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Must-click link: Rob Neyer on “integrity” and “character”

Jan 12, 2012, 1:01 PM EDT

Image (1) Mickey%20Mantle%20AP.jpg for post 3640

We hear so much about the steroids guys being kept out of the Hall of Fame because they fail the “integrity and character” test.  Specifically, the language right on the ballot that instructs the voters to consider “the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Over at SB Nation, Rob Neyer asks why, all of a sudden, that standard is being considered when it was never considered before. At least not consistently.  And this isn’t about Ty Cobb being a racist or any of that stuff we usually hear. This is specifically about the character and integrity shown by baseball players — or rather, the lack of it — in a manner which had a material impact on the game.  His example: Mickey Mantle:

But integrity and character? Really? Even leaving aside Mickey Mantle’s thousands of infidelities and the fact that he essentially turned all of his sons into alcoholics and drug addicts, there’s the little matter of him abusing his body throughout his career. Mantle is famous for arriving at the ballpark with hangovers. In fact, those stories are often told as jokes; it’s so funny that a well-paid superstar routinely wasn’t in condition to play his best. Hilarious stuff.

Just so we’re straight on this, though … If you routinely drink yourself into a stupor and show up for work half-drunk, you’ve got more integrity and character than if you do whatever you can to play as well as you can, within the established norms of your contemporary colleagues?

People like to grab on to the word “cheating” when it comes to steroids and claim that it makes what the PED guys did so much worse than anything that came before.  But the standard itself isn’t about whether a rule was broken. Lots of rules have been broken in baseball and we don’t care all that much.  The standard is about “integrity and character.”

Rob submits — and I agree with him — that letting your teammates down by not taking care of yourself shows just as much if not more of a lack of integrity and character than taking PEDs do.  And if we’re OK with the Mickey Mantles of the world behaving in such a way and making it into the Hall of Fame, then we should not treat the PED guys any differently.

  1. CJ - Jan 12, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    But just imagine how much more HOF-worthy Mantle would have been had he been sober!

    Since voters can accurrately project* how “HOF worthy” a person suspected of PED use would have been without using, surely the can prject out how HOF worthy Mantle would have been had he been sober, and net out the character insufficiencies.

    *Note: Stop laughing. Everyone but the voters know they can’t actually accurrately project this, but they sure think they can, so why even bother to use logic against them? If they could comprehend such things, they’d have changed their ways long ago.

  2. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Jan 12, 2012 at 1:10 PM

    That’s a great point Rob makes.
    I think between the media, the boneheaded responses by players who have been caught, and the fact that we’ve been deceived by artificially high numbers have overwhelmed our fan emotions more than a guy who would have artificially low numbers based on drinking, drugs and philandering.

    • Old Gator - Jan 12, 2012 at 10:00 PM

      None of which matters in this case because we’re talking about Mickey fucking Mantle.

      Sign the Mona Lisa with a spray can; call it art. But leave the Mick alone!

      • nekotman - Jan 12, 2012 at 11:36 PM

        The name Mickey Mantle is supposed to impress me. Get a life. His name wasn’t Aaron, Mays, Ruth, Williams, Cobb, Frank Robertson or Griffey. What he was to many was the great white hope of his time because a lot of folks resented the black players. I too remember him from those days. Great player but not even close to the best ever. And not worth worshiping either.

      • Old Gator - Jan 13, 2012 at 7:59 AM

        All of which indicates that with your head so far up your backside, you can probably roll to work and back. You are correct in saying that his name wasn’t Aaron, Mays, or anything else. It was, indeed, Mantle – not to re-belabor the obvious after you’ve already done such a bangup job of it. But look at those numbers. Better yet, look at the difference in how the Borg played with him in the lineup or out of it. It’s an afterthought even to mention what kind of physical shape he was in when he put those numbers up, too.

        To call him a “white hope” is also race-baiting of the lowest, just-crawled-out-from-under-my-rock order. And even if it were true, why blame the Mick for the idiocy of some fans? That’s also a pretty lowlife way to attack someone’s record.

