And that lesson is: sportswriters have no clue when it comes to ethical analysis, or any other kind of analysis, really.
Tomorrow the results of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame voting will be announced, and those former stars receiving at least 75% of the vote will be officially enshrined as immortals. Every year before the steroid era, the voting was preceded by weird arguments that made no sense, like the one about whether a former player should be a “first time electee.” Some writers would concede that a given player was great enough for the Hall, but not vote for him because “he wasn’t good enough to get in on the first ballot.” This was, and is, ridiculous, and unfair. The question is, “Was this player great enough to deserve enshrinement, when the standards are unchanging?” It’s a yes or no question. “Maybe next year” is not a valid answer.
Thus I suppose that it should be no surprise that these same clods, faced with some really difficult ethical lines to draw in the wake of the so-called steroid era, show themselves to be not merely dunces, but ethics dunces as well. I just heard a sportswriter, Marty Noble, tell a baseball talk show that he won’t vote for any player about whom there is any question whatsoever regarding whether he cheated with steroids, including doubts based on rumors, whispering campaigns, looks, suspicions and drug tests. But he still voted for some players, he says. Well, that’s just wrong, by his own standards—he can’t be 100% sure about anyone. He also said that while he can vote for up to ten players, and agreed that there are more than ten players this year who have strong Hall credentials, he’s only voting for three. Why? Because, he says, the induction ceremony is too long.
Yes, he’s an idiot.
Then there is Murray Chass, once the New York Times’ baseball columnist. He has announced that he won’t vote for Houston Astro great Craig Biggio, generally regarded as one of the strongest Hall candidates on the ballot, because “a credible source” told him that Biggio was a steroid user. There is no substantiated, credible named source who says this, but here is Chass, besmirching a player’s reputation on the basis of a cowardly sniper who won’t make his accusation public or give his victim a chance to defend himself. Chass is not, however, unusual: he appears to be the norm.
One sportswriter has stated that he won’t vote for everyone’s #1 candidate, pitcher Greg Maddox, because he played in the steroid era, even though he is about as likely a candidate for past steroid abuse use as I am. This is sort of a Children of Israel approach, in which an entire generation has to wander in the wilderness to cleanse the race of the transgressions of a few. Many writers won’t vote for Jeff Bagwell, whose career should make him a slam dunk Hall of Famer, because he looked like he might have used steroids. Mike Piazza, the greatest power-hitting catcher of all time, has been permanently smeared by a sportswriter who reported that he had back acne, which is sometimes a steroid side-affect…or, in the alternative, just back acne. Dan Shaugnessey, a Boston scribe, said that he hadn’t voted for outfielder Tim Raines and DH Edgar Martinez because he ” never thought of them as a Hall of Famers .” Well, hardly ever—Shaugnessey put Raines on his ballot last year.
He did get one thing very right, saying:
“Rule 5 states: “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.’’ Got that? Integrity, sportsmanship, and character. Now I don’t know your thoughts, but my position would be that there is probably no group on this planet less equipped to pass judgment on folks’ character than the membership of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA).”
No kidding. From the depths of inanity represented by Noble and Chass, there is the over-praised Joe Posnanski, who because he is more analytical than the average sportswriter, understands statistics better than most, and writes articles longer than the average Masters thesis, is worshiped like a god. He proved his incapacity by announcing that uber-cheater Barry Bonds is on his ballot (the fact that you aren’t qualified to evaluate integrity, sportsmanship, and character doesn’t mean you are allowed to ignore them, Joe) and made an argument this absurd:
“….Had more intentional walks than Roberto Clemente or Andre Dawson had TOTAL walks. Based purely on what he did on the field, Bonds is one of the five greatest players who ever lived”
Remember, this guy is supposed to be the crème de la crème of baseball intellectuals. Bonds had so many intentional walks because pitchers knew they were pitching to a juiced-up mutation who transcended human limitations, for heaven’s sake. You can’t cite credentials for Bonds that are undeniably products of his cheating, and the intentional walks total is one of the most obvious. And the “Based purely on what he did on the field” qualification is a cowardly, intellectually dishonest dodge. Players like Pete Rose and Joe Jackson have been banned from the Hall of Fame for what they did off the field, and what Bonds did, and got away with, arguably harmed baseball more than either of them. Bonds’ cheating off the field enabled many, if not most, of his on-the-field accomplishments—Posnanski is dealing with the central issues in Bonds case, cheating, lying and doing harm to the game, by ignoring them. Brilliant, Joe!
Presumably, three or four deserving names will be announced tomorrow, and that will be another lesson: as with U.S. elections, a collection of confused, biased, none-too-bright, ethically-muddled participants pool and cancel out their respective weaknesses and misconceptions to arrive at a result that, over-all, is surprisingly wise more often than not.
It’s a miracle.