By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) I awoke this past Christmas morn thoroughly ready to celebrate the joy of the holiday with loved ones.
Taking care of some Internet housekeeping issues first, I came across a column by Steve Simmons of The Toronto Sun regarding how he will submit his ballot for baseball’s Hall of Fame Class of 2014.
My joy that was to come down the chimney was stopped in its tracks midway down and suffocated, its frozen corpse there to later be pried out to scar for life tiny tots with their eyes all aghast.
It’s not that choosing to not vote for any Steroid Era players bothers me—it does—as much as the illogic that Simmons (and certainly others as well privately and for whom the following is as well) uses in his justification. Let’s examine. Simmons’ words are italicized.
My blank Hall of Fame ballot seems to be staring at me on Christmas morning and I’m staring right back, uncertain how to proceed.
Well, I see a lot of words coming, so I think you’re fairly certain. Also, while you’re not necessarily responsible for the headline, “Steve Simmons won’t vote for steroid class in Baseball Hall of Fame balloting,” it does suggest to the reader the crux of the rest of the piece.
Knowing it needs to be completed — within five days.
Every year seems to get more difficult, more complicated, more conflicted and less certain about voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame and every year I make a list and scratch names off it, then make another list and do the same again. All the while, wrestling with what you perceive to be right and wrong, what your own beliefs happens to be, angry that baseball has left the writers to play the part of jury and all the while trying to find balance between what you believe, what you witnessed, what you think you know, what prejudices you may have, real or imagined, what you have determined statistically — with new stats and old stats.
Why does it get more difficult? If you have your own standards of voting, the only thing that should cause conflict is a better argument for inclusion/exclusion. I’m not aware of anything in the past few years of baseball that has changed the way we look at the game. While PED use still occurs, what is generally considered “The Steroid Era” is past us. Sabermetric analytics—those “new stats” I guess you’re referring to—have continued to gain greater acceptance of late, but nerdy numbers don’t seem to be your style, so I’m not sure why you’re so confounded.
And if you’re so miffed that you’re a juror in such a contentious sports issue, you’re fully capable of removing yourself from the duty. Abstaining is one option. Or you could have someone else pick for you. There are many people who feel very strongly about who gets in to Cooperstown that do not have a say, so being a diva about this cross you’re forced to bear doesn’t set you up for much credibility going forward here, but we’ll continue anyway.
It is the season of giving and I stare at Barry Bonds’ name in bold type, the fifth name on the first column of the alphabetical ballot, torn because I never saw a better baseball player than him and torn, because how do you begin the voting by leaving off the greatest player you ever saw?
You don’t. Because the best player you ever saw not being in the place for the best players ever sort of invalidates the whole place. Amazingly simple rationale actually.
I saw Willie Mays only at the end of his career. Same for Mickey Mantle. Bonds’ career I saw in its entirety, young, old, large, small, speedy, slow.
Slow Bonds had a 1.045 OPS in his final year of playing.
But I can’t vote for him, won’t vote for him.
But you can. You very much can. Remember that whole “best player you ever saw” stuff? That makes it okay to vote for the guy.
Two names down the ballot is Roger Clemens, two years in Toronto, two Cy Young Awards, more dominant career numbers than this year’s only sure-thing newcomer, Greg Maddux. And Clemens wasn’t the greatest pitcher I’ve seen (I tend to favour Bob Gibson as a visual), but he is certainly very close.
But I can’t vote for him, won’t vote for him.
Is this how you go about voting for the Queen or whatever Canada does up there? “Well, this person is the best candidate for the job, but he might smoke crack so I really can’t…” Okay, maybe a bad hypothetical there.
This is what baseball has done to the Hall of Fame process. Pete Rose, the career hits leader, isn’t eligible for the Hall. The home run champion, Bonds, is, but we are asked to juggle morality and ethics and sport when considering his candidacy. It is the same with Clemens, and with Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, the leftover giants from a steroids era that may not be completely over.
