Wednesday, December 14, 2016

In The Hall, Morality Needs To Go

I have long been a supporter of guys linked to performance enhancing drugs being in the Hall of Fame. Simply put, if you don't believe that players like Barry Bonds and Rogers Clemens are among the best to ever play the sport of baseball, you're unquestionably wrong. Here's where the caveats come in though, morality still plays a role that it has no business playing.

Today I read over a piece by BBWAA member and former Yankees beat writer Wallace Matthews. In it, he calls out Curt Schilling for being a baffon (political stance aside, he absolutely is), and huffs over the burden it is to cast a Hall of Fame ballot. While it's fair and understanding to note where he's coming from, the true burden is one that was cast upon him by the Baseball Hall of Fame itself.

Almost as equally long as I have contended that guys linked to PEDs but still deserving should be in The Hall, I've stated that the character clause is one of the goofiest prerequisites for inclusion at Cooperstown. Listen, the Baseball Writers Association of America should be asking journalists to quantify performance factors, not policing the shortcomings of the Commissioner and Major League Baseball itself. At the end of the day, inclusion in the Hall of Fame should be related to the amount of homers you smashed, strikeouts you tallied, or accolades you compiled while on the field of play.

When participating in Major League Baseball, players have gone through eras with live and dead balls. They have played the sport while certain races were excluded. Long before PEDs were the drugs of hatred, there were amphetamines and other choice vices that were explored. As a collective whole, the reality has always been that asking a group removed from decision making efforts within the sport, to retroactively rule on decisions that were made, was a losing battle.

Looking at Matthews' piece and knowing he isn't the first one to publicly defend his decision to throw away his vote, it's hard not to want something done about the burden he defines. At it's core, it seems quite haughty to come across as being above a privilege granted to so few. While The Hall has imposed the notion that morality be considered, the process involves nothing more than checking boxes of up to 10 players deserving of the game's highest honor.

While trying to be sympathetic to the tone of Matthews' message, it's also a tired one from a group that has so often fallen short of being worthy of give the benefit of doubt. I'm not sorry your journalistic profession has included you among a group of your peers that are tasked with helping us to celebrate baseball's greatest. I'm not sorry that the BBWAA as a whole has seen countless votes cast (or not cast) as personal vendettas or in trying to politic against those that wronged them while playing (or not playing) the game. I'm not sorry that it seems silly to cast votes for those you feel friendly towards, and want to give a final hat tip to. I'm really not sorry for any "burden" you'd like to define as part of the voting process.

If there's something to be sorry for, it is, and always has been, Cooperstown asking you to play morality cop. Most anyone that has ever watched the game can effectively evaluate the performance of a player's career, and a consensus (or at least a 75% consensus) should be relatively straightforward to reach in that line of thinking alone. It's time that morality stop playing such an issue in the voting process, both on the ballot, and in the fallout thereafter.

There have been positive changes from the BBWAA in recent years (removing writers no longer covering the game, accepting writers, making ballots publicly available), but the large linchpin remains the character clause. It's time the ballot was simply used as a process of deeming who is worthy based on baseball merit alone, and celebrating that. Pushing writers to do what comes across as a look-at-me thing, while not voting or channeling feelings into their ballots should cease. Really though, it's the BBWAA and The Hall itself who continue to facilitate it all.