You don’t have to be Chris Matthews to interpret the mandate Hall of Fame voters delivered this week. Users of performance-enhancing drugs are out, whether they confessed (McGwire), denied (Palmeiro) or were merely fingered (Gonzalez).
That’s certainly the voters’ prerogative, but where does it end? Did Jeff Bagwell only get 41.7% support because voters didn’t like his numbers (a .297 career average, 449 home runs, .948 OPS) or the suspicions he might have used PEDs? Is it enough to vote against someone because he might have used? What if he didn’t?
Will Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez be treated similarly, or will they gain entrance on the rationalization they were Hall of Famers before they started using, or would have been if they never had? And how do we know, for sure, who really used and who didn’t, short of asking Jose Canseco?
Morality is a tricky business. Maintaining it in the years ahead will be even trickier. Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson told the USA Today: “We believe the voters have exercised a great understanding about the candidates in the Hall of Fame,” presumably backing Wednesday’s results, and citing the “character clause” each voter receives.
The Clause says: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played,” and while it’s certainly acceptable to use said clause as a reason not to vote for McGwire, Palmeiro or Gonzalez, previous generations of voters had no such qualms.
Three-hundred-and-forty-two voters (out of 443) ignored the character clause and voted Gaylord Perry into the Hall of Fame, even though his cheating — using a spitball — was no less common knowledge than McGwire’s use of PEDs. Perry’s autobiography was titled Me and the Spitter, An Autobiographical Confession, and unless he’s John McCain calling himself a maverick in the title to his life story only to deny he is one, we’ll take him at his word.
Former opposing manager Gene Mauch said there should be a tube of K-Y Jelly attached to Perry’s plaque (think what that would do for attendance at the Hall). Certainly there has to be something in The Clause about that.
In NASCAR they say if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. They’ve been trying in baseball ever since Abner Doubleday, or whomever, laid the bases down 90 feet apart; they’re just less proud of it.
Perry is hardly alone in his transgressions — Whitey Ford and Don Sutton, among others, were accused of throwing an impure ball. Hall of Fame manager John McGraw reportedly would hold opposing runners by their belts when he played third base and there was only one umpire to watch. The most famous home run in history, Bobby Thomson’s in Game 3 of the 1951 playoffs, was hit only after a month of the Giants stealing opponents’ signs.
Did Ty Cobb steal more bases because he slid with his spikes high? Do you keep Sammy Sosa out of the Hall of Fame because he might have used PED’s or because he corked his bats? And while we’re talking about The Clause, do we want to discuss why Cap Anson is in the Hall and Pete Rose isn’t?
What’s changed between Perry’s 1991 Hall of Fame vote and today? Is it a collective guilty conscience? Or the advancement of integrity?
That’s one the voters will have to answer. In the meantime, good for Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven for gaining entrance into the Hall. And good luck to the voters in the years ahead in applying The Clause to the vote.
Two more points to cover before leaving the Hall of Fame till July:
- The good news for Barry Larkin is that he climbed to 62.1 percent of the vote, making him the leading returning vote-getter for 2012. The bad news is that he received 27.9% less of the vote than did Alomar, despite remarkably similar career statistics (see link below). The discrepancy only shows how much of the vote is colored by perception.
- No one received fewer votes than they deserved than pitcher Kevin Brown, who got only 12 — just 2.1%. I’m not sure Brown is a Hall of Famer — there are a few gaps in his resume — but he sure is more of one than Jack Morris or Lee Smith, who received 53% and 45% respectively. Brown had a significantly lower career ERA (3.28 to 3.90) and OPS against (.655 to .693) than Morris, even though he played in more of an offensive era, and a better winning percentage (.594 to .577), even though that was supposed to be Morris’ forte. Blyleven received 17.5% of the vote in his first year, but he wore T-shirts that said I Love to Fart and had lots of friends to back him, even if they didn’t stand too close. Brown had few friends to champion his cause, and is now off the ballot while Morris and Smith remain on.
Stat of the Day
- Of all the players who received votes for the Hall of Fame, Mark McGwire had the least major-league hits with 1,626. Brett Boone (1 vote, 1,775 hits), Benito Santiago (1 vote, 1,830 hits, Tino Martinez (6 votes, 1,925 hits) and Juan Gonzalez (30 votes, 1,936 hits) were the only other non-pitchers with less than 2,000 hits to receive votes.
Quote of the Day
- “I don’t think there is a team in baseball where (Rafael Soriano) could be asked to be a setup guy other than the Yankees.” Agent Scott Boras, suggesting the Yankees might be the place for his client.