You’re asking yourself to juggle morality and ethics. Nobody else really is. And stop using the word “morality” when discussing sports. If you want me to go down the list of baseball’s historical immoralities I will.
It is the oddest of exercises when you begin the process of voting by leaving off two of the greatest baseball performers you have seen, and no one feels completely right about that. But every time I want to reconsider their candidacy and how to include those accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, I keep tripping over the rules for election that sits beside the ballot on my desk; keep tripping over rule No. 5.
“Voting shall be based upon the players’ record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the teams on which the player played.”
The three words that get me here are “integrity, sportsmanship, character.”
Here we go.
Ugh. This is going to get really bad.
Nowhere does it say anything about PEDs, but that’s really the subtext to all of this today: This is where the decision becomes personal, how you view the steroids era in baseball. How you view the accomplishments — not just of Bonds and Clemens — but of Sosa, McGwire, Palmeiro. What are your personal thoughts on integrity, on sportsmanship, on character?
Subtext is subjective, I agree. As are the words “integrity,” “sportsmanship,” and “character.” I view the accomplishments of the great Steroid Era hitters as amazing in a non-ideal period of the game. Ditto the great pitchers of the time. The dirty playing field was level at the time because of what a needled-free-for-all it was. Just as it was when the pitching mound was altered years back or the spitter was outlawed. Hitting a round ball approaching at a high speed with a round bat over a fence very far away will never not be impressive to me, regardless of context.
My colleague, Bob Elliott, whom I greatly respect, whose work has been recognized by the very Hall of Fame we are voting on here, who writes and reports and coaches minor baseball, will vote for Bonds and Clemens this year, just as he did last year. That is his view. That doesn’t make him wrong and me right. That doesn’t make him right and me wrong.
It kind of does make him right and you wrong, though, based on his credibility alone, not to mention that he’s an old fogey thinking progressively. And you’re just proving his argument of how messed up the voting is.
We each have to vote viewing through our own personal beliefs, how we interpret words. If I had any doubt at all that Bonds and Clemens and the others hadn’t cheated, if I hadn’t seen with my own eyes how they altered their body sizes, how their statistics changed, if they hadn’t used steroids or some drug as a competitive advantage, I might look the other way.
That’s not how you have to vote, especially if the “words” are vague and the matter is the post career fate of guys in a numbers-driven—not words-driven—sport.
And is it just drugs that make you not look the other way? Other attempts at competitive advantages are ignorable for you? Altering the ball, putting substances on the ball, taking amphetemenes, excluding black people—all done by men in the Hall—those are cool?
But this is among the places it bothers me. The top six single-season home run leaders are Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, McGwire, Sosa, Sosa — all occurring in a four-year period between 1998 and 2001. Since then, almost nothing close. Before then, an occasional blip of Roger Maris or the magnificence of Babe Ruth.
Maris and Ruth did not have the advantage of modern technologies, equipment, and training regimens that players enjoy today. Absolutely legal nutritional aids and workout programs that players use to supplement natural talent greatly separate them from players of yore, and the game of baseball is much different than it was before it was televised in color. Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa would have killed most of the pitching Ruth and Maris faced even without the PEDs they took, and if a single dietician were at Ruth’s side, his numbers would be even more freakish. The continued attempt to parallel one era to another is really dumb.
It was the same for Clemens, whose career had stalled in Boston after 13 seasons. He won 40 games in his final four years in Boston. He won 41 in his first two in Toronto. In his final 11 seasons, pitching into his 40s, he lost just 73 games.
That doesn’t ring true or natural to me.
Measuring a pitcher by wins and losses doesn’t ring intelligent to me.
So I begin my Christmas Day voting by eliminating the steroid class. No Bonds, No Clemens. No McGwire. No Palmeiro. No Sosa.