        Why not take your leaking spleen and go back to the hockey threads?

  3. nekotman - Jan 12, 2012 at 1:14 PM

    Oh my. And I guess all these writers think they are of high integrity and honesty. BS!
    Some of these folks must think they are real angels, especially the fat man from Philly.
    It seems absurd to let writers who are no better than those they pass judgement on have the right to vote for the HOF. Someone needs to make the writers accountable for their actions and sins. They are a bunch of two-faced jerks. For those who used common sense in their voting, I applaud them. The rest can go get bent.

  4. Detroit Michael - Jan 12, 2012 at 1:19 PM

    Manny Ramirez has integrity and character: he wants to be a role model now!

    More seriously, the example I use more often is Willie Mays. The 1951 New York Giants, including Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Monte Irvin and Leo Durocher cheated by mechanically stealing signs and then tried to keep their deeds covered up as long as possible. It seems to me that this behavior was more culpable and likely more effective than using steroids at improving their performance. Unless one wants to argue that inducting those guys was a mistake, then I wouldn’t exclude automatically from the Hall of Fame anyone who took PEDs, at least before 2005 when MLB starting trying to enforce the ban.

    • producepro - Jan 12, 2012 at 3:03 PM

      Detroit Michael … you’re an idiot. Stealing signs is a part of the game and if you don’t believe it or agree with it then go pay attention to something else. Notice how this moron picks out two black players, one who is THE best to ever play a game, and site something that has never been proven and statistically had no bearing on outcomes (look at the stats for that season). Let’s not let Willie Mays in the HOF because the Dodgers claimed the Giants stole signs in 1951! Stealing signs has a greater impact than PEDS! Dipsh1t.

      • Detroit Michael - Jan 12, 2012 at 3:19 PM

        Feel free to disagree, but there’s no need to be rude, insulting and profane.

        Stealing signs by mechanical means or by use of nonuniformed personnel is not an accepted part of the game. I suggest that you read a book called The Baseball Codes if you are interested in the topic.

        I picked out all the Hall of Fame players from the 1951 Giants.

        That the Giants stole signs after an extended time period is not in dispute. Players from the Giants have admitted it reluctantly. There was an entire bestselling book on the topic a few years ago and it also is covered more briefly in The Baseball Codes, cited earlier.

        The last point is debateable, something that neither you nor I can prove. I believe that a major league batter can improve his performance more by knowing what type of pitch is coming than by taking steroids and increasing his batted ball distance 5-8 feet or so. It’s not a universal belief though — many batters don’t want to know what the next pitch is even if a pitcher is tipping his pitches.

  5. The Common Man - Jan 12, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    I read Rob’s post this morning and loved it. I may be one of the few, but I really like Rob’s Nuanced Period, where he’s generally arguing for more complicated approaches to studying the game. That said, I find that there are some things I cannot look for nuance in that Rob seems to try to, namely in the kind of baseless suspicion that falls on guys like Bagwell. As much as I try to do likewise, that blatant unfairness maddens me to no end.

    • rambodiaz - Jan 12, 2012 at 4:23 PM

      Thank you for summarizing my feelings on Rob’s article, too. I was looking for a description and couldn’t come up with one. That was perfect.

  6. bigharold - Jan 12, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    The contention that players should be judged too harshly be cause there are worse guys in the HOF is a specious argument at best.

    First, without arguing the merits of his contention one needs to realize that the era he speaks about was 50-60 years ago. The generational and cultural differences between what happened in the 50s, 60s and 70s versus what is the norm today is huge. Back in the day a ball player’s personal life was off limits. Most of these stories were not known of because it wasn’t reported, (it certainly wasn’t widely reported), so it really wasn’t possible to include those issues or aspects in the conversation. Today it’s the opposite.

    Second, the players taking PEDs, for the most part, were breaking the law and acquiring prescription drugs to gain an unfair advantage against their opponents and even their team mates. Also, they were, and certainly knew they were breaking the rules.

