular controversy, they can probably see 2 dimly lighted exits from their tunnel. One, the controversy goes away and those same players get enshrined, albeit a bit later than they might have, everyone’s happy. Two, the controversy grows real muscle (how appropriate), the players go straight to baseball purgatory, but never the hall, and everybody’s self-righteously happy. See, win, win…

  4. macjacmccoy - Jan 6, 2011 at 5:57 PM

    Seems like I was 100% correct. You said the fact that the hall hasnt came out and said that they wanted the voters to take into account if a guy possibly used p.e.d.s that that should tell the voters something. Like that was reasone to believe the hall didnt want them to do that. I disagreed I said the hall didnt need to change there rules regarding letting possible steroid users in bc the voters were making sure that didnt happen. No red blooded American does something when someone else is willing to do it for them. The same goes for the Hall they arent going to go through the trouble of changing there rules if they are already getting the desired outcome.

    You tried to twist the fact that the hall didnt say anything to fit your arguement. Which you do alot. Maybe if the future you will look at what the other possible reasons for something might instead of just coming up with 1 that helps proves your point. It will keep you from looking like a fool in the future.

    • jkcalhoun - Jan 6, 2011 at 8:17 PM

      No red blooded American does something when someone else is willing to do it for them.

      This is presumptuous and utterly lacking in etiquette on my part, I know, but I just can’t decide:

      1) Which is why the volunteer army is dominated by green-blooded Vulcans.

      2) So that’s what happened to American manufacturing.

      3) I ask you not what you can do for your country, but what you don’t have to do when someone does it for you.

      Your thoughts.

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