So you’re eliminating a significant portion of baseball history. You’re part of the sad group of salty writers who are so harumphy that the sanctity of a game that has embraced cheaters since its inception and has before celebrated racists, criminals, women beaters, and recreational drug users was tainted.
Now—NOW—a line has to be drawn. We cannot stand idly by and let the best players of an era into a museum. How dare guys ingest substances that the league didn’t test for in order to be the best in the game and make gobs of money. Luckily you and I are above such behavior even though we have never been put in that situation. Merry Christmas.
And stop at Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell. Those who won’t vote for the PED people often don’t vote for Piazza and Bagwell. Both have Hall of Fame numbers. Both belong. The problem here, there are those who believe Piazza and Bagwell were PED users. There is no evidence. There is no proof. There is just suspicion.
I think both of those guys are Hall of Famers, too. But Bagwell likely used PEDs, though I have no proof, like you said. But I do have the eye test that you referenced earlier. Here’s Bagwell’s rookie card. Here’s a Bagwell card from 2006.
In your heart of hearts you know that there are dirty guys that never got pinched, and you’re using them to justify your exclusion of the really big names. “See? Look! I’m voting for the guys who any intelligent person knows probably used PEDs but were lucky enough not to end up on a piece of paper saying so.” Justice.
Without evidence, proof or anything anecdotal, I will vote for Piazza and Bagwell. Rumours shouldn’t dictate who gets a vote and who doesn’t.
Nor should an argument that just fell apart. The rest of the column deviates from the steroid guys for the most part, so I’ll skip ahead to end.
So to recap: Alphabetically I will vote for Bagwell, Glavine, Maddux, Morris, Mussina, Piazza, Schilling, Smith, and Thomas.
And once again, leave the best players off, forever twisted by their inclusion.
Here is what so many voters like Simmons fail to understand. The Hall of Fame is a museum, and voters are being asked to choose what players get highlighted in that museum. Museums are supposed to represent—accurately—history. Be angry or disappointed about baseball in recent decades. I myself don’t condone steroid use nor am I happy the Sosas and McGwires and Clemenses took them.
But they did, and that is part of baseball’s history, a part that was quietly condoned by the game’s commissioner in order to win back fans and pump in more dollars. We all saw the body changes and believed the lame excuses at the time because we didn’t want our sacred magical game to fall victim to reality. And now some people are channeling their retrospective frustrations into punishing guys who did what they had to do to be successful and to entertain us, and that is uneven and unfair.
Be sure to burn all your music created by drug-fueled artists. I mean, Hendrix was great and all, but I just can’t listen to his stuff knowing that he took those drugs while composing it. Put Pat Boone in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame now! He did it the right way!
Just do whatever we can to whitewash the stuff that gives us a sad. What slavery, American history museums? What civil rights struggles? Racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual minorities have always been happy in this country. The Duck guy said so. Let’s just focus on the warm and fuzzy stuff. Like Edward R. Murrow said, “We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information.” That was in 1958. Mickey Mantle was eight seasons into destructive drinking and womanizing.
It’s like at the end of Thank You For Smoking when Senator Finistirre is being interviewed regarding his campaign to edit out cigarettes from classic cinema. When asked how he responds to those who say he’s changing history, he says that he considers it not changing but “improving” history.
Simmons talks integrity and sportsmanship. While he sees PED use as the antithesis of those words, I might argue that bulking up in order to strike more guys out or hit more home runs was both selfish and selfless. Baseball is the most individual of the major team sports, and a player always has to be looking out for what is best for him. And at the same time, if a Bonds or Clemens was given the opportunity to not only greatly improve his individual game but residually improve his team’s chances of winning, is there not arguably some integrity in that?
If Simmons is so conflicted and not willing to use some perspective, perhaps he and those of a similar mindset should remove themselves from the voting process. Or, if unwilling to adapt, at least be honest with himself and his readers and acknowledge there is little logical about his reasons for excluding some greats of the game.