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(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog.)

The holidays are also major league baseball’s Hall of Fame season. Once the ballot is released after Thanksgiving, hundreds of BBWAA members endeavor to narrow down the choices, and in the process, usually write about their selections ahead of the official announcement on January 5. As a result, an undercurrent usually emerges from the collective prose to offer a hint as to the eventual outcome.

Unfortunately for the likes of Bert Blyleven, Tim Raines, Roberto Alomar and Alan Trammell, there really hasn’t been a resounding sentiment that would foreshadow their deserved elections. Instead, the major theme of the process has been steroids. With the addition of Rafael Palmeiro to the ballot, the focus on PEDs is certainly understandable. After all, despite collecting 3,000 hits among many other accomplishments, the former All Star first baseman is now best known for his finger pointing denial in front of Congress just months before testing positive for a banned substance in 2005. Interestingly, Palmeiro, who joins Mark McGwire on the ballot as a qualified candidate stained by PEDs, still maintains his innocence, but the overwhelming sentiment is that he has virtually no chance of being elected.

I was telling the truth then, and I am telling the truth now. I don’t know what else I can say. I have never taken steroids. For people who think I took steroids intentionally, I’m never going to convince them. But I hope the voters judge my career fairly and don’t look at one mistake.” – Rafael Palmeiro, quoted by AP, December 30, 2010

Although no one can come close to knowing the true impact that steroids and other “performance enhancing” drugs actually have on the playing field, it is perfectly legitimate to hold an admission or failed drug test against a particular candidate. According to the Hall of Fame’s BBWAA elections rules, “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.” Clearly, taking performance enhancing drugs calls into question the qualifications of integrity, sportsmanship and character. Of course, the impact of those qualities still has to be weighed against the overall contribution, not to mention measured against the prevailing attitude of the era. Nonetheless, when there is evidence of  PED use, it becomes reasonable to disregard an otherwise perfectly deserving candidate.

Unfortunately, far too many members of the BBWAA have gone beyond the careful consideration of evidence and allowed rumors, unverified allegations and, even worse, mere hunches to factor into their decision. The chief victim of this perverted process has been Jeff Bagwell. Although some might argue that Bagwell wasn’t as dominant as other more prominent first baseman of his era, it’s nearly impossible to build a case against him on a statistical basis. Based on his numbers and reputation within the game, Bagwell should be a slam dunk, no doubt about it, first ballot Hall of Famer. So, what’s the problem?

Apparently, a large segment of the voting population has gotten it into their heads that Jeff Bagwell did steroids. In what Craig Calcattera perfectly labeled “Steroid McCarthyism”, several eligible voters have openly accused Bagwell of being tainted without offering one shred of evidence to support their vitriolic allegations. Instead, these writers have cowardly hid behind hunches, suspicions and undisclosed circumstantial evidence to not only smear an individual, but make the entire process seem so illegitimate.

The baseless accusations against Bagwell are somewhat curious because his career followed the normal path that one would expect from a superstar player. At the age of 23, he broke into the majors as a productive player, had several strong peak years in his mid-to-late 20s and then slowly declined into his 30s until finishing his last full season at age 36. Unlike other players of the era, Bagwell did not resurrect a stalled career, nor find the fountain of youth in the years after his prime. He has repeatedly denied using PEDs, but that hasn’t stemmed the tide of cowardly innuendo. In fact, the repeated allegations have done so much damage that the truth probably doesn’t even matter anymore.

So much has gone on in the last eight or nine years, it’s kind of taken some of the valor off it for me. If I ever do get to the Hall of Fame and there are 40 guys sitting behind me thinking, ‘He took steroids,’ then it’s not even worth it to me. I don’t know if that sounds stupid. But it’s how I feel in a nutshell.” – Jeff Bagwell, quoted by ESPN.com, December 29, 2010

Another argument many have used against Bagwell is “guilt by association”. Although no evidence exists about his personal use, the theory goes, he still warrants a scarlet letter because of the era in which he played. Clearly, that’s a nonsensical approach to the issue that can’t possibly be applied with any consistency. In fact, one who holds that sentiment should recues himself from the voting process.

Over the past 10-20 years, it has become obvious that the voting process for the Hall of Fame needs a major overhaul. Just as it has demonstrated with its annual post season awards, the BBWAA is no longer uniquely qualified to serve as the sole arbiter of baseball’s greatest honor. Before the advent of the internet and proliferation of television, sportswriters, by virtue of their access, were among a select group of people with particular insight into the game. Nowadays, however, that is no longer the case. On the contrary, the aging BBWAA population has proven to be significantly out of touch with the game’s development, and therefore woefully inadequate in its role as a third-party overseer. This disintegration is perfectly illustrated by the dozens of trade group members who have deemed themselves qualified to serve as doctors and lawyers when considering Hall of Fame candidates.

The current electorate’s inability to see the distinction between Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven is disturbing enough, but its mob mentality in handling players like Bagwell is really the last straw. Using pens as pitchforks, some BBWAA members have torched reputations and tarnished accomplishments, all in the name of preserving the game’s integrity. In reality, however, the opposite has been true. Therefore, the time has come for major league baseball and the Hall of Fame to take a serious look at the electoral process as well as the qualifications of those casting votes.

