There are a few reoccurring assertions that Ethics Alarms readers know I am duty bound to defenestrate, no matter how repetitious it is for them and me. The gender gap argument in salary is one; election night in 2016 spawned another, when hack historian Doug Brinkley falsely claimed that the same party seldom holds the White House for three straight terms. That Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct was “private personal conduct” unrelated to his professional trustworthiness was long on my list, though that one seems to be, finally, discredited. There are others involving gun control, marriage, illegal immigration and more; I should list them in one place some day.
None annoys me any more, however, than the rationalizations mounted to claim that steroid cheats belong in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
It happened again this week, as it will every time the Hall of Fame ballots are counted this time of year. On the MLB Channel on Sirius-XM, two alleged experts, analysts Casey Stern and former pitcher Brad Lidge each gave their list of ten former players who belonged in the Hall of Fame, and both listed Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens as deserving. When Lidge went through his “reasoning”—I hate scare quotes, but here they are unavoidable—I wanted to leap through my car radio and throw him out his studio.
It wasn’t just the unethical opinion that infuriated me. It was the sheer ignorance and intellectual laziness of it. The man clearly has never practiced critical thinking in his life. Nobody taught him. Like the President, he literally doesn’t know what ethics are, and reasons by rationalizations and conventional wisdom, meaning that if enough dolts say something, it becomes a persuasive position to him. It is unethical—malpractice, negligence, incompetence—to argue like this when you are holding yourself up as an expert, and addressing the public through mass media. You are making the public more ignorant and stupid, and less able to think clearly, with every word. Stern, who is about five times smarter and more articulate than Lidge, used slightly less moronic arguments to defend Bonds, but only slightly.
So I’m sorry if you have heard this before, but I made a promise to myself, my readers, and baseball, which I love. Here are Lidge’s arguments to allow Bonds into the Hall of Fame, and why they are crap.
- Bonds was on his way to a Hall of Fame career before he used steroids.
Yes, and that brilliant scientist was on the way to a Nobel prize before he falsified his data. This idiotic argument–maybe the worst of the worst—absurdly holds that if something would have occurred if a disqualifying event hadn’t happened, the disqualifying event shouldn’t count. It also embodies the “he didn’t have to cheat, so his cheating was no big deal” fallacy. This would have excused Richard Nixon: after all, he won by a landslide anyway, so what difference does it make that he tried to illegally undermine the McGovern campaign? Ugh. It makes me crazy even writing about this one.
- Bonds cheated during a period when cheating was rampant, so a lot of the player he surpassed weren’t disadvantaged.
A. And a lot were.
B. This is Everybody Does It, the #1 unethical rationalization. That’s pronounced raa-shun-al-eyes–ZA-shun. You see, Brad, an individual’s misconduct isn’t mitigated at all by someone else’s misconduct. Wrongdoing doesn’t become more tolerable the more people engage in it. In fact, the more who engage in it, the more damage it does, not less.
- Bonds’ achievements are so, so far above everyone else’s.
Yes, and that is substantially because he cheated, you idiot. If his career had followed the typical trajectory one would expect before he started juicing, he would almost certainly have declined at the point where his actual steroid-fueled career made him freakishly good, and better than ever before. No player in baseball history among the thousands and thousands who have played the game ever became an order of magnitude better after his 30th birthday. Lidge is using the results of Bond’s cheating to argue that his cheating shouldn’t matter! And he thinks that makes sense.
- “I understand the arguments of those who think factors other than statistics should be considered…”
Oh, you understand, do you? Do you understand that the standards for admission to the Hall direct that voters consider sportsmanship and character as well as numbers? Here is the character clause:
“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.”
Barry Bonds cheated, broke the law, used forbidden substances to enhance his natural playing abilities and lied about (still is lying, in fact) it. That’s not integrity, it’s the opposite of integrity. It’s not sportsmanship to cheat, it’s the opposite of sportsmanship. Bond’s miserable, shameless sociopathic character corrupted the game, its records and other players, and tangibly harmed baseball. Even interpreting the character clause narrowly, he flunks it worse than any player ever has, including Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose.
