Ethics Hero: Baseball Great Joe Morgan

The baseball writers are filling out their Hall of Fame ballots, and Hall of Fame member Joe Morgan authored a much-needed letter on behalf of his fellow honorees to urge voters to keep steroid cheats out of the Hall. He wrote—on Hall of Fame stationary, so it is clear that this was both personal and official:

The Hall of Fame is Special – A Letter from Joe Morgan

Over the years, I have been approached by many Hall of Fame members telling me we needed to do  something to speak out about the possibility of steroid users entering the Hall of Fame. This issue  has been bubbling below the surface for quite a while. 

I hope you don’t mind if I bring to your attention what I’m hearing. 

Please keep in mind I don’t speak for every single member of the Hall of Fame. I don’t know how  everyone feels, but I do know how many of the Hall of Famers feel. 

I, along with other Hall of Fame Baseball players, have the deepest respect for you and all the writers who vote to decide who enters Baseball’s most hallowed shrine, the National Baseball Hall of Fame. For some 80 years, the men and women of the BBWAA have cast ballots that have made the Hall into the wonderful place it is. 

I think the Hall of Fame is special. There is a sanctity to being elected to the Hall. It is revered. It is  the hardest Hall of Fame to enter, of any sport in America. 

But times change, and a day we all knew was coming has now arrived. Players who played during  the steroid era have become eligible for entry into the Hall of Fame. 

The more we Hall of Famers talk about this – and we talk about it a lot – we realize we can no longer  sit silent. Many of us have come to think that silence will be considered complicity. Or that fans  might think we are ok if the standards of election to the Hall of Fame are relaxed, at least relaxed  enough for steroid users to enter and become members of the most sacred place in Baseball. We don’t want fans ever to think that. 

We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They  cheated. Steroid users don’t belong here. 

Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League  Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in. Those  are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right. 

Now, I recognize there are players identified as users on the Mitchell Report who deny they were  users. That’s why this is a tricky issue. Not everything is black and white – there are shades of gray  here. It’s why your job as a voter is and has always been a difficult and important job. I have faith in  your judgment and know that ultimately, this is your call. 

But it still occurs to me that anyone who took body-altering chemicals in a deliberate effort to cheat  the game we love, not to mention they cheated current and former players, and fans too, doesn’t  belong in the Hall of Fame. By cheating, they put up huge numbers, and they made great players  who didn’t cheat look smaller by comparison, taking away from their achievements and consideration for the Hall of Fame. That’s not right. 

And that’s why I, and other Hall of Famers, feel so strongly about this.  

It’s gotten to the point where Hall of Famers are saying that if steroid users get in, they’ll no longer  come to Cooperstown for Induction Ceremonies or other events. Some feel they can’t share a stage  with players who did steroids. The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame  too. The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will  divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear. 

Section 5 of the Rules for Election states, “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.” 

I care about how good a player was or what kind of numbers he put up; but if a player did steroids,  his integrity is suspect; he lacks sportsmanship; his character is flawed; and, whatever contribution  he made to his team is now dwarfed by his selfishness. 

Steroid use put Baseball through a tainted era where records were shattered. “It was a steroidal farce,” wrote Michael Powell in the New York Times. It is no accident that those records held up for decades until the steroid era began, and they haven’t been broken since the steroid era ended.  Sadly, steroids worked. 

Dan Naulty was a journeyman pitcher in the late 1990s who admitted he took steroids, noting that his fastball went from 87 to 96. He told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci in 2012, “I was a full-blown  cheater, and I knew it. You didn’t need a written rule. I was violating clear principles that were laid down within the rules. I understood I was violating implicit principles.” 

The Hall of Fame has always had its share of colorful characters, some of whom broke or bent society’s rules in their era. By today’s standards, some might not have gotten in. Times change and  society improves. What once was accepted no longer is. 

But steroid users don’t belong here. What they did shouldn’t be accepted. Times shouldn’t change  for the worse. 

Steroid users knew they were taking a drug that physically improved how they played. Taking  steroids is a decision. It’s the deliberate act of using chemistry to change how hard you hit and throw by changing what your body is made of. 