    Finally, using the argument that; “hey there are worse guys in the HOF” really doesn’t sound like something a player should be hanging his hat on.

    • paperlions - Jan 12, 2012 at 1:43 PM

      That is not the argument he used.

      He argued that the BBWAA has never cared about integrity or character, but now the older writers act like that has always been the case, when it clearly has not. Indeed, every writer knew what Mantle and other players did (they traveled with the teams, after all), they just didn’t write about any of it, which doesn’t change the fact that they all KNEW that these guys lacked integrity and character.

      The point is that such writers/voters are singling out “character” and “integrity” related to steroids, while the same writers have never cared about it with regard to anything else and will still ignore far worse actions (including those that are illegal such as DUI, let’s face it, if you got a DUI, you have probably driven drunk dozens of times, it’s pretty hard to get caught) while still singling out steroids….which most of them still have not bothered to research or understand.

      • Joe - Jan 12, 2012 at 1:50 PM

        And even if a writer wasn’t for whatever reason familiar with Mantle’s off-field behavior during his career, I’m pretty sure “Ball Four” came out before Mantle’s name hit the ballot. Plenty of Mantle stories there.

    • cur68 - Jan 12, 2012 at 1:47 PM

      bigH: the HOF voters routinely use historic arguments to keep otherwise deserving guys out. Take the blankballoters: those that have owned up have said that there was “no one worthy”. That argument implies “worthy in the historic context of those already in Cooperstown”. Its the very history of steroid use around Bagwell that’s keeping him out. Others have indicated that Larkin was not as great a SS as historic figures (I heard the Honus Wagner argument on the radio the other day: Random Hockey Guy at work again). The point is, some members of the BBWAA use that argument all the time when it suits them. It should work both ways.

      • bigharold - Jan 12, 2012 at 2:09 PM

        “The point is, some members of the BBWAA use that argument all the time when it suits them. It should work both ways.”

        Yeah, but those guys weren’t writing about Mantel nor did they vote for him. My point has less to do with whether character and integrity as it does with generational and cultural differences and that they aren’t valid.

        Whether a writer uses the records of guys that are already in the HOF or not isn’t as important as how good is his argument and the logic he uses making his argument and is he consistently making the same argument?

      • cur68 - Jan 12, 2012 at 2:18 PM

        Consistently referring to innuendo in the case of Bagwell isn’t a good argument. I don’t care how they dress up innuendo and rumor or how consistent they are.

        As to PEDS, a goodly portion if the PEDs talk involves a blatant, almost willful ignorance of performance enhancing and ignores the rich history of PED use of HOF enshrinees. I’m sick of back acne, head size, body size, and spikes in production being cited as “proof”. Make with the evidence or shut the hell up. Lazy intellectualism isn’t “good journalism”.

      • bigharold - Jan 12, 2012 at 2:46 PM

        ” I don’t care how they dress up innuendo and rumor or how consistent they are.”

        I agree 100%. If someone is making a consistently poor argument than I wouldn’t be supportive. To me, it about logic and reason initially and consistency is subordinate to logic and reason. Nor, should consistency trump the natural evolution of thought, logic and reason.

  7. stex52 - Jan 12, 2012 at 2:00 PM

    I would take this discussion in a little different direction, since it dovetails nicely with the Manny Ramirez story from earlier today. The key word here is “professionalism.” Once you have signed a contract, you represent a brand and you owe that brand the best of your abilities. By that ethic I would argue that Mantle was cheating the Yankees and their fans every time he came in drunk or out of shape. I find that behavior inexcusable. Where that takes us with Manny is obvious.

    But if you reason out what I am saying, PED’s become less of a sin than dogging it or neglecting to remain in decent physical shape. In fact, if you carried it out to its conclusion, you could argue they owed it to the fans to take PED’s. I’m not going that far. But I suspect that the bulk of steroids use was not so much by the stars as by the thousands of AAA players who felt that they needed that little extra to get over the top. But that’s another discussion.

