A Hall of Fame vote for Barry Bonds
In casting my 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot last month, I found myself making value judgments, choosing between reputed or proven abusers of performance-enhancing drugs and a candidate who wallows in hate speech and bigotry.
It was an easy call. I went with the PED candidates who are accused by some of “tainting” baseball in the 1990s, a charge that is debatable. What isn’t debatable is that former pitcher Curt Schilling is divisive and occasionally despicable in his use of memes and flagrant language to attack transgender people, Muslims, African Americans, women and just about anyone who opposes his right-wing politics.
Schilling has the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, but there is nothing guaranteeing his admittance to the Hall of Fame, which will announce its 2018 inductees Wednesday. His words and actions online and on satellite radio reflect terribly on a game still lagging in diversity in its management ranks, one that has seen the number of African American players shrink in recent years.
Baseball Hall of Fame voters are allowed to consider the character and integrity of HOF candidates, and whether some voters invoke the “character clause” by name, a majority of them essentially have used it to disqualify great players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens from induction.
In the interests of full transparency, I’m invoking the character clause to omit Schilling, but I’m not applying it players who either used PEDs or are suspected of doing so.
Clearly, some fellow Hall of Fame voters – and non-voters – who would disagree with my position on Schilling or with some of the 10 names I selected for induction this year: Bonds, Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel.
Deciding which HOF candidates to vote for is supposed to be difficult, but since I got my first vote in 2013, it has been political and divisive. That was the year Bonds, Clemens and other players accused of using PEDs began clogging the ballot and inspiring enmity between voters and fans on opposite sides of the argument.
Some HOF voters have attacked each other on social media. Other voters became so disgusted with opposing viewpoints they stopped voting. Meanwhile, Hall of Famer Joe Morgan wrote a now-infamous letter to voters in December that basically begged them not to induct Bonds, Clemens, etc.
Agreeing to disagree may be a lost art in our culture, but not on my HOF ballot. I agree to disagree with Morgan and those who concur with him.
When marking their ballots, voters have to interpret baseball’s character clause, which is no easy task. Here is how the clause is described: “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.”
Admittedly, it’s a vague rule open to interpretation. That’s why voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame has become so contentious.
There is no clear language or consensus on how to judge a player’s character. Meanwhile, there is no consensus on what to do about players who used PEDs or are suspected of using them. So voters disagree, which has resulted in the omission of Bonds and Clemens for five years running, even though they are two of the greatest players of all time.
I don’t apply the character clause for Bonds and Clemens because by the time PED rules were enacted in baseball, both were almost done with their careers. Even players like Manny Ramirez, who actually flunked PED tests, were not barred from the game for life – as Pete Rose was for gambling on baseball.
The gambling rule has been ironclad for generations and the punishment was clear. Rose gambled anyway and paid the price. PED rules have never been that black and white. Bonds, Clemens and other suspected users remain HOF candidates in good standing. Their names appear on our ballots every year, while Rose’s name never has.
So we’re back to judgment: Do I believe many players used PEDs in the 1990s and beyond? Yes. Do I think it’s impossible to tell who did and who didn’t use PEDs? Yes. Do I suspect that some PED users are already in the HOF? Yes. Do I reject being put in the position to bar certain players from the HOF even though they remain candidates in good standing? Yes. I reject retroactive justice. If baseball wants to ban Bonds, Clemens and others, then do it. Don’t look at me.
For me, the PED players will be eligible until baseball says they are not, as baseball did with Rose.
Even though I criticized him harshly during his playing years for his anti-team persona, Bonds is the best hitter I have ever seen. It’s not even close. And by any metric, Clemens is one of the most dominant pitchers of all time. And speaking of metrics, every other player I selected was picked by grading them against other players at their positions. By traditional metrics and advanced metrics, all 10 qualify.
Couldn’t Schilling qualify as well? Yes. But I picked Mussina, a highly underrated former Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees pitcher who was excellent during the 1990s and early 2000s, years where baseball saw huge spikes in home runs, runs and hits and about every other offensive metric in the game.
Schilling’s career ERA is lower than Mussina’s. Schilling has more complete games and strikeouts than Mussina, and Schilling was an elite pitcher in the postseason. But I won’t vote for Schilling because he has spent recent years spewing invective at minority groups and those who disagree with his politics. I invoke the character clause because I think he lacks integrity as a human being. Along with targeting transgender people, Muslims and the Black Lives Matter movement, Schilling is a troll for the worst kind of politics in our culture.
In December, for example, Schilling invited Paul Nehlen – a reputed white nationalist – on his Breitbart radio show. Breitbart later deleted Schilling’s podcast with Nehlen.
Schilling’s actions cast baseball in a bad light. He might get into the Hall of Fame someday, but not with my help.
I acknowledge that I cast my ballot from a slippery slope of my own beliefs, but so does everyone else casting a ballot. I respect those who disagree with me, even though mutual respect has seen better days in baseball and America.