I and other Hall of Famers played hard all our lives to achieve what we did. I love this game and am  proud of it. I hope the Hall of Fame’s standards won’t be lowered with the passage of time.  For over eighty years, the Hall of Fame has been a place to look up to, where the hallowed halls  honor those who played the game hard and right. I hope it will always remain that way. 

Sincerely, 

Joe Morgan

Good.

I agree in every respect.

Joe had to know the cynical among the journalists, the young and drug-loving as well as those who can run down all the invalid rationalizations to support voting for Barry Bonds or Manny Ramirez (to name my candidates for the worst of the worst) would attack him, and indeed he was immediately attacked. I’m hoping that the next volley from the players in the Hall will be a pledge to boycott the museum and even ask to have their plaques taken down in steroid cheats find their way into Cooperstown,

Here was typical response from a steroid-enabling writer, Jeff Passan, who announced that Morgan’s letter caused him to give up his vote for the Hall. (Again, good; one down, and about 75 Bonds voters to go…). Passan wrote in part,

“If, by sacred place, the Hall means one in which racists, wife beaters, drunks, gamblers and purveyors of manifold moral turpitude otherwise are celebrated, well, Cooperstown is a shining beacon of divinity set upon a hill of hypocrisy.”

Oh, go tear down a statue of Thomas Jefferson, you ass.

This is the standard “everybody does it” opening shot by the fans of Bonds, Roger Clemens and others.  Except that the misconduct that should matter in a baseball Hall of Fame honor is conduct related to baseball, and everyone has always understood and accepted that, until ethics dunces like Passon started to desperately find a way to justify admitting cheaters

Passan writes,

“The Hall sees the rising tide of support for steroid users among writers who increasingly believe that denying entry to the best players of an era would amount to whitewashing history.”

The watermark of a bona fide Ethics Dunce: a cheater is by definition NOT one of the “best player.” Good players don’t cheat. Cheating makes them bad players, unsportsmanlike players.

Passan writes,

“Either Joe Morgan doesn’t realize steroid users already have entered the Hall of Fame and is thus fundamentally disqualified from writing a letter like this because it would be positively embarrassing to let someone so ignorant speak on behalf of such a cause, or he is lying and obfuscating. The latter is likelier.”

OK, wise guy, who are the current Hall members who used steroids? Name them. You won’t, because you know you can’t prove it, and you might get sued. Sure, it’s possible one or two slipped in. Prove it, and they can be kicked right out, too. This is another popular argument, and the equivalent of arguing that if the justice system can’t guarantee that every convicted defendant will be guilty, it shouldn’t imprison anyone.

Let’s assume, arguendo, that a couple of cheats slipped in. That’s better than three. It’s a lot better than ten. It’s infinitely better than two plus Barry Bonds.

I dealt with this rationalization for polluting the Hall here.

Passan makes the “greenies argument”, which was late to the debate and only recently adopted because the other defenses of the steroid cheats were so lame. Baseball players openly used illegally prescribed amphetamines, with the knowledge of the clubs, for decades. This helped battle fatigue, and in that respect may have boosted performance in unmeasurable ways. Speed is not comparable to steroids and other PEDs, nor was its status in the game similar. No players regarded it as cheating. There isn’t a shred of evidence that any player’s statistics were inflated by greenies. No non-greenie using player failed to make a roster because another player was surpassing his performance by taking amphetamines.  If everybody, literally everybody or close to it, is using a stimulant and it is considered in the culture as standard practice, then it cannot be called cheating. There is no net competitive advantage, unlike a hitter like Bonds suddenly looking like the The Incredible Hulk and adding 10 yards or more to his fly balls.

Finally, and predictably, Passan attacks the character clause quoted by Morgan in his letter, calling it  “the so-called character clause, the most farcical of the Hall of Fame’s voting tenets, one ignored for generations.”

Ignored by writers like YOU, Jeff, which is one more reason you should give up your vote. I bet you’d be one of those guys who calls me a “so-called ethicist.” You don’t know what character is, much less how important it is. Being a drunk isn’t a mark of bad character. Gambling isn’t either, unless one gambles on baseball, like Pete Rose. Players whose attitudes and biases mirrored the time and the culture in which they lived cannot be punished later by an enlightened public that  has had the benefit of  experience and events that those players did not. That provision isn’t farcical, it is essential. It is inspirational, and sets a standard for the game. That’s what Morgan’s letter does as well.

