Just get rid of the character clause

Obviously I don’t agree with the conclusions Ken Rosenthal reaches in his Hall of Fame coulmn, at least with respect to steroid users (outside of that, his ballot is pretty much exquisite), but it’s more considered than most of the people who are going to withhold their vote from Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will be, so it’s worth a read on its own terms. Still, there are a couple of points at which I think the line of reasoning that Rosenthal employs does more to disprove his position more than anything, particularly this bit on the character clause;

The Hall of Fame specifically instructs us that 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.”

You may disagree with selective application of the “character clause.” You may believe that the clause should be eliminated entirely. And you may think that a player’s performance matters far more than his character.

All that is fine, but the clause exists, and it allows voters not only to take a subjective view of candidates, but also to apply a rather wide lens.

I think Rosenthal is really glossing over the point about selectivity here, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. I find it to be silly, but I suppose you could think that “cheating” by using steroids is worse than by, say, doctoring a ball, or that using other drugs isn’t as bad as using steroids.

The real problem is that, as far as I can tell, the character clause has previously been invoked approximately never. It’s merely something that a certain segment of writers latched on to in order to justify their crusade against Barry Bonds players who used “PE”DOTTUBHA* and had the nerve to break records held by players idolized by 10 year old Bob Costas. And I suppose you can argue that that’s permissibble under the rules as well, but that would put you in a rather strange philosophical position. The Hall of Fame already includes cheaters, drug users, vile racists, and Ty Cobb, but it’s players using steroids post-1997 that’s finally going to move us to take the “character clause” seriously as a criteria for choosing whom to vote for?

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t want to be the guy who says that Barry Bonds just isn’t good enough for the club that includes Cap Anson.

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

25 thoughts on “Just get rid of the character clause

  1. Scott

    The character clause should be used to get Mattingly elected :)

    • Of course not, the character clause will only ever be used to exclude people not to include them. /sarcasm

  2. Increase the font size. Quadruple.

    On character, Bonds and Clemens could be excluded if they never used steroids, etc. The were nasty SOB. And they could be excluded for being liars … about steroids.

    They should have to wait one day each day that they lied, my Pete Rose rule. Rose needs to wait 14 years before being considered for the HoF. Then rejected on character.

  3. mscott

    I think we should exclude from the HOF everyone who played in or was willing to play in a league where blacks and Hispanics were banned – their accomplishments are lessened as they faced inferior competition and they were clearly morally bankrupt. Overt racist misanthropes like Ty Cobb can be banned more than once!

    Next, rescind or prevent membership from anyone who ever used a spitball, greaseball, sandpaper or had Elston Howard sharpen a shinguard. Ditto to anyone who ever stole a sign, corked a bat, held up a glove containing a ball he knew was trapped or faked being hit by a pitch (sorry, Derek).

    No admission for drunks, cocaine users, hitters of women or hitters on women other than their wives.

    Punish everyone who used or might have used a PE substance! No steroid users, HGH users, Users of greenies (some blogger wag dismissed that argument stating greenie usage was like having an extra cup of coffee – clearly someone who has either: A. Never had an amphetamine, or B. Has access to coffee that I am extremely envious about), 5 Hour Energy, caffeine, ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen, NyQuil, Ricola, Ludens, chicken soup or cortisone (note that telltale “one” at the end of that word) need apply.

    Please note that it is not necessary to have been caught doing or have admitted doing any or all of the above things – if even one person out of the 300 million+ population of this home of the greatest of all games SUSPECTS that you MIGHT have been guilty of doing them or not reporting someone else doing them – you are still disqualified.

    So you see I’m not radical, just a Small Hall™ guy:

    Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Muhammad. Maybe Gandhi and Mother Teresa by the Veteran’s Committee.

    • Except you can't put up a plaque for Muhammad with his picture on it. And the plaque for Jesus should be a velvet painting.

