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Monday, December 31, 2012

Philly.com: Democracy, or vigilante justice?

Finally, a Murphy contributes something useful to the discussion!

Most writers have a little bit of drama queen inside of them. It is part of our nature, part of the reason why we spend so much of our time living other people’s lives instead of our own. We are the original reality television producers. So the annual melodrama about the steroid era and the Hall of Fame is understandable. In addition to our infatuation with narrative, many of us have an unrealistic sense of self-importance, and when you combine those two characteristics with our ever-present need to meet deadlines and fill space, then the decision to make us the official selectors for the Baseball Hall of Fame has resulted in exactly what you would expect: a Grishamesque volume of stories that tend to over-inflate the ramifications and cultural significance of both election to the HOF and the writers’ role in facilitating that process.

But this is not a screed arguing against the inclusion of writers in the voting process. I have written plenty about that before. For disclosure purposes, the only thing that matters in this instance is that I am not eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame because I have not been a member of the Baseball Writers Association for 10 years (although I feel like I am getting frighteningly close to that threshold)...

Writers who view this election as some sort of existential dilemma, many of whom I respect greatly, do so only because they want to experience such a dilemma. That want is understandable. Many of these writers have covered the game for decades. They love the game, and they view the Steroid Era as having eroded the integrity of the game. No doubt, there is a little bit of projection going on; some writers harbor a bit of self-loathing at having been duped into mythologizing players who now appears to have been blessed more by science than by God (unless you attribute science to God, but we’ll save that discussion for another day).

The source of all of this angst is the so-called character clause included in the voting instructions that accompany each ballot. Those instructions read, “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.”

The instructions are ridiculous, as Joe Posnanski notes here. They are vague and abstract, bordering on meaningless, no doubt the work of some committee that spent too many hours attempting to accommodate everyone’s opinion on the matter… The truth is, the rules are completely open to interpretation. And when rules are open to interpretation—like, say, the legal code—then they are usually interpreted based on precedent…

The important case occurred in 1989, when baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti banned Pete Rose from baseball because of his involvement in gambling on baseball games… Rose v. Giamatti reinforces the right for the commissioner of baseball to make a player permanently ineligible from the game. It reinforces the status of the office of the commisioner as judge, jury and executioner for all matters pertaining to the preservation of the sanctity of the game of baseball. He is the one who metes out punishment to those whose actions he deems to have delivered long-standing damage to the integrity of the sport… In 1991, the Hall of Fame voted to make members of the “permanently ineligible list” ineligible for inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Their names do not appear on the ballot.

As of today, commissioner Bud Selig has not placed any players from the so-called Steroid Era on the permanently ineligible list. He has the right to do so. If he does, then that player is ineligible for the Hall of Fame. That player will not be on the ballot… Selig’s decision not to ban steroid users effectually labels them as fit to be judged solely on their on-field production. Every player that has been banned, after all, has been banned for issues relating to character, integrity or sportsmanship (mostly gambling, although auto theft and drug use are other sins that have resulted in bans). It stands to reason that, in the absence of specific instructions otherwise, every player who has not been been banned has been deemed by baseball as possessing sufficient character, integrity and sportsmanship to warrant continued conclusion in the sport, and, thus, potential inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

The District Attorney Posted: December 31, 2012 at 01:55 PM | 23 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: hall of fame, history

