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Matt Smith is the editor and lead writer at BaseballGB. An Oakland A's fan, Matt has been obsessed with baseball since 1998 and started writing about the sport in 2006.

A rough week for the Hall of Fame

We’ve reached the point in the MLB offseason when countdowns begin to feature more heavily in our minds.

From the number of days until pitchers and catchers report back to Spring Training to the number of days until the first Spring Training games and the the regular season itself; now we’ve left last year behind they seem to tick down all the more quickly.

It’s a shame  therefore that at the stage when we should be getting more excited by the day, we’ve just had a week that was so depressing.

The announcement of the next Hall of Fame class should be a time of celebration; instead, it was swamped by bitter arguments and negativity. There was a brief moment when happiness for new inductees Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas shone through, but it didn’t last long. Even Maddux’s rightful overwhelming election at the first time of asking left the focus on the 2.8% of voters who didn’t tick his name, rather than the 97.2% that did.

Debating the merits of players has always been a lively and, at times, vociferous activity in every sport and it’s popular because it’s normally so much fun; however, you’d have to be a masochist to have considered this year’s voting debate as anything resembling fun.

Plenty of columnists and bloggers have reflected on the debacle with thoughts on how the process could be improved, which would seem a more constructive development were it not dulled by the knowledge that the same reaction happens every year with little to show for it.

The harsh reality is that the problems are caused by something that can never be fixed: an era of alleged considerable drug-use during which no drug-testing was conducted. None of the possible solutions – voting for no one from the era, voting for everyone or voting based on rumours and gut instinct –  are particularly palatable. It’s a mess and it’s one of our own making.

Whether through active involvement or a decision to look the other way, everyone in baseball played a part, from the MLB Commissioner’s Office to the players, writers and fans.

Through sheer chance I happened to start following baseball in 1998 and whilst my natural cynicism made me look at bodies of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa with a raised eyebrow, I shrugged my shoulders and allowed myself to get swept up in the incredible drama and excitement created by their ‘run for 61’. Had I not, perhaps the spark of curiosity at this new sport would not have developed into my love of baseball that has provided so much enjoyment ever since.

When I weigh up all the factors – even that the lack of drug-testing gave a measure of quiet endorsement for those that wanted to follow that path – I still would feel uncomfortable at someone receiving the accolade of a Hall of Famer when they had deliberately tried to gain an advantage over others through drug-use. And yet, I recognise the hypocrisy of that position. Do I have the right to hold players to that standard now when I pushed aside suspicions and enjoyed their achievements at the time?

The other main ‘drug news’ of the week – Alex Rodriguez being suspended for the entire 2014 season – shows that the difficulties are not over yet either.

The case against Rodriguez – his admission of drug use from 2001 to 2003 and now this latest unseemly Biogenesis affair – has likely already sealed his Hall of Shame fate, but if the voters are cautious about the candidacies of the likes of Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza because they don’t have years of ‘clean’ drug tests to point to, how does that tally with the fact that Rodriguez has had nothing but ‘clean’ results since the full drug-testing programme came into effect in 2004?

On that basis, if you don’t want to risk voting for a potential ‘drug cheat’, it could be argued that you cannot vote for anyone anymore. Clearly that would be an untenable position so what’s left is either voting people in irrespective of any drug-use doubts or taking a stance on every individual case based, in the vast majority of cases, on nothing more than rumour and suspicion.

With those being the options available, you can expect the Hall of Fame voting process to be an annual heart-wrenching argument for years to come.

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One Response to “A rough week for the Hall of Fame”

  1. Joe Cooter #

    Rhe whole excuse these writers are using to ‘justify’ keeping players out of the hall is the fact that their use of ‘performance enhancing drugs’ constitutes a lack of character because theyre were willing to ‘cheat.’ To my mind that is simply a double standard since the hall of fame is full of players who were willing to cheat and had bad characters. If you were to apply the character clause to every one who actually was elected to the hall of fame, very few would actually get into the hall. Very few players would get in.

    Cap Anson and Ty Cobb would be ruled out because they were both Racists. Cobb assualted a african american fan in the stands while Anson is single handedly responsible for the colour barrier when he refused to take the field against Moses Fleetwood Walker in an exhibition game in Syracuse, New York.

    John McGraw associated with shady characters and hung out in gambling halls in New York City. In addition, he showed a lack of sportsmenship on the fiield as a manager as he treated Umpires with disdain with behaviour that would have made both Billy Martin and Earl Weaver blush.

    Babe Ruth, the games greatest all around player, would be disqualified because he cheated on his wife, and used illegal drugs during the prohibition era when Alcohol was an illegal drug.

    Other players were noted for their use of anphetamines, which can also be considered a performance enhancer. These would include Willie Mays, Hank Arron, Mickey Mantle and Mike Schmidt amongst others. In addition, Barry Bonds failed a drug test when he tested positive for anphetamines.

    Stil other players openly cheated when they doctored the baseball as was the case with Whitey Ford and Gaylord Perry, who was just an average pitcher until he started doctoring a baseball and became a star.

    All these player have had questionable character and should be kept out of the Hall if you use a strict interpretation of the character clause, otherwise you are simply using the character clause to impose your own moral values on the fans,which I don’t agree with at all.

    To my mind, you either put the players in from the steroid era or you take the players that came before them out because you simply can not pick and choose what character flaws you are going to over look and which forms of cheating that you are going to ignore. TO my mind, Cheating is Cheating and still wrong regardless of whether you use a bottle of vasaline, a piece of sandpaper, or needle because it is still cheating and you can not dismiss one form of cheating as gamesmenship while saying another form is worse than gambling. It is still wrong no matter how you go about it.

    Yet for some strange reason, many of the people who are willing to over look Gaylord Perry’s cheating aren’t willing to overlook Mark McGwire’s cheating. It’s a bit of a hypocracy if you ask me.

    January 18, 2014 at 11:19 pm Reply

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