  4. ProfRobert

    I'm going to take issue with the Cap Anson comparison because it's essentially the reverse of the Rabbit Maranville argument: Rabbit Maranville is in the Hall of Fame; therefore, everyone better than Rabbit Maranville should be in the Hall of Fame. Pretty much everyone agrees that Maranville's election was a mistake and that electing everyone who is Maranville+ would be a bigger mistake. By the same token, creating a moral floor of Cap Anson effectively reads "character" out of the definition. And yes, I am willing to go so far as to say that Cap Anson's role in preventing blacks from playing in the major leagues is sufficiently vile and disgusting that I would not vote for him for the Hall of Fame if he were up for election today. I also agree with you that nothing Bonds, etc., did was as horrible as Anson (or Cobb or other racists of that era). I think eventually they should and will be in the Hall of Fame. But not this year. They can wait a while.

    • BrienJackson

      I don't think that's totally true. Without getting into the "if X is in…" argument (which incidentally I don't think anyone really takes seriously), my point was merely that no one has ever taken the character clause seriously. So in order to justify taking it so now, you either have to explicitly argue that juicers are worse, from a character standpoint, than racists like Anson, or you're just completely distorting the historical record with such a drastic departure from precedent.

      • ProfRobert

        No, no, no. Anson was elected in 1939 when "separate-but-equal" was the law of the land and his role in establishing the color line might actually have been viewed as a positive in some corners. Maranville was elected in 1954 shortly after he died, which may have helped focus the voters on him. The analogy is sound because *today* we recognize Anson for his defects of character, and the fact that someone is morally superior to him is not an argument that such someone should be in the Hall of Fame. We also recognize *today* Maranville's defects of statistics without the emotion of his passing, and the fact that someone is statistically superior to him is likewise not an argument that such someone should be in the Hall of Fame.

        • BrienJackson

          Meh, once you reach the point of arguing about the character clause in terms of historical relativism, I think you've more or less conceded that it's foolish.

  5. chris

    Brien, great points abound. Too many of these haters of the Steroid era conveniently forget that players in the 70's and 80's were using speed and other drugs that arguably helped just as much as steroids or HGH. Not to mention no one knows who used 'roids back then either. The height of the mound and distance from home plate have changed, dead ball era, corked bats, spitballs, greaseballs, etc have been a part of baseball history. Some of the greatest hitters hit many homers off pitchers with dead arms in the 8th or 9th inning of games before closers and specialists. Do we discount that as well? Racists, wife beaters and others are in the hall as well. The idea that we punish players for using something that was LEGAL in baseball is asinine. Baseball had no rule preventing Bonds from doping. Period. The whining about "well it was illegal under the law" is dumb. So was racism, cocaine, uppers, wife beating, etc.

  6. LarryAtIIATMS

    I don't care about the HOF. It's a museum. What gets exhibited there is up to the museum directors. I wouldn't pop a blood vessel because Andy Warhol is exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art, even if I thought he was a hack.

    But for those who care about the HOF: once upon a time, it made sense for the HOF voters to be experts in who was great at baseball … because, you know, the HOF was supposed to be the Museum of Great Baseball Players. Now, the HOF is the Museum of Great Baseball Players Who Never Took The Wrong Sort of Performance-Enhancing Drugs. This argues for at least 50% of the HOF voters to be experts on performance-enhancing drugs. So, my proposal is to dump half of the current crew of baseball writer-voters, and replace them with scientists, lab technicians and Victor Conte.

    There! I finally said something constructive about the HOF.

  7. brian

    Again, certain people get all snarky on this subject and end up being dumber than the people they bash… happens all the time on the internet but still stupid…

    If a player is on the border anyway, and they are widely suspected, maybe even factually known to have taken roids… it's not about playing God or whatever but I don't think that player should necessarily be rewarded for doing the wrong thing with this particular honor…

    what happened on the field, happened.. the money was made, the applause took place.. the numbers all count… but making the Hall of Fame isn't a right, IT IS AN HONOR… in some cases, and honor not earned

  8. BrienJackson

    Conversely, I might point out that if you stack Palmeiro and McGwire next to each other and note that, in many respects, they're polar opposite cases, it might cause you to rethink any asumptions you have about the effects of steroids on performance. I might do that, but I suspect I'd just be wasting my time expecting that sort of introspection from anyone who thinks they can curve career statistics for a "PE"DOTTUBHA effect.