    Integrity and character in this context is giving the very best for your teammates and ownership. I know that when I see it.

  8. bigharold - Jan 12, 2012 at 2:01 PM

    “… but now the older writers act like that has always been the case, when it clearly has not. Indeed, every writer knew what Mantle and other players did (they traveled with the teams, after all), they just didn’t write about any of it, which doesn’t change the fact that they all KNEW that these guys lacked integrity and character.”

    Even today’s “older writers” weren’t reporters during the 50s, to70s let alone prior to that. Perhaps today’s “older writers” seeing how things worked, how certain payers or practices were given a pass, when they first began is the reason they make the point about integrity now.

    My point is comparing actions of 50 or 60 years ago to today’s or using today’s sensibilities to judge the behavior of something that is so far in the past is not valid. Today’s players should be judged by today’s standards. Everything evolves as do criteria with regard to HOF induction. And, like it or not there is a segment of writers, as there is one of fans, that think integrity with regard to the PED issue is important. And, that is no more or less valid than ones that think it’s not. What is more important is the logic and consistency which one uses to make their vote.

  9. johnchesterny - Jan 12, 2012 at 2:13 PM

    “…the fact that he essentially turned all of his sons into alcoholics and drug addicts…”

    A serious allegation. Sounds like Neyer is Bagwell-ing Mantle here. I don’t know the extent of Mantle’s showing up hungover for games. But I do know that being hungover is neither illegal nor can it be construed as cheating.

    • stex52 - Jan 12, 2012 at 2:57 PM

      It is generally understood that Mantle let his extracurricular activities influence his health, his ability to play, and his on-field performance. Since he was under contract to play for the team, it certainly speaks to his character and integrity.

      • johnchesterny - Jan 12, 2012 at 4:28 PM

        I have never seen the terms of Mantle’s contract. And I’m not sure how his alcoholism and infidelity impacted his ability to perform. I’m sure neither of these enhanced it. However, I DO know that neither of these was illegal. I also know that alcoholism is a disease which can be caused by either genetic, physiological, psychological or social factors (among others). But Neyer makes this a character issue just so he can make a point. I have a big problem with that.

        And sorry, I also have a problem with the phrase “It is generally understood”.

      • meyerwolf - Jan 12, 2012 at 4:37 PM

        That’s the point, though, isn’t it? What Mantle did, while unprofessional, did not help him put up better numbers. We can judge his stats as hall-worthy without wondering if he would have been good enough if he hadn’t been drinking.

        I’m sorry, I like Neyer, but his argument is faulty. People want to keep out PED users because they blame them for “cheating the game”, artificially inflating numbers, subverting the history of the game.

        Don’t get me wrong, this is not my point of view. It’s what I believe the zealots’ point of view to be. They just can’t stand McGwire and Bonds and all the rest of them putting up numbers that make players like Ruth, Aaron and Maris look silly. When they found out those accomplishments were aided by steroids, the writers were pissed because it sullies the nice and neat history of baseball. That’s why a guy like Pujols is so awesome to them: he is great player, but he isn’t hitting 70 homers or batting .400. He’s not putting up numbers that change the history of the game in any significant way.

        Is it rational? No, probably not. Is it fair? No, definitely not. But it is what it is. Doubt you’ll change the minds and hearts of the older generation on this point. (“Those young whippersnappers with their roids, things were much better way back when…”)

      • stex52 - Jan 12, 2012 at 5:10 PM

        Reference “Ball Four”. Reference the subsequent writings of all of the sportswriters of that era in NY after he was safely retired.

        And I have no particular brief with Mantle. I grew up a Yankees fan until there were baseball teams in Texas.

      • stex52 - Jan 12, 2012 at 5:15 PM

        Also reference the cumulative time he spent on the DL.

    • 18thstreet - Jan 12, 2012 at 5:03 PM

      That line about his sons was about the only part of the piece I disagreed with. From what we know of alcoholism, Mickey’s sons were alcoholics because (in part) their father was. Mickey Mantle’s father was an alcoholic, too.