There are many intelligent, thoughtful sportswriters who should remain a part of the process, but as recent events have proven, there are also many who should not. Simply being a tenured member of a trade group should not merit such a distinct honor. Last decade, baseball endeavored to clean up the game by enacting a strict drug testing regimen. This decade, it should aim to revamp the Hall of Fame election process by ensuring that a more deserving and better qualified group of voters is entrusted with preserving its history. It’s time to put an end to the age of suspicion, and those who wish to wallow in rumor and innuendo should be left behind.

13 Responses to “Hall of Shame: Instead of Votes, Some BBWAA Members Cast Doubt; Bagwell A Chief Victim of Smear Campaign”

  1. I can’t believe someone wouldn’t vote for Bagwell because “where he played and when he played and the teammates with whom he played and a whole bunch of circumstantial evidence.” What a joke. If that’s the criteria then how can you vote for anyone? Graziano voted for Alomar – the same Alomar who almost doubled his HR total from his last year in Toronto to his first year in Baltimore. And who were his teammates in Baltimore? Rafael Palmeiro and Brady Anderson.

    This is also a favorite line: “Bagwell surely wouldn’t be the first to passionately deny guilt only to later be proven guilty. So with all due respect to the man’s words, I don’t think they’re worth very much in this debate.”
    The dark side of me wishes someone would accuse Graziano and others of something, show no evidence, let them deny it, brush it off as “of course he’s going to deny it” and then ruin their careers.  (Quote)

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  2. Between the Mitchell Report and other random investigations, there have been so many opportunities for Bagwell to get ensnared, but nothing has surfaced. I think that is much more compelling than the fact he ended his career larger than he appeared on his rookie card. If the BBWAA can’t properly handle this issue, then the Hall of Fame needs to step in.  (Quote)

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  3. i agree that using unsubstantiated rumor and hunches as the basis for disqualifying a deserving player is ridiculous; I agree the voting system for HOF needs revamping. I see nothing wrong with a writer articulating their personal suspicions, hunches or intuition, so long as they document the basis from which they derived such feelings. A good writer would keep poorly supported opinions and hunches to himself and judge players’ HOF worthiness strictly on evidence available in the public domain. Basing a HOF exclusion only on hunch and association signals to me the writer is a hack or prejudiced and certainly unprofessional. A conscientious writer would voice his concerns to the player and allow a public response. But then, that takes a little effort and requires integrity…  (Quote)

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  4. Having the sporting press allowed to make any decision regarding anything at all never made sense to me after I started paying attention to such things (largely thanks to Palmer, Thorn, and of course, Mr James.)
    I love the Scooter, but he should have been put into the broadcaster’s HOF, and Richie Ashburn (etc, etc) should never have gotten a sniff of the place. Enos Slaughter? No Marvin Miller?

    After listening to the idiotic, self-righteous, and hypocritical remarks of these self-important ‘journalists’ talking about steroids for the past ten years after the same group ignored it the previous ten (despite the obviously ‘enhanced’ Brady HR spike, Caminiti, etc), I think getting into the HOF means even less than it did before.
    It’s right up there with the MVP, where Albert Belle being a jack-ass trumps the fact that he was head and shoulders above everybody else, including Mo Vaughn (again, etc, etc).  (Quote)

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  5. I wouldn’t (yet) vote for Bagwell.
    Why wouldn’t you want to reserve judgment until we know more? Unless you feel quite sure that he didn’t use stuff, wouldn’t you want to wait before making an irreversible permanent decision to put him in the Hall of Fame? I’d say the same for many other candidates; this isn’t just about Bagwell.

    If baseball wants a way around this, they’d have to make a provision to allow “deleting” Hall of Famers after they’ve been elected. Since it doesn’t seem likely they’ll want to do that, I think you have it backwards if you say he shouldn’t be denied election because of mere suspicion. It’s more like we shouldn’t put someone in until we’re sure enough that he deserves it.

    We need to wait.  (Quote)

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    Zack Reply:

    Reserve judgment until when/what? Wait around for a failed drug test or illegal drug factory to be exposed? And what if that never happens because maybe he’s clean? If we learn nothing new by next voting then would say ok let him in? Or wait until 2012? 2013? 2020?

