clemens.jpg

A Tricky, Icky Choice: Who Has Earned a 2013 Hall Vote?

Amid the sleepless nights and the spit-up covered laundry that threatens to swallow me – or trip me down the stairs — as I tote around our new three-week-old infant, I have found the time and energy to be obsessed over the baseball Hall of Fame voting.

Results will be announced tomorrow.

Among the new names on the ballot this year are some doozies: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa.

Remaining on the ballot, among many others, are Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. (Full list of all names are at the end of this post.)

Some interesting guys to consider and debate their worthiness of the Hall are, in my view, Alan Trammell, Tim Raines, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling, and Edgar Martinez.

A baseball columnist I’ve always liked personally and admired professionally – Bob Klapisch of New Jersey’s Bergen Record– wrote this whopper of a column a few weeks ago which I’ve been chewing on for a while.

Do I agree? Not sure. Do you agree? Please let me know.

Here’s his opening:

I’ve always felt that major-leaguers who used steroids were like NBA stars playing on a 9-foot basket – the game isn’t supposed to be that easy. Or, imagine their cheating through another prism:

Two race cars line up, one uses regular fuel, the other loads up with an illegal, supercharged potion. Guess which one wins? Not only does the law breaker finish first, it sets a world record. Who would call that a legitimate feat?

That’s the easiest way to frame the steroids debate. Now comes the more complicated task of punishing those who (we think) juiced – specifically, keeping them out of the Hall of Fame. Any discerning fan would put Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens on that list. They’re the tip of the spear of a generation of players who tried to pull a fast one on what Americans used to call The Beautiful Game.

But while it’s easy to assume Bonds and Clemens were part of the brotherhood of the syringe, proving it is another matter. That’s what makes this ballot problematic, deciding the guilt or innocence of two men who were exonerated by the legal system.

I urge you to read Klapisch to the end. He admits he’s changed his mind on the steroid situation himself. I follow his thought process, but I’m not sure I agree. This is where I stopped short:

We all fell for the futuristic leap, until we realized it was fake. Peel away the layers of steroid magic and what’s underneath is a con. That’s why an admitted user such as Mark McGwire won’t get my vote. Nor will Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro, ever. Still, it’s not up to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to police the rest of the field; that’s Bud Selig’s job.

Refusing a vote to someone who was honest (McGwire), but giving it to someone who seems, so clearly, to be lying (Clemens/Bonds)?

I tend to see Clemens, especially, as a sort of Bill Clinton-esque character who lied straight up, and kept lying, forcefully, in our faces, until we decided to give up on it, exhausted by the nonsense, and move on with our lives, essentially absolving him. I feel like he may have inspired Lance Armstrong’s similar approach. But maybe I’m wrong! Maybe these are the choir boys of sports! And I’m well-rested, well-dressed, and well-tressed!

But Klapisch’s point is that there are few guidelines to follow to enable a voter to be consistent. I get that. A difficult choice for the writers, no doubt.

Another entertaining, thought-provoking read is by Joe Posnanski, the former Sports Illustrated columnist who writes this for the site Sports on Earth.

Here’s his take on Bonds, in particular:

Would Ty Cobb have used steroids? I want you to think about that question for a minute. Would Ty Cobb have used steroids? While you think, take a look at a handful of Cobb quotes:

“Baseball is a red-blooded sport for red-blooded men. It’s no pink tea, and mollycoddles had better stay out. It’s a struggle for supremacy, a survival of the fittest.”

“I may have been fierce, but never low or underhand.”

“Baseball was 100 percent of my life.”

“Many a writer has said that I was ‘unfair.’ Well, that’s not my understanding of the word. When my toes were stepped on, I stepped right back.”

“I regret to this day that I never went to college. I should have been a doctor.”

“In legend, I am a sadistic, slashing, swashbuckling despot who waged war in the guise of sport.”

So what do you think? Would Cobb, who famously needed to win but who held himself to principles that few others really understood, have used steroids?

Answer: We have no bleeping idea.

See, that’s the trap of this whole PED Hall of Fame discussion — it’s tempting to start thinking you know more than you know, understand more than you understand and can get inside the heart of someone else.

What we do know is that Ty Cobb was obviously a rough player, disliked by many, involved in too many controversial incidents to count here, including a well-publicized gambling accusation and numerous violent encounters. And what we do know is that on the first Hall of Fame ballot — with the so-called character clause already in place — Ty Cobb received more votes than anyone else, including Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson and Honus Wagner.