      Mantle, according to Jane Leavy’s book (quoting Mantle himself, his wife, and his sons), was indeed a lousy father. I have no reason to doubt it. But his sons may have been alcoholics even if he had been a good one.

  10. Mark Boland Jr - Jan 12, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    More baseball talk and news at

  11. metalhead65 - Jan 12, 2012 at 4:21 PM

    just wow is all I can say. you are dragging guys who did not take steroids thru the mud to justify your stance that the guys who did deserve to get in? unlike you and nyer most people can tell the difference between cheating to set records apart from being a guy who likes to party.

  12. deadeyedesign23 - Jan 12, 2012 at 4:39 PM

    “you’ve got more integrity and character than if you do whatever you can to play as well as you can, within the established norms of your contemporary colleagues?”

    That’s some fancy footwork he was doing to avoid saying it was against the rules.

  13. hammyofdoom - Jan 12, 2012 at 6:51 PM

    I have always hated the character clause simply because writers look upon players of the past in such a rosy light, just like how Mantle drinking himself into a stupor in the 50s was “funny”. The sheer fact that a bigot like Ty Cobb is in the HOF means that the clause is useless

  14. uyf1950 - Jan 12, 2012 at 8:33 PM

    I had intended to to write a long comment expressing my disgust with the piece. But that would only play into the writers hand. I will merely make 2 points:

    1st) If Mantle “routinely wasn’t in condition to play his best”. Then someone else must have been a 16 time All Star when being an All Star meant something. A 3 time MVP and 3 time runner up. And a MLB Triple Crown Winner.

    2nd) I wonder how many times Rob Neyer actually saw Mickey Mantle play. Wait I’ll tell you NEVER. Since he was born in June 1966.

    I have nothing further to say on this.

    • hammyofdoom - Jan 12, 2012 at 9:10 PM

      He never said that Micky wasnt great, that would be an incredibly stupid argument to make. However, him saying that he could have been better really isn’t too long of a stretch, since I think we’ve all heard the stories of how he would show up hungover, his late night trists, etc. If a player of his caliber went out got drunk and had extramarital affairs today, he would be ROASTED by the public, with Tiger Woods being exhibit A

      • uyf1950 - Jan 12, 2012 at 9:20 PM

        Mores change. To judge one generation by the standards of another if not only foolish and a waste of time.

  15. Alex K - Jan 12, 2012 at 11:09 PM

    From the New York Times:

    “In 1961, during his home run race with Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle developed a sudden abscess that kept him on the bench. It came from an infected needle used by Max Jacobson, a quack who injected Mantle with a home-brew containing steroids and speed.”

    I think we really need to stop acting like some of the legends of baseball didn’t ever take illegal drugs. Steroids were around a long time before the 80’s.

  16. uyf1950 - Jan 12, 2012 at 11:38 PM

    Interesting that nowhere in that link does the writer of the piece say where he got his information on what the Doctor injected Mantle with.

    And unless I’m mistaken since you can’t libel a dead person and both Jacobson and Mantle are dead you can pretty much say anything you want.

    BTW, did you know that Jacobson also treated President John F. Kennedy and Nelson Rockefeller among others. For a quack Jacobson had some pretty impressive clients.

    • hammyofdoom - Jan 13, 2012 at 12:20 AM

      Yeah… but he was also a notorious amphetamine abuser and “in 1969, one of Jacobson’s clients, former Presidential photographer Mark Shaw, died at the age of 47. An autopsy showed that Shaw had died of “acute and chronic intravenous amphetamine poisoning”. Oh and he lost his license to practice too.