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   1. Too Much Coffee Man Posted: December 31, 2012 at 05:01 PM (#4335546)
Love this quote:
Long story short, the only way somebody can read the HOF voting instructions as a mandate to keep steroid users out of HOF is if that somebody wants to read the instructions that way. They are completely open to interpretation. And if somebody wants to argue that steroid use counts against a player because of the "sportsmanship clause," then I can argue that steroid use should count FOR that player because of the "contribution to the team(s) on which the player played" clause. After all, if Barry Bonds' steroid use helped him break Hank Aaron's home run record, then it also must have helped the Giants reach the World Series.
   2. Too Much Coffee Man Posted: December 31, 2012 at 05:13 PM (#4335552)
BTW,
It's interesting to read the comments following the link, 90% characterize the article as illogical crap, and Murphy as a smug, non-talented writer.
   3. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: December 31, 2012 at 05:24 PM (#4335560)
As of today, commissioner Bud Selig has not placed any players from the so-called Steroid Era on the permanently ineligible list. He has the right to do so. If he does, then that player is ineligible for the Hall of Fame. That player will not be on the ballot… Selig’s decision not to ban steroid users effectually labels them as fit to be judged solely on their on-field production. Every player that has been banned, after all, has been banned for issues relating to character, integrity or sportsmanship (mostly gambling, although auto theft and drug use are other sins that have resulted in bans). It stands to reason that, in the absence of specific instructions otherwise, every player who has not been been banned has been deemed by baseball as possessing sufficient character, integrity and sportsmanship to warrant continued conclusion in the sport, and, thus, potential inclusion in the Hall of Fame.


The problem is that those instructions, vague or not, are directed at the writers, not at Selig, who has nothing to do with Hall of Fame selection, other than indirectly determining if a player is eligible for consideration in the first place. Beyond that, Selig's authority over the HoF is nonexistent, and the writers have the perfect right to consider any character factors they wish.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: December 31, 2012 at 05:40 PM (#4335572)
Well, vigilante justice is a type of democracy. :-)

Selig’s decision not to ban steroid users effectually labels them as fit to be judged solely on their on-field production.

Nope, this goes too far.

I understand the argument that MLB and the HoF have clearly made the decision that steroid use is not disqualifying -- I make this point myself frequently.

But MLB and HoF have also clearly said that appearance on the ballot does not mean they have acted as the character judge and a player should be judged by the voters solely on performance. If they wanted to make that statement, the HoF would remove the character criteria. They have not removed those criteria and therefore you can't argue that the HoF equates "appears on ballot" with "should be judged solely on performance."

What the two put together get you is that the character criteria are not meant to be determinative on their own. Yes, if these players had been of such low character that their performance was not worth considering at all, then they get the Rose treatment. So the conclusion you can draw from their presence on the ballot is that any character issues have not been serious enough to completely invalidate their performance.

This in essence leads back to "character is just part of the criteria to be assessed, not an overriding or disqualifying criterion." This leads to the obvious (to me) conclusion that there is no way to exclude Bonds and Clemens on character issues. Given their performance is among the very best of all-time, to exclude them based on character issues would be to say that their character flaws invalidated their on-field performance. But if that was the case, they wouldn't be on the ballot. However, for someone like Palmeiro whose performance might be deemed "excellent" but not "great" and certainly not "all-time great", it seems clearly within the bounds of what the writers are asked to consider for a voter to decide that his character flaws push him onto the wrong side of the in/out line.

Now some members of the BBWAA clearly are treating known/alleged/suspected steroid use as the bright line that HoF/MLB's actions pretty clearly say it's not. Good ways to solve that issue are not obvious to me.

Moreover, all of the above is tremendously pretty but it's also completely abstract. The reality of how this worked (IMO ... I wasn't sitting in the room) is that MLB decided the easiest thing was to pass the buck to the HoF and the HoF decided the easiest thing was to pass the buck to the voters. I think it's reasonably obvious that both institutions would have preferred that the steroid controversy had never arisen. They would probably prefer that MLB had received the same media treatment that the NFL gets. But given there was "no choice" but that somebody was going to have to deal with this issue, they've probably made the best decision they could make from their institution's point of view.

