A whole generation of Hall of Fame candidates is being subjected to judgments of "integrity" ... and many of them are found wanting by the voters. Of course, this is almost entirely unprecedented.
MLB.com's Terence Moore is already giving us a preview of his 2013 ballot ... and beyond. For 2013, Moore is absolutely not going to vote for Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, and is willing to consider Curt Schilling, Mike Piazza, and Craig Biggio (big of him, as all three are highly qualified). He's also going to vote for holdovers Fred McGriff, Tim Raines, and Lee Smith (no word, though, on Jeff Bagwell, who happens to have been better than all three of those guys).
Then, after I fax my ballot to the secretary of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, I'll begin contemplating the 2014, 2015 and 2016 Hall of Fame ballots. They'll feature the likes of Greg Maddux, Ken Griffey Jr., Trevor Hoffman and Frank Thomas. I'll smile at the thought, because those ballots also will be easy to fill out.
You know, just like the one in 2013, but for a different reason.
Few -- if any -- voters will look at the Madduxes and the Griffeys on those future ballots, then shake their heads and question the integrity or character of those players' baseball careers. I say that, because, according to the rules for Hall of Fame voting, you must consider the integrity and the character of the candidates.
The Madduxes and the Griffeys will satisfy that ethics clause for Cooperstown without a problem, and here's something else to remember: They also could play a little.
There are a lot of things about this whole discussion that make me uncomfortable, but perhaps what makes me most uncomfortable is how quickly so many writers' brains shut down immediately upon seeing the word steroids.
Herein you'll find the "ethics clause" to which Moore refers:
5. 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.
According to Terence Moore and many others, if the word steroids appears next to your name, you have utterly failed the integrity test. Thus disqualifying yourself for the Hall of Fame.
And friends, that is not right.
Let us imagine a player named Joe who spent most of two decades in the major leagues. In all that time, he never got into any legal trouble. Never fought with a teammate; in fact, was regarded as a team leader wherever he went. Never jogged to first base on a routine ground ball, or forgot how many outs there were. Never got busted for drunk driving, or cheated on his wife despite literally thousands of powerful temptations.
When Joe was 36, though, he strained a hamstring. It was August, and his team was fighting for the Wild Card. His team was counting on him; the fans were counting on him. The recovery process wasn't going so well, and someone Joe trusted suggested that he might be able to get back into the lineup a week or two quicker if he rubbed some white stuff on his thigh, twice a day for a few days. Yeah, Joe knew it might be technically against baseball's rules, just like spitballs. He also knew that millions of American men were using steroids and hGH for less important reasons.
After a week, Joe was feeling well enough to play. He stopped using the white stuff, and thought it might have sped the recovery process by a few days but of course he couldn't know for sure. Joe played for another three seasons before finally losing his battle with the birthdays. He never had occasion to use the white stuff, or anything else, again.
Eighteen years in the major leagues. One week of cheating, solely with the aim of getting back into the lineup and doing his job. In Terrence Moore's book, Joe has failed the integrity test. Hasn't enough character. Or not enough, anyway, for the hallowed halls of the Hall of Fame.
Here's what I think. With all due respect, I think that the great majority of the writers who disqualify Hall of Fame candidates based on the "integrity and character" clause in the voting rules have not considered the implications of their position. Have not begun to consider the implications of their position.
Mickey Mantle is beloved by most of the baseball writers of Terence Moore's generation. And then of course there's Bob Costas, who loves Mickey Mantle as much as anyone and has vociferously criticized any players who have been tainted by steroids.
But integrity and character? Really? Even leaving aside Mickey Mantle's thousands of infidelities and the fact that he essentially turned all of his sons into alcoholics and drug addicts, there's the little matter of him abusing his body throughout his career. Mantle is famous for arriving at the ballpark with hangovers. In fact, those stories are often told as jokes; it's so funny that a well-paid superstar routinely wasn't in condition to play his best. Hilarious stuff.
Just so we're straight on this, though ... If you routinely drink yourself into a stupor and show up for work half-drunk, you've got more integrity and character than if you do whatever you can to play as well as you can, within the established norms of your contemporary colleagues?
I'm just wondering. Does anyone really care to stack up Mickey Mantle's integrity and character next to, say, Jeff Bagwell's? Or for that matter, Mark McGwire's? Or Rafael Palmeiro's? Baseball players have been exhibiting monumental deficiencies of integrity and character for well more than a century, and it's just now that Hall of Fame voters are going to take those words seriously?
I believe that in the long history of the Hall of Fame, until about five years ago just one player had been kept out of the Hall of Fame because of his integrity and character: Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was complicit in throwing the 1919 World Series. One player. And today, Terence Moore and a great number of his colleagues propose to keep a large percentage of an entire generation of players out of the Hall of Fame.
For baseball writers like Terence Moore, life is wonderfully simple. Everything is on, or off. Yes, or no. Zero, or one. Black, or white. There is no room for nuance, no shades of gray. The word appears next to a man's name, and the thinking stops. How comforting that must be. How terribly comforting.