Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Importance Of This Year's HOF Balloting

by Mark Lawrence, Down Under Editor

Sydney, Australia. There is bound to be a significant degree of spirited debate going on in regard to this year's Hall of Fame voting, and pretty sure much of it will revolve around three of the most controversial figures of the Game's modern era: Bonds, Sosa and Clemens.

The voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America have some difficult decisions before them this year. And, your humble correspondent will also have some tough choices, as well—as a member of the Internet Baseball Writers' Association of America (IBWAA), I will also be asked to cast my vote and it's a responsibility neither association takes lightly. After all, this is the National Baseball Hall of Fame we're talking about—not Irving's Wax Museum and Souvenir Stand. And, while I'm just a simple country sportswriter (well, Australia is a simple country), I take this responsibility just as seriously as those guys who get paid to write.
Like every other commentator, I often find  myself hopelessly mired in the ethical morass of PED use every time I consider this vexatious issue and oftentimes, I'll mentally curse that long line of juicers for getting us into this mess in the first place. But the fact is, they did—and we, as baseball fans, have to find a way to deal with it.

Some scribes have indicated that they simply won't vote for anyone with even the suggestion of PED use hanging over them with out a full and complete evaluation of each individual situation, while others have opted to go on stats alone. For mine, I see this as an opportunity for the writers to actually do something that might just help the game: if in doubt, don't vote.

Richard Justice, writing for about Roger Clemens, made an exceptionally salient point and I'm sure he won't mind me quoting him here: "There's no gray area, either. Before a player can use steroids or human growth hormone, he has to find a dealer to supply them. By that time, he knows he's breaking the law and doing something that could ruin his reputation." Not to mention exclusion from election to the Hall of Fame.

If, over the next fifteen years, a player like Bonds or Clemens is somehow elected to the Hall of Fame, a very clear and unmistakable message will be sent to every players and—perhaps more importantly—to all the fans: Performance enhancing drugs are officially tolerated in the sport of baseball. I can't begin to imagine the damage that could do to the Game and it leads me to consider the lamentable stories of players like Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, both phenomenal players who were summarily banished from baseball for life. Shoeless Joe was found guilty by the game's sternest and most patrician Commissioner ever, yet if anything he was simply guilty by association—check out his stats for the games he was supposed to have thrown—and poor old Pete Rose was monkey-backed by a gambling problem. Did betting on baseball help Charlie Hustle put up such incredible lifetime numbers? It's a ludicrous proposition, of course, but it has knocked him out of Hall of Fame contention, nonetheless.

And yet here we are, getting ready to maybe—just maybe—bestow the game's greatest honor on three very flawed men who, on the face of it, cheated their way to the top of their games. One could argue that Barry Bonds' plaintive, yet obsessive need for approval might somehow excuse his decision to use PEDs, or that the Rocket's single-minded ambition to be the best athlete he could be forced him to use steroids just to stay competitive. But these are pretty hollow contentions, pale excuses to be made by apologists from both camps. And as for Sosa—it may well be punishment enough that he enters the Baseball Pantheon as possibly the last player stupid enough to fall for that old saw about corking your bat.

If the membership of the BBWAA stays true to the very blood and marrow of the National Pastime, then no player with the faintest taint of PED use will ever find himself on the dais at Cooperstown. This in turn will send a message to anyone who is ever paid to pull on the cleats and shoulder a bot: we, the writers—the men and women who chronicle your heroic feats—won't tolerate a cheat. We hold The Game in too high a regard to ever tarnish its history and we demand that you—the players—go and do likewise.