Thursday, January 10, 2013

Steroids, Character, and the Hall of Fame

By Kevin Beane

One thing I like about the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame is that, some years, no one is inducted. It sort of speaks to a certain integrity that the electors are willing to say, "This year, no one deserved it." Can you imagine an NFL Hall of Fame weekend with no induction speeches, no garish yellow jackets passed out? An Academy Awards Show with no Best Picture nominees? This was one of the years no one was inducted.

Two players passed up this year were Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Certainly, without steroids, they would have been ushered into the Hall overwhelmingly. I don't think most people have a problem with cheaters failing to be canonized in the sport they cheated at, but maybe there is a case to be made for these characters to get in the Hall. Jeff Passan, in an article published on Yahoo!, did not make that case.

His column is one of those I suspect was written with, "Heh, this ought to get people talking" in mind (I call such columns Baylesses). It goes a little something like this:

"The sport is evermore human because the Black Sox succumbed to greed and threw the World Series, because the segregationists won until they could no longer bottle up social change, because the Hit King was a flawed man who couldn't overcome a gambling addiction. Baseball is all of us."

Well, no actually. Yes, we are all flawed, but most of our flaws stop short of match-fixing, overt racism, and gambling on events you have control over. That last characterization is especially rich. Pete Rose, simply a man with an addiction. Does Passan think he still wouldn't be in the HOF if he had gambled as much as his addicted heart desired, but stuck with horse racing and football? Apparently, that's what he wants us to think.

"This wasn't just a referendum on steroids. It was one on the writers and their failure to recognize as long as they want the privilege of creating history, they must in doing so protect the worthy institution that finds them fit for the task."

They didn't let in guys that cheated at their sport. What a failure to protect the institution.

"[A]ll writers must understand — and perhaps it is the Hall's charge in the coming years to remind them as much — that this vote is about the player and his merits, not the moralistic preening of people who have been told to commingle something evident and measurable (performance) with something so subjective (character)."

Yes, the very subjective character issue. Who is to say that taking PEDs to cheat at your sport isn't right within the context of receiving that sport's highest honor? Maybe it's totally right.

"That clause didn't stop racists, bigots, jackasses, misers, criminals and a wide assortment of otherwise unsavory people from induction, and the Hall's halls seem no less gilded now than before."

The logical fallacies are killin' me. Hey guys, racists from the '20s are in the Hall of Fame, so what right do we have to keep Barry Bonds out? Hell, let's induct Steve Howe while we're at it, just to prove the point.

"The character clause is like so many other things written more than 70 years ago: well-intentioned but positively archaic in 2013."

Character: archaic in 2013. I hope he prints up a bumper sticker saying that.

"Our baseball players are no longer heroes, but take-the-good-with-the-bad humans like all of us. The character clause was put in place as an idealistic nod to what was supposed to be a gentleman's game. Anybody who thinks he or she can accurately apply it to these ballplayers we don't know need only look at Kirby Puckett, media darling and, it was later alleged, wife beater."

Oh God what is this I don't even...

Okay. I must press on. This is not the first time in this article he's made the, "Hey man, nobody's perfect" argument, and now he wants to say that they used to be sort-of perfect? After just saying racists and scumbags from an era ago are in the Hall of Fame? The reason guys like Ty Cobb and other racists and scumbags are in the Hall of Fame is because, sadly enough, that attitude was par for the course among the voters themselves. Today's voters, in high dudgeon with their judginess about not letting baseball cheaters in the baseball Hall of Fame, actually have a difficult time sympathizing with guys who excelled due to PEDs. So unfair.

As far as Kirby Puckett goes, let me make this perfectly clear: If he beat his wife, that is truly reprehensible. As reprehensible as it was, it does not have to do with baseball. The guys Passan is going to bat for in this article (Clemens, Bonds, and Pete Rose) committed transgressions that had everything to do baseball. It was their actions in regards to baseball that is keeping them out of the Hall of Fame. I will say it again: THEY CHEATED AT BASEBALL.

If Puckett was somehow proven to have beaten his wife, and they took him out of the Hall of Fame because of it, I probably wouldn't have a problem with it. If they kept him in anyway, I also would not lose any sleep over that, either. But that's not the point I'm trying to make anyway. The point I am trying to make is, if the guardians of the Hall decide that the "integrity, sportsmanship, character" that they require of HOF inductees be limited to their actions in baseball, that's a completely reasonable stance to take.

"Similarly, the electorate does not know who did and who did not take steroids — or whether a pitcher gave up home runs to PED-aided hitters or if a hitter struckout to a juiced-up pitcher. From the late 1980s to the early 2000s, the game operated in a haze of drugs that corrupted what we knew about the sport."

Oh man, did he just use the "but everyone's doin' it!" argument? He did. And not for the first time. It's distressingly similar to the gun-control debate, where I'm hearing a lot of arguments that easily reduce to "Criminals break laws ... no point in having laws, then!" Some bad guys and cheaters are in the Hall of Fame, and will continue to be voted into the Hall of Fame...might as well not consider whether a guy is a bad guy and cheater in deciding his fitness for the Hall, then!

The rest of Passan's article sort of goes off on a tangent here, talking about how out of touch with the game so many HOF voters in, complete with a hilarious bon mot that his dentist knows as much about baseball as some of these guys! It's funny 'cause his dentist has no business deciding who should be in the Hall of Fame!

So ... good job, Hall of Fame voters. I'm not sure whether or not to keep off-the-field villains out of the Hall or not, but please continue to keep baseball cheaters out of the baseball Hall of Fame. Thank you.

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