The exclusion of Bonds and Clemens would likely damage the legitimacy of the HoF in the eyes of some of its potential visitors but the inclusion of Bonds and Clemens would likely damage the legitimacy of the HoF in the eyes of some of its other potential visitors. And, in the end, the vast majority of its potential visitors won't care much one way or the other. If the HoF makes the decision in inclusion/exclusion then they completely piss off one of those two groups. At least this way, whichever group ends up pissed off, they can hide behind "not our fault, we let the process take its course."*

For those on this board who are in one of those camps or the other -- before portraying for us once again the doomed future of the HoF, please be honest with yourself on whether you were ever likely to have visited the HoF anyway. Have you been there before? Has it ever made it to the top 3 choices on your vacation plans list? How many of your friends have ever been? In short, are you really a potential visitor to the HoF or are you just among the vast majority of human beings who are never going to set foot in the place.

Unless someday I find myself in the vicinity of Cooperstown with nothing to do, I am unlikely to ever visit the HoF. This is through no fault of the HoF, I'm sure I would enjoy it. There are just almost always going to be things I'd rather do with my time and money.

OK, if they induct me for my contributions to time wasted on the internet discussing baseball, I will attend.

* As always, I don't know what people expect/want the HoF to do to ensure the election of Bonds, Clemens et al. The "easiest" would be to remove the character clause. But that will generate a massive controversy ... and it only works if the voters actually abide by the new rules which many of them will not. They could purge those voters but that's equivalent to the HoF deciding who should be in and imposing its will on a "democratic" process. They could instead take the vote away from the BBWAA but who are they then going to give it to? If they give it to a group that is "guaranteed" to elect Bonds/Clemens then that's the equivalent of just imposing their will -- switching electorates until you find the one that will vote the way you want. (Not to mention the loss of free press coverage.)

If, somehow, the HoF ends up with not enough inductions of modern players then, yes, the process is broken and they'll have to do something. Barring that (and not being privy to their market research) I see no incentive for them to change the process.
   5. Mike Emeigh Posted: December 31, 2012 at 05:47 PM (#4335576)
Selig's authority over the HoF is nonexistent


Directly, true. But he sits on the Hall's Board of Directors and so do Paul Beeston, Bill DeWitt, Jerry Reinsdorf, and David Glass. It's hardly unreasonable to believe that Selig has a great deal of influence on the Hall in his role on the Board.

-- MWE
   6. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: December 31, 2012 at 06:06 PM (#4335582)
Have you been there before? Has it ever made it to the top 3 choices on your vacation plans list? How many of your friends have ever been? In short, are you really a potential visitor to the HoF or are you just among the vast majority of human beings who are never going to set foot in the place.


I've been a few times, roughly once every 5 years. My most recent trip was in 2009 for Jim Rice's induction and I almost certainly would make my way there for Roger Clemens' induction. It's about 5 hour ride for me so it's something I could do on a whim and while I have not done it often I have done it, drive out after work on Friday, spend a Saturday at the Hall and drive home that night. It's enough for a casual and enjoyable trip through the exhibits and a great way to spend a day. Obviously I'm not a huge moneymaker for the Hall but if they blackball an entire era I'm going to have a tough time being motivated to go.
   7. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: December 31, 2012 at 07:03 PM (#4335613)
The exclusion of Bonds and Clemens would likely damage the legitimacy of the HoF in the eyes of some of its potential visitors but the inclusion of Bonds and Clemens would likely damage the legitimacy of the HoF in the eyes of some of its other potential visitors. And, in the end, the vast majority of its potential visitors won't care much one way or the other. If the HoF makes the decision in inclusion/exclusion then they completely piss off one of those two groups. At least this way, whichever group ends up pissed off, they can hide behind "not our fault, we let the process take its course."*

Such a true and evenhanded point, even if some people seem to think the world will come to an end if the vote doesn't go the way they want it to. Probably the same sort of folks who say every four years that they'll leave the country if the election doesn't go their way.

For those on this board who are in one of those camps or the other -- before portraying for us once again the doomed future of the HoF, please be honest with yourself on whether you were ever likely to have visited the HoF anyway. Have you been there before? Has it ever made it to the top 3 choices on your vacation plans list? How many of your friends have ever been? In short, are you really a potential visitor to the HoF or are you just among the vast majority of human beings who are never going to set foot in the place.

