If I Had a Vote in the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame Election

If I Had a Vote in the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame Election
16 Jan
Not in Hall of Fame


"Times Shouldn't Change for the Worse"

One day after the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was released, BBWAA voters received an email from Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan imploring them not to vote for candidates with connections to performance-enhancing drugs (PED).

Morgan was careful to delineate players with concrete connections—"[p]layers who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in . . . the Mitchell Report"—from players merely suspected of having PED connections, but the impetus for his letter, after the PED furor had abated over the last few years, is quite clear: Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, and Ivan Rodriguez had all been elected to the Hall of Fame in the last two years, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens—both poster children for PED—had both crossed the 50-percent vote threshold in 2017, and Manny Ramirez, who had retired from Major League Baseball in 2009 after failing his second drug test, debuted on the 2017 ballot with 23.8 percent of the vote, about as strong a showing as Mark McGwire ever managed during his 10 years on the ballot.

Joe Morgan 2018 HoF
Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan implored voters not to vote for PED-connected candidates--will his plea affect the vote?

Although Morgan is a vice chairman of the Baseball Hall of Fame and is a member of its board of directors, he claimed not to be speaking on behalf of the Hall or even on behalf of all current Hall of Famers, but he did state that he was representing the view of many of them who believe that admitting steroids users "will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn't bear."

Whether Morgan is leading the charge or is simply the cat's paw for others is unclear; Jon Shestakofsky, the Hall's vice president of communications and education, distanced the Hall from Morgan's statement, noting that it was "a Hall of Famer initiative" while adding, "That being said, we were aware of it." And at least one Hall of Famer disagrees with Morgan: Willie McCovey stated that the bulk of Morgan's missive was aimed specifically at Barry Bonds, whom the San Francisco Giants' former first baseman believes should be elected to the Hall of Fame, adding that with respect to PED, "Guys took things ever since baseball existed."

Thus the palace intrigue continues, but the ramifications are quite apparent, particularly in Morgan's denunciation of steroid users who cheated the game, cheated other players, cheated themselves: "[S]teroid users don't belong here. What they did shouldn't be accepted. Times shouldn't change for the worse."

Well, bravo, Joe. But have you gone far enough? It is easy—far too easy—to blame the players for cheating, for taking PED. After all, they are the direct beneficiaries, first of the increased capabilities afforded to them through the artificial enhancement provided by PED, which in turn lead to increased opportunities in MLB, and thus in turn to increased opportunities to establish their legacy.

The pinnacle of that legacy, for the very few who qualify for it, is a berth in the Baseball Hall of Fame. This is what concerns Joe Morgan and the presumed others for whom he purports to speak: "There is a sanctity to being elected to the Hall. It is revered. It is the hardest Hall of Fame to enter, of any sport in America."

Morgan even closes his letter with a postscript appeal to family values:

"Families come to Cooperstown because they know it's special. To parents, it's a place they can take their kids for an uplifting, feel-good visit. It's a place where kids can see what true greatness is all about. It's a place where youngsters can dream that one day they too might get in. This place is special. I hope it stays that way."

In other words, let's perpetuate the myth that baseball exists only in some magical cornfield of dreams in Iowa and is immune from the corruption of reality that taints every other human endeavor. Morgan even alludes to this by referring to the "sanctity" of being elected to the Hall of Fame, and he is hardly the only one as we speak of Hall of Fame "enshrinement" and of the Hall itself as being "hallowed."

But the cold, hard reality is that baseball is a business whose primary goal is to remain a going concern while, ideally, showing a profit, and to do so means that every team must put the best product possible onto the playing field every season using a very precious commodity: Major League-level baseball talent.

Undoubtedly, the pressure to first reach the Major Leagues, and then to stay in the Majors, has tempted many players to use PED to give them that edge over a field of competition that has a high talent compression: There are many qualified players in the Majors, and there are only a limited number of slots available on Major League teams—the temptation for players on the talent margins to use PED can be enormous.

Yet to think that the players are the only actors guilty in the PED scandals, to the point that they alone deserve to be banished from the Hall of Fame for "cheating," for "put[ting] up huge numbers [that] made great players who didn't cheat look smaller by comparison, taking away from their achievements and consideration for the Hall of Fame," as Joe Morgan alleges, is to ignore all the other actors in the business of baseball who enabled those players to continue to participate in Major League Baseball—after MLB had codified its drug policies, the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, in 2006, and after specific players had been suspended for violating those policies, yet were able to find work in MLB after their suspensions.

There are two kinds of hypocrisy in the stance taken by Joe Morgan and those he purportedly represents: One is to castigate by banishment from the Baseball Hall of Fame only the players associated with PED while ignoring the front offices that hired them, the on-field managers who guided them, the leadership of baseball such as the Commissioner of Baseball who oversaw them, and the Baseball Writers Association of America that bestowed awards upon them.