Bravo to Joe Morgan and the Hall for responsibly opposing the ethics rot writers like Jeff Passan would see flourish in baseball, like it has in football, basketball, and society itself.

22 Comments

Filed under Character, Ethics Heroes, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Journalism & Media, Sports, U.S. Society

22 responses to “Ethics Hero: Baseball Great Joe Morgan

  1. Joe Fowler

    I’m very glad that Joe Morgan has made an unequivocal statement about this. I wonder how Passan and other baseball writers would feel about a plagiarist winning a Pulitzer for journalism? A possible silver lining here is that maybe they’ll shut up about Pete Rose, while focused on this.

    • Yet Passan still plays the Rose card, claiming that Morgan is a hypocrite because he supports Rose for the Hall. Rose broke a third rail rule; he never cheated; no player in the game’s history earned his way into Hall on the field like Rose did. Morgan, wrongly but like most players, I’d guess, feels that Rose’s post playing gambling and post career misconduct in non-baseball matters shouldn’t stop him from being recognized in the Hall. However, Rose and Bonds are not equivalent in any way, and I could see someone advocating for either one and not the other. They would be wrong, but not hypocritical.

      • I can’t prove it, but my sense is that Rose had a substantial, vocal, but minority group of Hall of Famers in his corner for quite a while, but that it’s faded to a handful with successive revelations.

      • Joe Fowler

        Morgan’s experience as a player surely influences his thoughts on Rose. I disagree with him, but can understand his perspective. I shouldn’t be surprised that Passan frames a false equivalency with Rose and Bonds. I feel some anguish, and anger, (Jeez Pete! Horses, every NCAA sport, the NFL, the NBA, greyhounds, freaking hockey…and you need to bet on MLB games??) about Rose, I have no sorrow for Bonds. My concern for the steroid era players is that HOF level players be very carefully assessed before they are labeled as users.

  2. Thank you for posting this, Jack. It encapsulates the essential ethical virtues: arete, character, courage. Put another way, by another philosopher: “The only thing that is good in itself is a good will.” It is so difficult to live up to those who can abide by these Aristotelian and Kantian ideals. Those who do and still achieve excellence in their fields are true heroes. Not cheating is an essential element in that. And Joe Morgan — he is a Mensch [another pithy view of ethics: “be a Mensch.”]

    A nice thing to read about over an otherwise bleak [not weather wise, at least here] Thanksgiving, with all the ugliness around us.

  3. A little background: 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America are the Hall of Fame electorate. 75% of the approximately 450 voters must vote for a player for him to be inducted. There’s a history, though, that if players (who can stay on the ballot for ten years) get to around 60% they start to pick up on-the-fence votes and move strongly toward 75%.

    Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are arguably the greatest player and pitcher, respectively, in history, but both come with steroids issues. In last year’s balloting (their fifth year on the ballot), they both took about 54% of the vote. That was up from around 45% in their fourth year, and 35-37% in their first three years. I think the perception is that with another advance this year similar to the last two, their eventual inductions become probable.

    Some of the “momentum” that Bonds and Clemens are riding was brought about by the Hall itself. Two years, the Hall disenfranchised any writers who hadn’t covered baseball in the last ten years. This resulted in the electorate shrinking by about 100 voters, virtually none of whom voted for players with steroids issues. Thus, Bonds and Clemens saw their percentages rise, while actually losing a handful of votes.

    Last year’s gains by Bonds and Clemens also might have been influenced by Hall of Fame action. Early in the voting period, a special committee of the Hall that focuses on executives voted to induct former commissioner Bud Selig, who was commissioner during the entirety of the steroids era, including the record-breaking home run seasons of Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa. It seems some writers consider it hypocritical not to vote for players when the man with the ultimate responsibility for “the best interests of baseball” failed to stop the rot in the game and was honored, anyway.