I don't think the HoF is "doomed" with or without Bonds & Co., but I'll answer anyway: I've been there three times, in each case as a semi-major focal point of, or as a detour from a cross-country trip or book scouting trip. And if I'm ever anywhere near Cooperstown in the future, I'll probably go again, regardless of who is or isn't in the plaque room. I love the place, and I love its small town setting even more. It even has a very good used book shop (Willis Monie) as a side attraction. But I wouldn't go for induction weekend if you paid me, unless you paid me a lot.

Of the baseball fans I know, probably half a dozen have made the trip, but that's just the ones who've mentioned it. There may well be a few more.
   8. Walt Davis Posted: January 01, 2013 at 03:17 AM (#4335773)
Sorry, wasn't trying to get everybody's HoF visit history (we've done that before anyway I think) ... meant it more as "will this decision, one way or the other, seriously affect your likelihood of going there in the future" ... with past visits or past serious consideration an indicator that you are somebody likely to go back under normal circumstances. So, Andy et al, if B/C are in/out, are you going to boycott? Jose, when John Lackey is inducted in 2027 (who saw that coming?), you gonna go?

I will also add that regarding the HoF's non-stance, it's possible that they learned a lesson from how they handled Rose. The exclusion of Rose from the ballot gave Rose a platform to make noise and try to claim he was being unfairly treated. He became, I gather, a pretty big draw at autograph shows and such, maybe bigger than he'd have been otherwise (maybe not). Voters who didn't support Rose whined (especially at the beginning) that they didn't get the chance to show their disdain, that the HoF didn't trust the BBWAA to do its job and keep Rose out on character. (See Murray Chass) Meanwhile Rose supporters whined and sometimes wrote him in anyway.

Maybe they realized the writers would have done the job they wanted on Rose and they could have avoided the controversy. They obviously can't back off the "if banned from MLB then banned from the ballot" position but there's no reason for them to be in a hurry to ban somebody they don't want from the ballot. (It's my guess that the leadership of the HoF would prefer B/C not be inducted but that's just a guess.)
   9. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: January 01, 2013 at 05:40 AM (#4335783)
Never been, would enjoy going, but there will probably always be a dozen other places I'll visit first.

As of today, commissioner Bud Selig has not placed any players from the so-called Steroid Era on the permanently ineligible list. He has the right to do so. If he does, then that player is ineligible for the Hall of Fame. That player will not be on the ballot… Selig’s decision not to ban steroid users effectually labels them as fit to be judged solely on their on-field production.


I think it's wonderful that the writer wants us to think Bug Selig is the last word on how the BBWAA should vote.
   10. Bhaakon Posted: January 01, 2013 at 07:25 AM (#4335789)
I think it's wonderful that the writer wants us to think Bug Selig is the last word on how the BBWAA should vote.


No, Kenisaw Mountain Landis is, because the day when commissioners could unilaterally declare a particular offense bannable are as dead as he is. Sadly, the Judge failed to leave us a ruling on this particular issue, the the BBWAA is left as jury and executioner.
   11. steagles Posted: January 01, 2013 at 07:53 AM (#4335793)
Murphy as a smug, non-talented writer.
for anyone who is unfamiliar with david murphy, he is at least two of those things.
   12. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: January 01, 2013 at 10:02 AM (#4335801)
But I wouldn't go for induction weekend if you paid me, unless you paid me a lot.

I went for the Schmidt/Ashburn induction in spite of my aversion to heat/humidity, crowds and lines, and enjoyed it immensely. We went with 2 other families whom we didn't see enough, so that all helped, too.
   13. Mayor Blomberg Posted: January 01, 2013 at 10:12 AM (#4335802)
#4 - very nice, Walt; your response says pretty much everything that needs to be said.
   14. Rafael Bellylard: Built like a Panda. Posted: January 01, 2013 at 10:21 AM (#4335804)
It's interesting to read the comments following the link, 90% characterize the article as illogical crap, and Murphy as a smug, non-talented writer.


