The Hall of Fame vote and why we just can’t get along.

At 11:00 PST the Baseball Hall of Fame announced their inductees for 2014. Those receiving enough votes for induction were Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.  In my view, all were completely deserving of induction. The complete record of voting can be viewed at the Baseball Hall of Fame website.

In my view, there were many more players deserving recognition.  Craig Biggio missed by two votes.  Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Allen Trammell and others will be put off to join next year’s class of nominees which will include Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield and John Smoltz and others.

The run-up to this announcement was preceded by a continuation of last year’s nastiness in the press and the blogosphere.  The unpleasantness rotated around a few key issues:

1. Jack Morris

2. Sabermetric vs. more traditional measures of achievement

3. Performance enhancing drugs

Jack Morris is such a tough case.  He’s one of those that illustrates the divide between traditional writers and Sabermetricians.  Perhaps the most persuasive of the “traditionalist” views of Morris was made by Jayson Stark in explaining his Hall of Fame ballot.  Sometimes the new statistics can only take you so far, and its important to remember other important stats like numbers of opening day starts, All Star and play off performances.  There is something to the argument about guts and leadership.  On my ballot I didn’t vote for Morris, but not because he wasn’t worthy–and that’s a debate I wish could continue-but simply because there were ten other players I thought were more Hall-worthy this year.  This is a story, not because Morris didn’t get into the Hall of Fame today, but because of the general level of nastiness applied to the debate.  Some appeared on blogs, a lot appeared in discussion.  Whatever one thinks of the Hall vote-the gray area in which Morris is worthy or not–does not excuse the level of vitriol leveled at voters and defenders of this man.

If Jack Morris didn’t quite meet your bar, he was still a very good player, and he doesn’t deserve the diatribes that say far more about the writer than about his career.  I hate to say it but instead of using the new statistics as another means of measuring the players in the game we love, it has become its own orthodoxy.  Instead of offering another perspective for those devoted to measuring players against one another, it has become the only way of measuring players, and in the comments pages, often the stats only guys are the jihadists. I hesitate to say this because I want to understand and I want to believe, but my belief that life is about being presented with more than one way to skin a cat guides me here.  What I particularly find disturbing is the comments directed at writers who don’t wholly embrace the stats-only world view.  They are characterized, categorized and criminalized usually for not towing the line of orthodoxy even if the new stats figured into their thinking.  The Hall of Fame ballot has become far more about character assassination, diminishing the accomplishments of one player from another, and attacking those who support them.

PEDs are another topic that clearly divide voters and fans.  Many of the writers are beginning to embrace those clearly linked to steroid use. The blogosphere and its commenters tend  to be more in favor of users inclusion in the Hall.  I’ve made my feelings about this clear the past two years.  Those who are clearly linked to PED use, in which there is tangible evidence of their use should not be admitted to the Hall. I’ve heard the arguments in favor before, and I’m immune, at least for the present.  It is possible everyone in baseball was using during the steroid era, but I doubt it. It’s true that despite knowing the health dangers of steroids, the Players Union and Bud Selig’s office was incredibly slow in acting against their use with an effective testing regime and real consequences.  It is likely that players heard the cheers of the crowd, the plaudits in the media, and the cha-ching of the contract calculator as taters fled the yard.  Yes, so many are complicit in sweeping the steroids issue under the rug.  What does it change?  Players knowing chose to break the law to unfairly improve their skills by by injecting an illegal substance into their bodies. Enough juiced to fundamentally change the game-statistically and strategically.  It was wrong.  Don’t give the “greenies” and spitters argument.  It’s not the same and they didn’t change the game in the same way.

And don’t give me the tired “moral high ground” crap.  At what point do you draw a line?  I understand that Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams weren’t always good people.  It’s not the same.  If you give on a substance used to amplify the natural abilities of a player in such a profound way that long-held records in the sport are not just broken but atomized, what is next?  Do we allow bionic limbs? Artificially enhanced eyes?    What about genetically engineered players?  The science isn’t that far away.  To my knowledge they aren’t specifically prohibited by the collective bargaining agreement, does that make them within the rules?

The bottom line is the known steroid users-those identified in court, by test, or are listed in the Mitchell Report-chose to break the law.  They chose to violate a memo issued by Commissioner Vincent in 1991. No writer, commissioner, union president or fan gave them a hypodermic and said “Do it.”  I find the cases of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens particularly reprehensible.  These were two men on the way to the Hall of Fame anyway, and they chose to juice.  Why?  Anybody’s guess.  That shouldn’t give them a pass.  When Clemens left Boston for Toronto in 1997 he’d led the American league in ERA four times, in wins twice, in strikeouts three times, in ERA+ five times, and in WHIP twice.  Yet his final two years in Boston, his age 32 and 33 seasons were a bit of a struggle by comparison.  It’s astonishing the remaining ten seasons of his career, ages 34-44, were as productive as any in his career.  Roger Clemens made over $150 million playing the game of baseball.  His records stand and he is number nine all time in wins, one behind Greg Maddux. Barry Bonds won three MVP awards before moving from Pittsburgh to San Francisco in 1993.  He was a rare blend of power and speed.  He was also bad with the press and sulky with his teammates.  In 2000, his age 35 season,  he hit 49 home runs, the highest number in his career to date,  contributing to a 1.127 OPS and a 188 OPS+.  The next four years, his ages 36-39 seasons, his OPS was never less than 1.278 and his OPS+ was never less than 231.  In those seasons, together with the three that followed, he succeeded in breaking the single season record for home runs, the career record for home runs, the career records for walks and intentional walks.  Bonds made $188 million playing major league baseball.  His records remain intact.  He was also the centerpiece of A Game of Shadows, a book exposing BALCO which distributed steroids to prominent athletes including Bonds.

For the supporters of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Raphael Palmeiro, lamenting the fact these greats are not in the Hall of Fame, cry me a fucking river. These men profited from the game, they played at an artificially high level and they received the cheers and accolades the fans, the press, and the baseball establishment allowed them.  Isn’t it enough?  Shall we stroke their egos further by freely admitting them into what is baseball’s sacred sanctuary? Is it really a shrine without them, among the best that ever played the game?  Fair question.  I’m not sure I have an answer, but it sends absolutely the wrong message to future generations, with access to developing sciences and technology, to suggest that breaking the law to change the game is acceptable behavior.  Here’s your Get Out of Jail Free Card, we’ll look the other way.

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