Why? He was widely viewed by the sportswriters as the best player of all time. In the end, character clause or not, the writers understood their mission was to honor the best who ever played the game. I think that’s still our mission. I don’t think it’s right to pretend that the steroid and PED stuff never happened — it absolutely did happen and should be part of the evaluation of a baseball player’s career. But I don’t see how steroid use in an era when there was no testing, no policing and (I believe) tacit encouragement to use PEDs can or should be, on its own, a Hall of Fame disqualifier.

Barry Bonds is the greatest player I ever saw. How much of it was unnatural? I don’t know — some of it. How much of it was a taint on the game? I don’t know — some of it. I don’t take his career numbers at face value, especially the home run numbers. But I do believe he’s one of the best to ever play the game.

I am quite convinced by most, if not all, of Posnanski’s arguments on a lot of the on-the-fence-type guys. Read him all the way through. You won’t be disappointed.

Still torn on the steroid-y stuff.

You?

* * *

Returning on the ballot: Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Lee Smith, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Edgar Martínez, Fred McGriff, Larry Walker, Mark McGwire, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmeiro, Bernie Williams                      

First-timers: Sandy Alomar, Jr., Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Jeff Cirillo, Royce Clayton, Roger Clemens, Jeff Conine, Steve Finley, Julio Franco, Shawn Green, Roberto Hernández, Ryan Klesko, Kenny Lofton, José Mesa, Mike Piazza, Reggie Sanders, Curt Schilling, Aaron Sele, Sammy Sosa, Mike Stanton, Todd Walker, David Wells, Rondell White, Woody Williams

*Clemens photo by AP/Charles Dharapak

  1. Dave Carter
    C

    Ursula, I don’t follow baseball, so I’m of absolutely no help in that department, …but I can’t let the opportunity to congratulate you on your new addition to the family slip by. Hoping for good health and happiness for you and yours.

  2. PJ

    It’s so difficult to separate the users from the non-users, and so unfair to only punish the honest users.  I think you discount a little for known or strongly suspected users (pushing Sosa below the cutoff, but not Bonds or Clemens, in my 0pinion), but otherwise vote for them, and then take a shower.

  3. jarhead
    C

    I’d vote for Jack Morris, Lee Smith, and Fred McGriff, and think about the others for another year.

    But Sosa, Clemens, and Bonds would likely never get my vote.

  4. EThompson

    For this and this alone, I nominate the Gibber; I also happened to be witness to this grand moment:  Kirk Gibson’s game winning home run 1988 World

  5. Illiniguy

    Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams, Mike Piazza

  6. Nick Stuart

    Know nothing about sports, but it’s good to see Ursula back. Hope mom & baby are doing well.

  7. Mike LaRoche
    EThompson: For this and this alone, I nominate the Gibber; I also happened to be witness to this grand moment:  Kirk Gibson’s game winning home run 1988 World · 1 minute ago

    I agree.  I remember watching that moment live.

    As for Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa, not only should they not be nominated for the Hall of Fame, their steroid-fueled records should be stricken from the books.

  8. Mollie Hemingway
    C

    I once met Jack Morris in a bar and we spent the entire time talking about whether juiced players should get in the HOF. He was agin it. Vehemently. Fun guy, though.

  9. GLDIII

    Ursula

    Another beautiful Hennessey baby?

    Congratulations;  I remember the photo you shared a few years ago of you and the kids and I though then that your husband should give you a big fat hug for such lovely offspring.

    III

  10. MBF

    If you think your favorite player from the 90′s was clean, you’re probably wrong.

    We don’t know a fraction of the guys that were “enhanced.”

    Bonds and Clemens are first ballot talents. No doubters.

  11. Schoolmarm

    I don’t know jack about baseball, but I hope you’ll accept my heartfelt congratulations on your new little one!   How wonderful!

  12. EThompson
    jarhead: But Sosa, Clemens, and Bonds would likely never get my vote.

    There was certainly some controversy in the Apple when David “the Warrior” Wells was traded for Clemens.

    I wonder if Ursula was covering the Yankee beat in those days?

  13. Mister D

    I dislike the juicers. I get why they did it, but I hate that they made a mockery of the game’s history, and especially hate that they put so many players in a position of using themselves or being forced out of a job.