So it fits in perfectly at BBTF.
   15. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: January 01, 2013 at 10:22 AM (#4335805)
So, Andy et al, if B/C are in/out, are you going to boycott?

Of course not. Once you've seen one plaque, you've seen them all, and the plaque room is about 1% of what interests me about the Hall of Fame.
   16. bobm Posted: January 01, 2013 at 10:49 AM (#4335817)
[4]
Now some members of the BBWAA clearly are treating known/alleged/suspected steroid use as the bright line that HoF/MLB's actions pretty clearly say it's not. Good ways to solve that issue are not obvious to me.


How about just clarifying the instructions on the BBWAA ballot? It's hard to do effectively, as shown by Jack Morris riding Game 7 into the HoF despite the instruction:

Automatic Elections — No automatic elections based on performances such as a batting average of .400 or more for one (1) year, pitching a perfect game or similar outstanding achievement shall be permitted.


You take a good stab at it in [4]:

Given their performance is among the very best of all-time, to exclude them based on character issues would be to say that their character flaws invalidated their on-field performance... for someone [...] whose performance might be deemed "excellent" but not "great" and certainly not "all-time great", [... it is] for a voter to decide that his character flaws push him onto the wrong side of the in/out line.


The HoF instructions could use some clarification of what is and is not an automatic disqualifier. Compare the HoF instructions--written by the HoF--with the MVP instructions written by the BBWAA.

HoF:
Voting — Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played. ...

Amendments — The Board of Directors of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc. reserves the right to revoke, alter or amend these rules at any time.


http://bbwaa.com/hof-elec-req/

MVP:
There seems to always be a debate about the definition of the MVP. What does the ballot say?

Dear Voter:

There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

1.  Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.

2.  Number of games played.

3.  General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.

4.  Former winners are eligible.

5.  Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot. Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.

Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.


http://bbwaa.com/voting-faq/

The MVP instructions are clearer for what is a less clear criterion "valuable."
   17. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: January 01, 2013 at 12:10 PM (#4335844)
Walt said it all above:

The exclusion of Bonds and Clemens would likely damage the legitimacy of the HoF in the eyes of some of its potential visitors but the inclusion of Bonds and Clemens would likely damage the legitimacy of the HoF in the eyes of some of its other potential visitors. And, in the end, the vast majority of its potential visitors won't care much one way or the other. If the HoF makes the decision in inclusion/exclusion then they completely piss off one of those two groups.


Or to put it another way, most people would only cheer if the revised guidelines favored their side of the steroid issue. Which is exactly why they're much better kept as they are, leaving the writers full leeway to vote their consciences on the matter. You can't resolve an issue this fundamentally subjective by administrative fiat.

   18. bobm Posted: January 01, 2013 at 12:49 PM (#4335865)
most people would only cheer if the revised guidelines favored their side of the steroid issue. Which is exactly why they're much better kept as they are, leaving the writers full leeway to vote their consciences on the matter. You can't resolve an issue this fundamentally subjective by administrative fiat.

Most writers do not seem to understand that the character clause is one criterion among several to be weighted, but not necessarily an automatic disqualifier. That is one reason why Bonds and Clemens get arguably wrongly lumped, from a performance standpoint, in with Sosa, McGwire and Palmiero. A clarification is not a fiat.
   19. bigglou115 Posted: January 01, 2013 at 01:17 PM (#4335887)
I think he missed at least half of the problem with the current HOF vote, which is that the writers don't want to think. Look at the history of the HOF, 300 Wins or 3000 hits or what have you and your in. The black ink works so well because the writers would rather just casually peruse a guy's stats than actually give serious consideration to a guy, and the only defensive specialists who make it are those that have had their defense practically canonized to the point of silliness. Now they're being asked to think about Bonds and Clemens and it makes their heads hurt. Look at the articles that get posted here everyday, about a quarter of the writers turn in thoughtful ballots (whether we agree with them or not) another half don't think (I'm ignoring steroids or I'll never vote for a cheater) and the last quarter do insane mental gymnastics to not think about the real issue (I give them a special category because they're the most amusing).
   20. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: January 01, 2013 at 01:36 PM (#4335896)
Most writers do not seem to understand that the character clause is one criterion among several to be weighted, but not necessarily an automatic disqualifier.