    Should all HOF voting just be suspended for 10 years?  (Quote)

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    Damian Reply:

    Also, if a writer is going to withhold his vote from an otherwise-worthy candidate based upon suspicion of PED use, stating that he wants to wait and see if new evidence comes along, he should actually go about looking for this evidence. He should use the five year waiting period to look for new evidence so he’s ready to make an informed decision when the player appears on the ballot. He should do something other than cast a vote that excludes a player who, with or without PED use, but CERTAINLY without any evidence of PED use, destroyed the competition during his entire career.  (Quote)

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  6. Wow! Of course Bagwell was all roided out. I don’t give a **ck what he says. He played during a time when more than 100 players out of 700 failed a VOLUNTAIRY test. Look at his starting size, peak size, and finally his size now. His body is smaller and so is his head! He had the roid swell face just like most of his peers during his day. I love baseball and remember the decade before the roid age fondly. Don’t ask me what to do, cause I don’t know. I do know that numerous players from the 90′s put up legendary numbers and you see no on from the 80′s with those numbers. All of these roiders can claim the same thing, cause there was no testing! Does any resonable person believe that Bonds, Sosa, & Big Mac where clean??? Probably not, so look at the next tier of comically muscled cheaters with the same lense; I’m looking at you Boone, Bagwell, Gonzalez,Giambi, Canseco, Palmerio, etc…

    All cheaters; yet playing during a time when cheating was rampant. Lord only knows how many juice balls Clemens, Brown, Gagne, et all where throwing these guys. The whole game now has to be looked at differently kinda like dead ball V. live ball era. In closing I certainly don’t blame these guys, I’d be a walking pharmacy if it meant I could play ball and make millions doing it.  (Quote)

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    Damian Reply:

    It’s only January 2nd, and we already have a potential finalist for “worst comment of 2011.”  (Quote)

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    JerseyJohn Reply:

    Don’t be so hard on yourself Damian! I’m sure someone else will win the “worst comment of 2011″ award. Just because I feel strongly about Bagwell’s comically altered body doesn’t make me wrong. I’m a guy on a message board, I do not have to live up to the same standards as a “professional” journalist. There is no libel or slander case to be made here.

    Just curious, what do my esteemed collegues on this message board think about Craig Biggio? Did he seem to get larger also? Weren’t Biggio, Bagwell, and Caminatti all best friends for years?  (Quote)

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  7. To Zack and Damian: Wait as long as it takes, and don’t worry about the vagueness of that. And besides, I’m betting that within the next few years, we’ll know a lot more about the subject.
    And if we don’t: “Hall of Fame” is an irrevocable decision, as now constructed. When there’s a huge question mark on a player, I say we wait.

    I’m not sure if you disagree more about the concept of waiting, or about whether there’s a “huge question mark.” If you disagree about the latter, we don’t have enough common ground to really consider it together. If you do think there’s a huge question mark, I’m surprised that you’re comfortable to go ahead anyway.

    I suspect that the question mark doesn’t much bother you.  (Quote)

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    Zack Reply:

    I have a problem with the “waiting” on select players, where the only proof is “he looks big and he played in the era.” If you look at the guys who either failed tests or admitted PED use, they have been starters, power pitchers, finesse pitchers, relievers, sluggers, bench players, and middle infielders. So if your stance is that you want to wait on Bagwell and other sluggers (where there is no proof), then I think all voting should be suspended 5-10 years – instead of punishing a handful of guys just because of their appearance, while other guys get free passes because “He would never use PEDs, we all KNOW he played the game the right way.”

    I also have a problem with the “question mark” thing, because every single player can be linked to PED through circumstantial evidence if you try hard enough- I dislike Jeff Passan but he recently did that with guys who we assume “played the game the right way” while ignoring their “question marks”:

    “Roberto Alomar: The spit? Roid rage.
    Craig Biggio: Played into his 40s – and with Ken Caminiti and other users.
    Tom Glavine: Pitched until he was 42.
    Vladimir Guerrero: From Dominican Republic, where they’re easily available.
    Randy Johnson: Pitched until he was 45.
    Pedro Martinez: Latin American and injury prone.
    Albert Pujols: Hugely muscled athlete.
    Mariano Rivera: Dominant into his 40s.
    John Smoltz: Recovered from major injuries to dominate again.
    Ichiro Suzuki: Aging too well.
    Frank Thomas: Unnaturally large.
    Jim Thome: Massive muscle growth after his rookie season.

    http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news;_ylt=AtoT2.BYH.qZYDYBchP8eQkRvLYF?slug=jp-halloffamedecisions123010

    Obviously he just did it quick, but hey let’s think of Jeter: was best friends with ARod (user), best friends with Pettitte (user), countless teammates were users, hit 16 HRs in 2000 minor league PA then 3 years later he hit 43 over 2 seasons, he was on the cover of Men’s Magazine at age 34, he’s played 16 years with the only major injury coming at a collision at 3B. Seems like voters should hold back votes for him too when his time comes.  (Quote)

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  8. Zack: A couple of things…….
    There’s more about Bagwell than just the things you mentioned, including that he had a surprising power jump during his career.

    Some people question that — they feel that his ML career doesn’t show anything terribly suspicious.

    AND THEY’RE RIGHT.
    The thing is that with Bagwell, his huge power jump happened from his minor league career to his ML career, and suddenly. Those 15 HR’s in his first year wouldn’t attract any attention until you look at his minor league record.
    I’m not saying that such a jump ‘has to’ mean that he did stuff. But the fact is that such a jump is very rare, and in that era, it does raise suspicion. IMO the only way to say it doesn’t is to bend over backwards in his favor.

    And besides: Yes indeed, I’m in favor of “waiting” on ALMOST EVERYONE from that era.  (Quote)

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