A Non-Election Day Ethics Special! An Ethics Test For Baseball Hall Of Fame Voters

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.

7 thoughts on “A Non-Election Day Ethics Special! An Ethics Test For Baseball Hall Of Fame Voters

  1. The complete absence of Schill from the national World Series coverage was an abomination. They could at least have shown the video of him averting his eyes (to say the least) whenever Mitch Williams was “pitching.” He would have been a great commentator for those games. I’m going to assume he got some local work in Philly. If his record is not HOF worthy, the entire enterprise is a joke.

  2. Dale Murphy was my teenage baseball hero and may have been the most feared hitter in the game…for about five years. He also played a premium defensive position (CF), was a Gold-Glover (back when they meant something) and and a two-time MVP. He was total class on the field and was never anything but a model citizen off it. But honesty compels me to list him in the “Hall of Very Good”, not the HOF.

    Schilling is another borderline pitcher. He fronted for some bad teams and still managed 200+ wins in an era when lots of inning on a starter were becoming a thing of the past. 4-to-1 k-to-bb ratio is impressive as is career WHIP. And he was a big-game pitcher.

    Palmeiro’s case is hurt by being a DH, but now that DH is unfortunately universal, it might help him. I’m neutral on this one.

    McGriff’s numbers are hurt by the cheaters in the game at the time. Take those away and they look completely different. Of all the guys, he’s the one I WOULD enshrine. The Crime Dog was outstanding his entire career and played almost every day, DH-ing only at the end of his career.

    Loved Donnie Baseball, but he was hurt way too much when his back gave up.

    Bonds, Belle, and Clemens?…in the Hall over my dead body.

    • Ooh, I don’t think you can call Curt “borderline.” Baseball Reference shows him 26th all-time in WAR for pitchers, 10th all-time in walks/strikeout ratios. Schilling is 17th all-time in career strike-outs, and the only pitchers ahead of him who aren’t in the Hall are still pitching, Verlander and Scherzer. He’s over the HOF average in two of the scales, and in addition to being a great post-season pitcher, his bloody sock game is in the baseball legends category. Bill James ranking system also has Curt as an easy HOFer.

      204 is light in wins for the hall of Fame, but increasingly we are learning that wins are a function of lots of factors a pitcher can’t control.

      • Jack, you state a stronger case for your position than I did for my “borderline” status. Your observation on wins is a good one. Wins are a team accomplishment, and pitchers should probably not be judged heavily based on win-loss record. Your case is strengthened by the fact that nearly every 3000-strikeout pitcher is in the HOF…maybe all of them. I was going to mention the bloody sock…and the fact that my dad loved…no…LOVED Curt in a Red Sox uniform.

        Ok…I think I stand corrected. I’m in agreement with Schilling in the HOF, along with McGriff.

        • I’m really partial to Schilling because he’s a Phoenix born and raised kid, won a World Series for the Diamondbacks, and then won TWO for Mrs. OB’s Red Sox, neither of which she thought she’d ever live to see. A career post season record of 11-2. How many Series games has Verlander won? One or is it still zero. I think the latter. He was also witty and chatty and had a sense of humor, compared to his staff mate Randy Johnson.

  3. “Belle would destroy the postgame buffet, throwing plates into the shower.”

    Wait, they serve a post-game buffet to the players in the locker room? With the gentle aroma of sweaty jockstraps wafting around the chafing dishes? Ah, the glitz and glamour of professional sports…

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