      Just because a lot of people see him doesn’t mean he’s actually A+ quality. I don’t know anything about the cocktail that Mantle was given, but I do know that the abscess story has been thrown around before. The fact that Mantle did see this guy does give me a little suspicion on whether or not he was pretty up on amphetamines during 1961 now though

      • uyf1950 - Jan 13, 2012 at 5:53 AM

        To each his own. With no proof you may also want to consider that President Kennedy had a cold in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis and since he too was a patient of the “quack” and be suspicious of how he was able to stay up late all those nights.

        As for the guys license being taken away that was in 1975 a full 14 years after the “supposed” incident the piece make reference to with Mantle. And as for the Photographer (Shaw) dying that was 7 plus years later in January 1969. To link or associate the 3 incidents with absolutely no evidence to me seems ridiculous. And smacks of quilt by association.

        It just seems incredible to me how people/fans are quick to accept as fact when no facts or evidence is provided.

    • Alex K - Jan 13, 2012 at 5:46 PM

      I’m not accusing anyone of anything. I found a link in a major news outlet and passed it on.

      The only part I added was that some legends of the game took illegal drugs, and that steroids have been around since well before the 80’s. Both of the things I added are facts.

  17. damnyankee13 - Jan 13, 2012 at 12:00 PM

    Yall are knocking on Mantle. Fine He was an alcoholic, yes he was. He made it to the HOF. yes he, I AM NOT CONDONING HIS DRINKING OR HIS AFFAIRS, but all he did by showing up with a hangover did was hurt his play.I totally believe if he had not been drinking, he would have put up better numbers than he did.The affairs didnt hurt his ability but the drinking had to. How much better numbers? i dont know

  18. luckywi - Jan 14, 2012 at 6:36 PM

    So cheating for a competitive advantage, is akin to going out the night before? So Babe Ruth is not Hall worthy? It is an obvious apples and oranges argument. I know, that’s your point here, but, I’ll vote for David Wells before David Ortiz. The guy threw a perfect game “half drunk”. Ortiz tested positive for an ILLEGAL drug. Well’s pitched his ass off, apparently wasted on a legal drug. I’m thankful Dock Ellis isn’t in the Hall, or this argument is worthless.

  19. randallswearingen - Jan 18, 2012 at 11:16 PM

    As a huge Mickey Mantle fan and author of “A Great Teammate: The Legend of Mickey Mantle”, I wish to challenge a statement in your article, regarding New York Yankee great and Baseball Hall of Famer, Mickey Mantle. The statement that Mickey let his teammates down. Yes, Mickey admitted that he showed up to a few games with a hangover. In multiple interviews during his life, Mickey made it a point to stress the word “few”. Usually, when he showed up with a hangover, he was on the disabled list. For one to imply that he showed up with a hangover on a regular basis is not only unfair, it is completely inaccurate. In truth, Mickey’s drinking was no different than most players of his day (and before). Drinking after a ballgame was a way of life for ballplayers back then. Furthermore, if Mickey did show up with a hangover on a regular basis, how could he possibly have put up the numbers that he did? Back then, the Yankees had the saying, “Don’t mess with my money!” Every rookie Yankee had to listen to this speech from a veteran player when he joined the Yankees. It meant, “We’re used to going to and winning the World Series. My family depends on the World Series money. Therefore, if I ever feel that you’re not giving 100%, I’ll kick your ass!” The Yankees, of all people, would NEVER allow a fellow player to not give 100%, not even Mickey Mantle. Mickey garnered more respect from his teammates than possibly any other player in history. He also garnered more respect from the fans and even his peers than any player of his era. How could he have enjoyed that kind of respect if anyone thought he wasn’t giving 100% every day? Mickey played hurt most of his career. From the time he tore up his right knee in the 1951 World Series until he retired from baseball in 1969, he was playing with extreme pain. By 1963, he was running “bone on bone” in both knees AND his right shoulder (throwing arm) was completely shot. But, he played through the intense pain. So, for anyone to imply that Mickey didn’t give his all and therefore cheated the Yankees, his teammates and his fans, need go no further than to simply ask one of his teammates. Bottom line: Anyone who thinks that Mickey didn’t give 100% every day, is 100% wrong.

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