    But this wasn’t something that happened in a vacuum. I remember when the “home run chase” was going on, the debate over juiced balls, and the frequent snide and public remarks that the balls weren’t the only things juiced. The players sure knew what was going on. The union knew. The owners knew. The reporters knew. Informed fans were at least aware of the rumors. But few poked or prodded or even asked. And that allowed it to grow.

    That widespread, cultural complicity makes it hard for me to hold up a few players as scapegoats, even ones I dislike as much as Bonds and Clemens. Add in the uncertainty of not just who used, but what they used, when they used it, how they used it, and how long they used it and I don’t see much point in taking a principled voting stance. 

  14. Nathaniel Wright

    As Mark Belling Fan wrote, Bonds and Clemens are first ballot talents.  

    What was in the shot that Max Jacobson gave Mickey Mantle in 1961 again?

  15. Ursula Hennessey
    C

    Thanks everyone for the well wishes! Baby Sally and I are getting along well, and her three siblings are all quite gentle. My 4yo guy is a little out of sorts — I guess it’s a textbook reaction to a new attention-seeker in the home, but … ah .. I’ll save it for another post.

  16. Ursula Hennessey
    C
    Mister D: I dislike the juicers. I get why they did it, but I hate that they made a mockery of the game’s history, and especially hate that they put so many players in a position of using themselves or being forced out of a job.

    But this wasn’t something that happened in a vacuum. I remember when the “home run chase” was going on, the debate over juiced balls, and the frequent snide and public remarks that the balls weren’t the only things juiced. The players sure knew what was going on. The union knew. The owners knew. The reporters knew. Informed fans were at least aware of the rumors. But few poked or prodded or even asked. And that allowed it to grow.

    That widespread, cultural complicity makes it hard for me to hold up a few players as scapegoats, even ones I dislike as much as Bonds and Clemens. Add in the uncertainty of not just who used, but what they used, when they used it, how they used it, and how long they used it and I don’t see much point in taking a principled voting stance. 

    Very convincing, Mister D.

  17. Ursula Hennessey
    C
    EThompson

    jarhead: But Sosa,Clemens, and Bonds would likely never get my vote.

    There was certainly some controversy in the Apple when David “the Warrior” Wells was traded for Clemens.

    I wonder if Ursula was covering the Yankee beat in those days? · 21 minutes ago

    Yes, I was, E. I wasn’t a huge fan of either Wells or Clemens in the clubhouse, but it was sure fun to cover their pitching performances.

  18. bellcpa

    In my opinion what the juicers did to the game was far worse than anything Pete Rose did.  Pete Rose should be in the HOF before any of these cheaters.  Charlie Hustle played the game the way it was supposed to be played.  He didn’t need the juice to produce.

  19. Trace

    Baseball’s history is littered with bad behavior and shameful moments just like our nation’s history. How appropriate is it that Negro League players are excluded even as their lesser, whiter compatriots stand as champions? Surely those omissions are morally worse than the inclusion of juicers whose steroid use helped their play but did not guarantee success.

    The Hall of Fame is first and foremost a museum. Let the fans hold the players in individual judgement but let the sportswriters who (Ursula excepted) are far from being blameless in all things put the best players in the game into its halls. Leaving these players out amounts to a whitewash — and a rather sanctimonious one at that. I don’t need the sportswriters of America to pass moral judgement — let them judge the talent. 

  20. KC Mulville

    If we were talking about a criminal trial, I’d want to be absolutely fair and accurate, and take extra care to follow rules and regulations. But it’s a Hall of Fame vote for baseball. It’s entertainment; it began as a publicity stunt, and to my mind, it’s still a publicity stunt. 

    The passion to get an extra edge is what drives players to risk steroids; that passion is fueled by the attention that fans give to players, magnified by making them into low-level gods like a “hall of fame.” Why treat them as gods, e.g., giving them their  own Mount Olympus? I can’t help but wonder if it would be strategically smarter to play down the worship part (sorry George Will) of individuals.

    I love baseball, and sports in general. I think the players should be paid just like rock stars, because they perform the same social function (entertainment), and on top of that, they exemplify important values like teamwork, hustle, etc. But, that said, I think things like a Hall of Fame (and especially spending serious time arguing about its importance and meaning to society) is just out of whack.

Want to comment on stories like these? Become a member today!

You'll have access to:

  • All Ricochet articles, posts and podcasts.
  • The conversation amongst our members.
  • The opportunity share your Ricochet experiences.

Join Today!

Already a Member? Sign In