What you're doing here is conflating a writer's subjective opinion of how to weigh character with a misinterpretation of the guidelines. But they're not identical at all. Different writers have different views on the degree that steroid use weighs on character, and you can't eliminate one side's views by fiat without (as Walt puts it) pissing off the other side. The sooner you (and others) recognize that, the sooner you'll go on to more productive approaches to getting your favorites into the HoF.

That is one reason why Bonds and Clemens get arguably wrongly lumped, from a performance standpoint, in with Sosa, McGwire and Palmiero. A clarification is not a fiat.

Are you ever just going to admit that some writers, dumb as they may seem to you, view steroids as an automatic disqualifier? Or in your view, is that not even a permissible opinion?

Every suggestion I've seen about "clarifying" the character guidelines amounts to little more than a thinly veiled attempt to force some writers to vote for players they don't want to, which is why such proposals are never going to get anywhere.

Bottom line: Steroid users will likely be admitted at some point to the Hall of Fame, but that day is going to have to await a real shift in opinion on the subject of steroids. It's not going to be forced on the writers by people with an obvious agenda.
   21. Don Malcolm Posted: January 01, 2013 at 02:12 PM (#4335924)
Walt from #4:

However, for someone like Palmeiro whose performance might be deemed "excellent" but not "great" and certainly not "all-time great", it seems clearly within the bounds of what the writers are asked to consider for a voter to decide that his character flaws push him onto the wrong side of the in/out line.

Nope, sorry. An impoverished attempt at a "distinction" and rather lamentably bending over backwards to moralizers who've been unleashed by their own resentment of great athletes with bad attitudes.

If you can't measure the distortion or difference in performance, either in the time frame or across generations, then you can't use the numbers or suspicions about them to explicitly exclude anyone. That goes for Bonds and Clemens AND Sosa and McGwire and Palmeiro.

No one should get thrown under the bus. Otherwise it's nothing more or less than aping the practices of the U.S. Congress in its series of rotten compromises during the era of slavery.

Andy, in #20:

Bottom line: Steroid users will likely be admitted at some point to the Hall of Fame, but that day is going to have to await a real shift in opinion on the subject of steroids. It's not going to be forced on the writers by people with an obvious agenda.

Agreed. The passage of time is the only thing that will fully resolve this issue. When we can see what the actual vote percentages are for Bonds and Clemens, we'll have a yardstick with which to make an estimate about how long it will take for those two to end up in the HOF. If those two each get more than twice as many votes as McGwire, then you can figure that pressure will mount for enough of those who are on the fence to vote for them. The higher the percentage, the fewer years it will take.

A goodly amount of reassessment of the issue is clearly going on within the ranks of the BBWAA. But as with everything, it takes time for matters that involve the "drama queen" in all of us to shake out.
   22. Random Transaction Generator Posted: January 01, 2013 at 02:21 PM (#4335936)
I propose that Pete Rose would be pissed off if Bonds/Clemens were excluded from the HOF.

It would completely bury his lack of inclusion to the HOF. He'd become a side note in baseball history, instead of the (oft-claimed) "best player not in the HOF".
It would also hurt his chances of ever getting into the HOF, as everyone would recognize that his transgression is far worse than anything Bonds/Clemens did, and if people were going to let some of them into the HOF, Rose would definitely have to line up behind Bonds/Clemens.
   23. Vida Blew Over the Legal Limit Posted: January 01, 2013 at 07:48 PM (#4336347)
I enjoyed the article. Fine work and even handed. I find myself wondering why we give a damn. I'm here, so I'm a baseball nut, but the older I get, the less this kid of nonsense matters. It just doesn't. Journalistic navel lint. HOF-worthy, not HOF-worthy, who gives a ####.

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