Furthermore, Lidge’s “I understand” rhetoric is the infuriating mantra of the uninformed but opinionated. I get it constantly in comments that are dinged in moderation: “I get what you are saying, but I still think that judge did the right thing/ the news media isn’t biased/ the President should be impeached/ guns should be banned/ hate speech isn’t protected by the Constitution/ Mike Brown was murdered and so on.” It means, “My mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with ethics, facts and logic.” It also means, “I’m an idiot, and a menace to intelligent civic discourse and participatory democracy.”
- We don’t know for sure if Bonds used steroids.
Yes we do. I’ll accept this argument regarding Roger Clemens, but not Barry Bonds. The book “Game of Shadows” made an airtight case against Bonds. The amount of evidence is mountainous. Nobody with an IQ above freezing who has reviewed the facts believes that there is the tiniest chance that Bonds is innocent. If Lidge does, then he either is mentally impaired or hasn’t done his due diligence research. I’m guessing both.
Well, there it is. Again.
I’m sorry, but I promised.
Blame Brad Lidge.
9 thoughts on “I Know, I Know, But I Swore I Would Never Let A Bad Barry Bonds Defense Go Unanswered”
Barry as a svelte speedster like his dad and then as Jose Canseco.
Then there was this stage…
Words fail me.
The real issue for me is Manny Alexander. Just who is Manny Alexander? He was a reserve infielder who spent many years in the major leagues and “allegedly” juiced. When you are in his position you are off in the 25th men on the roster. How many players never got a shot to be that 25th men because the Manny’s of the world we’re juicing? Who actually lost out? Didn’t get that day on the major league roster or that month or two on the major league roster? Just that one day that would give you health insurance for life period or just the 37 days that will make you eligible for a pension. I don’t care about Clemens or Bonds, but I do care about all those on the lower end of the MLB totem pole who played the system for their own privilege wothers who played it right got screwed
I remember Manny, and of course that is the worse hidden crime—the theft of careers t the low end.
I don’t typically read your sports posts, but I do read all of your posts that uses that image from “Angel.” Good post.
The sports posts are just ethics posts where general ethics issues happen to arise in the context of sports.
As Jack said, the Hall of Fame voters are supposed to consider “the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.” Those eligible to vote are members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) – but only those “who have been active baseball writers for at least ten (10) years.” This requirement tends to assure a voter’s qualification to judge a player’s record, ability, contributions to teams, and perhaps sportsmanship if that’s intended to cover on-field behavior. Because there is no corresponding provision that tends to assure that a voter is qualified to assess integrity or character, I think that the Hall of Fame itself has to be considered the chief culprit in this stalemate.
The Hall of Fame’s annual voting process actually has two steps. Before the open voting process just completed, a screening committee met to determine which players who retired five years ago would be placed on the ballot. This committee consisted of six BBWAA members. As with the full electorate, the rules don’t require that screening committee members have any sort of qualifications relevant to assessment of character or integrity.
The Hall of Fame has addressed this sort of question before. About 30 years ago, Pete Rose was permanently banned from baseball for gambling. There was a lot of discussion about whether the BBWAA members would nevertheless vote to induct Rose into the Hall of Fame. The Hall finally spoke, putting in place a rule barring from the Hall of Fame ballot anyone who was permanently banned from baseball.
The Hall of Fame seems twice culpable. As far as actually barring a player from the ballot, they’ve failed in their responsibility to make an ethical judgment by deferring to the authority of major league baseball. For players who are not formally banned from baseball, the Hall hasn’t done anything to promote reasonable considerstion of at least two of the six voting criteria set out by the Hall itself. Because of a recent incident, a voter is now required to certify that a ballot is his or her own work, but it is not required to certify that the Hall’s voting criteria was, in fact, considered.
It seems that the way forward is for the Hall of Fame to accept responsibility as its own gatekeeper with respect to questions of character and integrity. A process parallel to the current screening committee’s work should address any ethical issues concerning players about to be placed on the ballot, and if necessary stop a player’s name from being placed on the ballot. The other alternative is to remove character and integrity as voting criteria. I’m not sure that’s not the most likely outcome in the long run.
When MLB didn’t slap Gaylord Perry with a monster suspension after “Me and the Spitter” was published, it really opened the door to an extent.
You had a player boast openly about violating the rules. And MLB did nothing. He got voted into the Hall of Fame.
And the rule he violated was one that was far more long-standing than the prohibitions on steroids.