The major League Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown released its eight-player Contemporary Baseball Era ballot yesterday, as part of its revamped enshrinement process. A 16-person committee including of Hall of Fame players, baseball executives and veteran sportswriters will vote on the candidates at baseball’s winter meetings in December. A player must receive 12 votes to be elected.
All of the eight players failed to get enough votes through the regular voting process. The players on the list, limited to distinguished players who made their greatest contributions from 1980 to the present era, include…
- Barry Bonds
- Roger Clemens
- Curt Schilling
- Albert Belle
- Don Mattingly
- Fred McGriff
- Dale Murphy, and
- Rafael Palmeiro.
A clearer ethics test for the voters would be hard to imagine. The threshold question is whether last year’s admission to the Hall of Red Six icon David Ortiz, who once tested positive for an unidentified performance enhancing drug according to test results that were illegally leaked, will be regarded as sufficient precedent to admit Bonds, Clemens, and or Palmeiro. That Bonds was a long-time steroid cheat who did great damage to the game is undeniable. The evidence against Clemens is weaker, but still damning. Palmeiro had the distinction of going before Congress and proclaiming that steroids were the bane of the game and he would never sully himself by using them, and quickly thereafter testing positive himself. None of those three should be admitted to the Hall, and the presence of current Hall of Fame members, I hope, may ensure that they are not.
Murphy and Mattingly pose cognitive dissonance perils: they are both well-liked players who fell short, barely, of legitimate Hall of Fame level careers. But a slippery slope of recent polishing looms: in 2019, the special committee voted in Harold Baines, the popular White Sox great whose credentials were weaker than either Murphy or Mattingly.
Albert Belle raises opposite issues from Murphy and Mattingly, but some related to the cheaters on the list. He was a better hitter than Murphy, Mattingly, and Baines, but had a short career. He also was caught using a corked bat, which is illegal. One team mate alleged that all of Belle’s bats were corked. He was a disciplinary problem, had a drinking problem, and tended toward violence. After some games, if frustrated, Belle would destroy the postgame buffet, throwing plates into the shower. After one at-bat that displeased him, he used a bat to smash a teammate’s boombox. Belle was widely and fairly believed to be mentally unstable, and his off-field antics supported that diagnosis. He once had to pay a fine and settle a lawsuit for chasing a trick-or-treater with his car. Belle was sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years’ probation after he admitted to stalking his former girlfriend; four years ago, Belle was arrested in Scottsdale, Arizona and charged with indecent exposure and DUI. No one would say that he was a credit to the game.
Two of the players on the list could be elected without raising ethical issues. Fred McGriff had 493 home runs, and no player with 500 home runs and no suspicions of cheating has ever been rejected for the Hall. He would be a defensible, if borderline honoree.
There is no excuse whatsoever for not voting in Curt Schilling, however. ESPN writes that his career “warrants strong consideration for election, but he ostracized himself in retirement with hateful comments toward Muslims, transgender people and journalists.” Good ol’ woke ESPN. Schilling is a conservative and an outspoken one. His comments on Muslims were not hateful but critical, and what does any player’s post career opinions on transgender issues have to do with the Hall of Fame? Curt’s critical of journalists? Everyone should be critical of journalists, and their withholding a deserved honor from Schilling because he refused to grovel for their approval is a mark of good character: no weenie he.
The next vote for Contemporary Era ballot won’t come around again until December 2025. This should be an easy ethics test to pass, but I wouldn’t bet against a final vote this year that is an ethics fiasco.