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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

A Baseball Hall of Fame ballot with no consideration for ‘character’

The Hall of Fame annually asks voters to answer two questions.

First, where are we going to draw the line on performance? This is an extraordinarily difficult question, as it is difficult to discern the difference between the top 1% and the top 2% of anything. On figures alone, there are usually 10 or 12 names on each ballot that can be placed on either side of the row as appropriate.

On these bubble players, constant research keeps them going back and forth in line, like watching a tennis match.

I’ve always chosen to reduce that issue by making that line as high as possible. For the most part, if I feel I can go any way on the player, I leave him off my ballot. This year, I’m just adding one to the bubble list, which we’ll get to later.

The second question the Hall of Fame asks is on “character” and “integrity”.

I always feel more confident in my judgment on this question, because I am not going to answer it at all. Many of my most respected voting colleagues, and certainly millions of fans, would disagree with me. I have no reluctance on it, because years ago I decided not to even try to judge honesty for some reason.

It’s a baseball museum and it’s a baseball award. The bottom line is that I don’t really care what kind of people these people are, because their job has never been to be role models. He didn’t get his job that way. They don’t keep them that way. They don’t get paid that way. If a general manager said he was building a team to have the most “integrity” and “character”, you would all roll your eyes and complain that you only want the best team and want to win as many games as possible. Huh.

The Hall of Fame is fully capable of making its own character judgments before voting me down. I never saw Pete Rose’s name on the ballot, because Hall decided that players who were on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list were not eligible to vote in Hall. But Hall puts Barry Bonds on the ballot. Manny Ramirez, who was actually suspended for performance-enhancing drugs, is also there. If Hall wants to decide that other offenses – other than betting on baseball – are so strong that he must kick players out of Hall, he can remove those players from the ballot.

It’s okay to give little (or no) weight to the “character clause”, because we’ve all done it already. The MVP ballot also instructs voters to consider a player’s “general character, temperament, integrity and effort”. You didn’t know that because nobody cares. Stories about Bond’s alleged steroid use had already been published before Bonds won the MVP in 2004.

Character is a dynamic target, whereas performance is not. Once a player stops playing, his numbers never change. His character and integrity, of course, can be viewed in different ways, depending on what he does throughout his life. Kirby Puckett was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999, the first year he was eligible. In 2002, Puckett was involved in a series of incidents in which he was charged with false imprisonment, fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, and fifth-degree assault. He was found not guilty. No one is removed from the Hall of Fame because of actions taken after they were elected, so I’m not going to take the same actions against them if they happened before they were elected. I’m just voting on a player’s career, period.

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On performance-enhancing drugs, victims could have stopped the crime, and they didn’t. Who Really Hurts When Players Take Steroids? As far as I can tell, the people who suffered the most were the other players. If players worked to take steroids out of the game when they first surfaced in the late 1980s, no one would stop them. The fact that they kept doing this until it became a PR issue in 2002 tells me that it didn’t really bother many of them that much, so why should I bother now?

Amphetamines were also performance-enhancing drugs, and nobody seems to care. No, they didn’t work either. we don’t believe anyone ever took Greenery To break a sacred record. But the distinction is of science, not of integrity. It is hard for me to accept that players in past eras who took one substance to get better did not take another, more effective, substance to get better. The bottom line is that players will always do whatever is available to improve their performance, and I’m not going to exclude a generation that is playing at a time when science has gotten better. Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt, Bob Gibson and Buck O’Neill have all said as much. O’Neill famously said, “The only reason we didn’t use steroids was because we didn’t have steroids.”

There are already steroid-users in the Hall of Fame. I don’t know with 100% certainty who used one, but I feel very comfortable saying that someone did. I’m not going to be so arrogant as to cast my vote as if I know who did what.

Once I’ve established that I’m not going to judge the character in my Hall of Fame ballot, there’s only one line to worry about: the performance row. To me the players who are clearly on that line are Bond, Roger Clemens, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Kurt Schilling and Gary Sheffield. On purely statistical grounds, in my opinion, they are all quite comfortably Hall of Famers. These are the same five I voted for last year, plus newcomers Rodriguez and Ortiz.

Every year the problem is the people who get it right about where that line of performance goes. This is a group that includes Bobby Abreu, Todd Helton, Andrew Jones, Jeff Kent, Scott Rollen, Sammy Sosa, Omar Vizquel and Billy Wagner.

A statistical case has to be made for each of those players. I could certainly talk myself into voting for any of them. This year I’m adding one of them to my ballot: Helton. His OPS-plus, which includes adjustments for the player’s home ground, is 133, more than anyone else on the bubble list. He also played gold glove defense.

Helton’s career slash line is .316/.414/.539, and anyone who goes .300/.400/.500 is a Hall of Famer in my book. I had been holding Coors Field against him on the ballot for his first few years, but now I feel like it was giving him too much leeway. He still had a .855 OPS on the road, which is about the same as the overall OPS of the Rolen and better than all of my bubble players except Sosa (.878) and Abru (.870). Helton had a better Ops-plus and a higher combat than both of them, so he got my vote and he didn’t.

I will continue the tennis match with the rest of the players next year.

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