    • You are correct, sir, in all respects. I wrote about the Bud Selig fiasco here: https://ethicsalarms.com/2016/12/09/bud-selig-is-the-barry-bonds-of-baseball-commissioners-so-why-was-he-just-elected-to-the-hall-of-fame/

      and concluded…

      He should not be in the Hall of Fame. Selig belongs outside looking in, and required to buy a ticket for admission along with Barry Bonds and the other cheats he allowed to defile the sport. The position of Commissioner was established to ensure baseball’s integrity after the 1919 World Series scandal shook the public’s faith in its National Pastime. It is disgraceful that baseball would now enshrine a commissioner who intentionally permitted that next greatest scar on the game’s integrity to be inflicted.

      But the argument that admitting Bud justifies admitting Bonds et al. makes my head hurt. Is “hey, we’ve gone this far, might as well go the whole way!” on the Rationalizations list? If not, I have to add it.

      • It’s an interesting situation, because if the “never” group turns out to be 30% of the remaining electorate, all the momentum in the world won’t matter. They could sit at 70% for several years before falling off the ballot.

  4. Glenn Logan

    The Big Red Machine of the 1970’s made me a serious baseball fan, interest which later waned for various reasons, including changes in the game and the rise of others.

    From where I lived in Kentucky, it was a short 70 minute drive to the ball park, were we used to go occasionally on weekends to watch the Reds. To this day, those are the only MLB games I have ever seen in person.

    Joe Morgan was my baseball hero, along with Johnny Bench and Dave Concepcion. I liked Pete Rose, but unlike many others, he wasn’t one of the guys I really admired. Joe’s chicken wing flapping batting hitting preparation is an unforgettable part of baseball’s legacy. I’m so proud of what he wrote here, and I agree unconditionally with every word.

    • Other Bill

      I second your feelings about Joe Morgan, Glenn. I really liked him on Sunday night baseball on ESPN. He was definitely a blast from the past, which I think irritated younger, hipper viewers and ultimately resulted in his being run off the air. I think it bothered people that he was so articulate and authoritative. But why should he apologize for having a lucid and completely informed opinion. Who better to judge a player than someone with Joe’s credentials? Plus, maybe the fact he insisted on always being so damned nattily dressed drove hipsters nuts. He’s always been really old school and I’ve always loved him for that. He’s a bit of an original. And he’s always thought baseball was very serious business. Good for him.

      • All sabermetric devotees detested Joe because he refused to even acknowledge advances in baseball analysis. I saw their point, but he was superb at explaining th inside game from players’ perspective, and that’s what he was there for. The statheads don’t like the former players in general.

        My beef with Joe is that the game needs more black managers in the pool, and he could have managed almost anywhere he wanted. For some reason, he didn’t want to: he was the Colin Powell of MLB.

        • Other Bill

          Yes, I suppose Joe was the Harold Reynolds of his era. Sabermetrics goes right over my head. I’ll defer to “baseball men” (scouts) as to who’s good and who’s not.

          I think Joe was smart not to go into managing. So few great players become successful managers. He would have been lucky to be anywhere near as successful as say, Frank Robinson was. Never mind Ted Williams. Guys like that just can’t relate to the general population of ball players. Even Joe Girardi was run off because he was “too demanding.” How can a manager be too demanding? (Casey Stengel: “I managed good. They just played bad.”) Joe Morgan wouldn’t have made it through an entire season as a manager at any level. Hard to blame a guy for being perceptive.

          • That conventional wisdom about great players is a distortion, however. Lots of great and near great players have been excellent managers. Williams won Manager of the Year. Yogi Berra, Joe Cronin, Robinson, Lou Boudreau, Lou Pinella, Joe Torre, Casey Stengel, Bob Lemon, Frankie Frisch, Paul Molitor (this teats AL Manager of the Year), Red Shoendienst (now the oldest living HOFer with Bobby Doerr’s passing) were all great or near great, and were successful managers. It is true that the great players have higher expectations to deal with, and that is a handicap.

            • Other Bill

              Yes, you’re right. But for every one of these guys there are five or six or twenty good or competent managers that never made it out of the minors. And many, many stars who thought they should have been managers (Ruth). Molitor did come to mind as an exception. I’d say he’s the biggest surprise. Seemed to have a pretty big ego as a player.

              • It’s an exact analogy to stage directors and film directors. There’s really not much correlation between playing skill and managing, or acting and directing. Separate skill sets entirely.

