High moral resolve shafts players, fans

Oh boy. No one. Not one of the 37 players eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame got enough votes to get into it this year. Why? Well, because a whole lot of members of the Baseball Writers Association of America developed a case of morals. Too many of the potential inductees, you see, had played in what’s now called “the steroid era,” and thus might have taken performance-enhancing drugs. If anyone who’d done that was elected, it would “sully” the Hall of Fame. Never mind the less-than-moral character of many of the players inducted in the past. Ty Cobb was a Georgia racist of the first order, and Cap Anson was even worse: there’s some evidence that it was Anson who instigated the color line which kept African-American players out of Major League Baseball until 1947. That line could only be broken once baseball’s first Commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, died.

“Cap Anson helped make sure baseball’s color line was established in the 1880s,” Thorn1 said of the Chicago Cubs first baseman and manager who was enshrined in the Hall of Fame the year it opened in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1939. “He was relentless in that cause.”

Anson repeatedly refused to take the field if the opposing roster included black players. Anson had plenty of co-conspirators. The Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, also a member of the Hall of Fame class of 1939, “outed” the African-American infielder Charlie Grant, who was posing as a Cherokee on the preseason exhibition roster of the Baltimore Orioles team led by John McGraw (Hall of Fame class of 1937).

Overseeing baseball’s segregationist policy in three decades was Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis (Hall of Fame class of 1944).

And yet, with those examples in front of them, here’s what a bunch of voters had to say:

Scott Miller, CBS Sports:

Yes, the easy thing would be to throw up my hands, pass the buck, step in line with the many others who say, hey, ain’t my responsibility to judge the Steroid Era… I cannot in good conscience cast a vote for the frauds any more than I can walk out of a department store having hidden a shirt in a bag without having paid for it. Fair is fair, just is just, honest is honest.

Pat Hickey, Montreal Gazette:

Things have become difficult this year… I didn’t vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens or Sammy Sosa. That’s not to say I won’t vote for them in the future — as long as they receive a minimum number of votes the players remain on the ballot for 15 years — but they’re not getting my nod on the first ballot… Each voter has to make his own decision on this question, but I’m following Rule 5 in the Baseball Writers Association of America’s rules for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame… [repeats it verbatim]

Lowell Cohn, Santa Rosa Press Democrat:

The BBWAA asks me to vote and I take my duty seriously. I try never to shirk a moral choice. And believe me, this is a moral choice… Cooperstown is not a statistics Hall of Fame. It is a Hall of Fame with certain standards of behavior.

Mike Bauman, MLB.com:

With the ballots sent to the eligible members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, standards are set out for the voters’ consideration, under the heading, appropriately enough, of “Voting.” The instructions include this: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played”… The National Baseball of Fame [sic] is the most exclusive gathering of its sort in all of professional sports. The issue of performance-enhancing drugs is no place to start compromising those lofty and necessary standards.

Philip Hersh, Chicago Tribune:

I don’t buy the “Bonds and Clemens were Hall of Famers before they began using PEDs” argument.

Peter Gammons:

So let’s take a year to think Bonds and Clemens out.

Troy Renck, Denver Post:

I find granting Bonds a pass for his behavior impossible, for now. Perhaps, after tabling it another year, my stance will change.

The self-righteousness a lot of these BBWAA voters are expounding is really off-putting. It reminds me of the McCarthy era, up to and including a blacklist. Many of the 37 players eligible for induction this year have never had their names or achievements mentioned in the same breath as the word steroid, but the oh-so-moral writers concluded that they should all be damned and tarred with the same brush. Since you have to get 75% of all votes cast, blank ballots and ballots with fewer than the maximum ten votes allowed have an impact on the total number of votes required for admission. (The pertinent rule: “Electors may vote for as few as zero (0) and as many as ten (10) eligible candidates deemed worthy of election. Write-in votes are not permitted.”

1 John Thorn, perhaps the nation’s most widely known baseball historian and the author of more than a dozen baseball books.

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