By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
This year’s election for the Baseball Hall of Fame felt like something of a train wreck to me, and not just because no one was elected.
A look at the voting totals featured three players with big asterisks by their names. Curt Schilling has issued some, shall we say, less than mainstream opinions about the world at large. He was followed in the voting by Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who have steroid allegations pinned to their shirts like the scarlet letter of literature. In other words, something other than baseball is keeping them all out of Cooperstown.
They aren’t alone. Omar Vizquel was the subject of domestic abuse allegations by his wife in December. Several others have been associated with steroids, including Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa and Andy Pettitte. Admitted steroid user Mark McGwire fell off the ballot some time ago.
We already have Pete Rose still on the outside looking in due to gambling. And coming down the road for 2022 are Alex Rodriguez, an admitted steroid user, and David Ortiz, who was at least touched by a doping charge in his career.
Would you like to write a history of baseball in the past 50 years without mentioning Bonds, Clemens, Rodriguez, McGwire and Rose, among others? Me neither.
For quite a while, I was quite happy to see many of the players in that last paragraph left out of the Hall of Fame. Rose gambled on baseball, the biggest sin around as these things go, and went into denial for years. He knew it was wrong and did it anyway. The steroid boys knew they were cheating as well, even if the rules and laws were murky. Some of them were suspended along the way, while others were not. A case could be made that at least Bonds and Clemens were Hall of Famers even before they started juicing and still deserved to be considered for induction, which is why they are getting about 60 percent of the vote now. As for the others, “see ya” comes to mind.
Now, I’m not so sure about anything when it comes to entrance standards, mostly because of the examples of Schilling and Vizquel.
Schilling has made some enemies with some of his public remarks since retirement. He was fired by ESPN for anti-Muslim and anti-transgender remarks. He added more hot water to the mix by tweeing a t-shirt that read “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.” Schilling also supported via Tweet the riot at the Capital on January 6. One Hall of Fame voter asked if he could take his vote back for Schilling, but did it after the December 31 deadline for ballots.
The problem in the case of the voting for the Baseball Hall is that integrity and character are supposed to be part of the consideration. Those are nice words, but can be a little vague. One man’s principled is another’s berserk.
Then there’s the matter of timing. If the story about Vizquel’s actions came out in February, let’s say for argument’s sake that he had been elected the month before. There are no do-overs in the voting. Once in, always in. The best example of that principle comes from another sport in the form of O.J. Simpson, who is still in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. The late Kirby Puckett was the subject of a variety of legal actions involving women soon after his name arrived in Cooperstown, and his plaque is still on the wall at the Hall. Without doing a bunch of research, I’d bet that at least a few of those in the Baseball Hall weren’t model citizens before, during, and after their playing days.
It feels like it’s time to change the voting standards a bit. What if we dropped the character and integrity language, and just considered what they did on the field? That would make the task for the voting baseball writers a great deal simpler. The exception would be if a player was placed on baseball’s ineligible list, which would keep Rose out. If someone wants to add a rule that any player who is suspended by major league baseball for steroid use instantly becomes ineligible for the Hall of Fame, that could be an option – although I’m not sure the “one size fits all” approach would work.
The effect of such an action would be steroid guys like Bonds and Clemens probably would go in immediately, and A-Rod (and quite possibly Ortiz) would be right behind them next year. McGwire and Ramirez would follow at some point. Schilling would be inducted too, either next year in his last year of eligibility or by the Veterans’ Committee.
The process instantly becomes more objective by sticking to baseball. We’ll always have differences about the case for induction for those who aren’t obvious choices (Jeter, Rivera, etc.). A change in the voting standards means the discussion becomes based more on facts than personal opinions about behavior.
I’m not sure if the atmosphere surrounding the sport will allow such a discussion. But maybe it’s something we need to do in the near future.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)