                • Other Bill

                  I’ve found the same situation in my piano teachers. The hugely talented, world class player teacher/friend is a scatter brain as a teacher. Enthusiastic and fun but not terribly effective. My good but not great player teacher/friend is a tremendously disciplined and effective teacher, a natural pedagogue. I suspect it’s a good thing that those who cannot do teach. Without them, we’d have no teachers.

                  Rogers Hornsby strikes again: “When you’re a ballplayer, there ain’t much to bein’ a ballplayer.” Words to figure things out by. And probably my all time favorite quote.

                  • Hornsby is a great example, too. He was one of the four or five greatest hitters ever, but a generally detested manager. And yet, as a minor league manager, is credited with developing Ted Williams as a player. That alone makes him a success.

                    • Other Bill

                      Maybe not, at least according to Mr. Ballgame his own self:

                      HOF:
                      After you signed with Boston they assigned you to Minneapolis in 1938, where you met another Hall of Famer, Rogers Hornsby. Hornsby, of course, was a three-time .400 hitter in the 1920s. You won a Triple Crown that year and had a great Major League career and thus the moniker ‘the greatest hitter that ever lived.’ What did you learn from the sweet-swinging right-handed hitter?

                      TW:
                      Well, you know Hornsby was a tough guy and he had problems with ownership. He was a cantankerous old guy but he treated me like I was a young son that he was having fun with. He was absolutely great. Boy I loved him. He didn’t really work on the mental approach with me as much as just talking about hitting. His philosophy and understanding of how he hit so well I didn’t really agree with, even at a young age. For example, he said, ‘When the ball’s outside, I step outside, then I hit it. On a ball inside, I open up and I hit the ball to right field.’ You can’t do that really, because you don’t know where the ball is or what it is until it gets 10 feet from the plate. You can’t make that adjustment that fast.

                      So, I listened to him, I always tried to listen to everybody because sometimes they’ll say something that sounds all right and I’ll say to myself, ‘Gee I didn’t realize that.’ Then I might go out and try it. But once in a while I’d get a little kind of something. I’d hear somebody say, ‘Boy, he’s got quick wrists.’ I didn’t know if that was real good or real bad, but he’d notice that. And I thought to myself, ‘He thinks I’m quick now, wait until the next time he sees me!’

                      It was little things like that you pick up and you listen to everybody and you try things that you think might help you. You don’t have to spend five seasons in a rut with something that was lousy to start with. You’ve got to pick it up a little bit faster than that and say, ‘Yeah, that helps me, I like that.’ You separate the good from the bad, keep the good. Occasionally you might try the other things.

                      HOF:
                      What did you think of Ty Cobb?

                      TW:
                      Like Hornsby, he too was absolutely great. Why? I don’t know. I never did train with Ty Cobb, but I sure had a chance to talk with him quite a bit. He was a strict guy, a tough guy. Everything included, he and Hornsby were probably the two greatest, outside of Babe Ruth, of course. Cobb wanted everybody to know how good he was and he wanted everybody to know how smart he was. There’s no question: he studied what he did and how he had to do it the best way and the most prolific way that he could do it. I don’t think .367 will ever be matched.

                      Cobb was so fast, so big, so strong. He had more ‘ginger in his butt’ to want to play. I’ll always think he was probably as hard of a player and put out as much every day, as any player who ever played. I think Pete Rose was a little like that, too.

                      from https://baseballhall.org/discover/baseball-history/ted-williams-retrospective

                      But interesting nonetheless.

    • That was an amazing group of players. My law school roommate, and roommate for may years after that, was the son of the team president at the time, and had wonderful inside insight on the team. Morgan, Rose, Bench, Perez, Concepcion, May, Foster, Griffey…I’m not sure any team had such a great group 1-8. Even the 1927 Yankees had a couple of mediocrities.

  5. Elizabeth II

    It would be shameful if the Baseball Hall of Fame was besmirched by a bunch of moronic baseball writers, and it seems like few of them know even the recent history of the game.

    Question: When was it determined that the BBWA would elect members of the Hall of Fame? What exactly have they done for the game? Especially the younger, biased (read stupid) ones. I assume it was determined that a manager vote or a player vote would lead to an unfair popularity contest, but writers like Passan will hurt the game, not improve it or even report it correctly. Quit he should.

    And bravo to Joe Morgan. What he needs now is more (much more) support.

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