  9. friend

    Mistakes made in the past should not be used to justify making mistakes in the future. The future should be viewed as an opportunity to make fewer mistakes.

  10. I wonder what would happen if the Hall instituted a voting structure for removing players from the Hall? Would these inconsistencies mentioned above (less than stellar stats, character issues, cheaters, etc.) be bounced? Or would we just have to come up with new reasons to keep out PED suspects?

    • Derpy

      I enjoy the idea of capping to Hall of Fame to 100 players so anyone who enters has to kick someone else out.

      • ooh, shades of "the HoF meets Thunderdome." Two men enter, one man leaves!

  11. tommydee

    I think fans are very naive as to who is using. I think the percentage is really high, that players sit around in their posh clubhouses and discuss openly cycles when the Media aren't around.

    Just declare a "new modern era", and vote players in based on their on-field accomplishments.

  12. Derpy

    Oh please, you should know enough about Ty Cobb to know the stories about him are all false. How can you sink to the level of perpetuating lies in order to try to make a point?

    • You mean he really didn't know how to bunt?!?

      • Derpy

        The "biographer" who wrote his autobiography and then later the second "biography" that made everyone think he was this terrible monster was charged by the FBI for forging thousands of documents regarding Ty Cobb, including a seemingly valuable diary kept in the hall of fame. He forged all of the documents he referenced in the autobiography, and hundreds of other autographs and whatnot. He was a forger and a crook and he abused Ty Cobb's legacy to make a quick buck.

  13. Dan

    I'm iffy about the steroids guys making the hall of fame. But It has nothing to do with the character clause. The HOF is based on their stats and ability, they cheated by doing steroids. All of their stats and success at baseball is in doubt because they cheated. The character clause is irrelevant to the determination on if they should be in the HOF if their entire career and ability to play with out cheating is in doubt.

    You can make arguments that everyone was cheating so it shouldn't matter or that there are cheaters in the HOF who corked bats or doctored the baseball–these are fair arguments. But they have to do with the double standard for steroid cheaters. Not the character clause.

    • Dan

      With that in mind Bonds–who would have likely been a HOFer with out cheating–would have a better chance of being on my ballot than McGwire who would not have hit 500 hrs with out chemical help–considering his whole candidacy is based on that magic number. I fully acknowledge the difficulty in predicting what a player would have done with out cheating, which is why I'm not definitively saying I'd include (or exclude) either, both or neither.

  14. DJ JD (Jeff)

    So, if what Derpy says is true, and I am not questioning his comments because I don't know anything about that one way or another, then we ALL have character flaws, every one of us, including writers. But because MLB players are on the big stage and their entire life is on display for all of us to see, we know everything about them. But, what do we know about those that get to vote on these players? Are they without sin? If MLB players are to be held to a higher standard (as, really, we all should be), then we should know every inch of the lives of those who get to vote, and hold them to a higher standard as well. If I was a voter and one time in the past I got denied a brief interview with a player I am now voting on, and held that moment against him and didn't vote for him, solely because of that, is that right? I say, put all the data into a computer and let the machine spit out the winners. I guess then it would be based on those that get to set the computer's perimeters. Since MLB turned a blind eye to all of this at first until pressure got to such a level they had no choice but to decide to do something about it, we should accept this part of baseball as just that, a part of baseball and allow those persons not found guilty of illegal wrong-doing into the HOF solely based on performance. I agree with LarryAtIIATMS, at the end of the day, the HOFame is really, just a museum. A place that documents and puts on display, for all the world to see, famous MLB players. You can gain fame for bad things too, you know. Isn't it really all just a matter of degrees?

  15. Bud

    Great Hall of Fame: Leading hitter, home run king and about the greatest pitcher are not in it.

    So, I guess we can use a little deductive reasoning and come up with the following: Baseball turns the most talented people into gambling and drug using addicts. Therefore, ban baseball.

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