The second kind of hypocrisy is the ongoing employment and recognition by those parties of players who have been caught cheating in order to put the best possible product on the field after those players have served their suspensions but before they get to the stage of being banned permanently. Morgan can bemoan the "huge numbers" PED users generated, which are individual accomplishments, but they ultimately serve a collective purpose—to win baseball games. How many divisional championships have been tainted by PED? How many league pennants have been tainted by PED? How many World Series titles have been tainted by PED?

We talk about putting asterisks next to the individual player records to indicate that those records have been tainted by the players' having used, or had been suspected of using, PED, of creating a special wing in the Hall of Fame for the Steroids Era. But don't their teams and the very infrastructure of Major League Baseball belong there too? Players do not perform in a vacuum, and they do not unilaterally put themselves into baseball games. They are hired by front offices, they are inserted into lineups by managers, they are recognized for their accomplishments by organizations such as the BBWAA, with all of this overseen by the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball—all of whom are just as culpable as the players.

Before we explore this non-player culpability, let's explore the environment that continues to enable "cheaters" to "prosper" before their cheating grows so egregious that they are banned permanently from baseball, while they can still help teams put the best possible product on the field, a product that could conceivably deliver a World Series championship.

Baseball Business as Usual

Before the 2006 Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program was established by the Major League Baseball Players Association and the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, goes the conventional wisdom, drug policies and penalties were "the Wild, Wild West," with murky parameters as to what substances were illegal and what the consequences were for that illegality.

After 2006, the parameters were now clearly defined including the penalties, which eventually grew to include an 80-game suspension for the first positive test result for PED, a 162-game suspension for the second positive test result, and a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball for the third positive test result. To date, the only MLB player with a lifetime ban is pitcher Jenrry Mejía, banned in February 2016, although he can apply for reinstatement and be eligible for reinstatement two years after banishment. Middle infielder Neifi Pérez failed three tests by August 2007, but as the substance was amphetamine and not a PED, he was not banished although his poor offensive performance combined to effectively end his career anyway.

Yet even with the codification of drug policies and penalties after 2006, Major League players continued to be caught in the dragnet of drug testing—but despite this stigma, they continue to work in Major League Baseball.

Two of the most notorious players are Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez. Ramirez served a 50-game suspension after testing positive for the first time in May 2009 and then, two years later, he received a 100-game suspension for a second positive test, whereupon he immediately retired, just as immediately fueling observations that as far as his legacy was concerned, his goose was effectively flambeed—his sudden retirement was seen as an admission of guilt, and guilt in the post-Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program agreement era was an unequivocal acknowledgement of cheating the game. There could be no "game of shadows" of hiding behind murky, ill-defined rules and penalties—the 2006 agreement spelled those out, and had even strengthened them in subsequent years. By the time Ramirez would arrive on his first Hall of Fame ballot, it was said (including by me), he would undoubtedly disappear faster than Rafael Palmeiro.

Manny Ramirez 2018 HoF
Slugging left fielder Manny Ramirez is one of the candidates Morgan has singled out for boycotting--will Manny lose votes in 2018?

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Hall of Fame ballot: Between Ramirez's retirement and his first ballot appearance in 2017, a lot of players began to test positive for PED and other substances, and despite the escalating penalties, that did not seem to stop them from getting work in the Majors. The marquee example is Alex Rodriguez, who on the basis of those numbers that appear to be preventing Joe Morgan from getting a good night's sleep lately is one of the greatest baseball players of all time: Third all-time in runs batted in (2086), fourth all-time in home runs (696), 16th all-time in wins above replacement (117.7; Baseball Reference version), 20th all-time in hits (3115), and so on.

Rodriguez had already admitted to having used PED back in the Wild, Wild West days, during the 2001 to 2003 seasons, with Rodriguez winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2003, with the Texas Rangers, for the first time after being the runner-up the previous season. The 2002 AL MVP winner, Miguel Tejada, later appeared on the Mitchell Report list of admitted and suspected PED users in 2007; he was later suspended for 105 games in August 2013 for testing positive for amphetamine; Tejada, already in his age-39 season in 2013, had his MLB career effectively ended as a result.

Then, in 2013, Alex Rodriguez was one of 13 players suspended in connection with the Biogenesis of America scandal, in which an anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, Florida, was accused of supplying Major League players with PED such as human growth hormone. Rodriguez's suspension was initially 211 games, although Rodriguez appealed the suspension—the only player to do so—which allowed him to play to the end of the 2013 season and reduced the suspension to 162 games, in other words, all of the 2014 season, when after a lengthy, contentious arbitration process the suspension was upheld in January 2014.

Rodriguez returned for the 2015 season, posting in his age-39 year a .250/.356/.486/.842 slash line with 131 hits, which saw him reach the 3000-hit plateau and become just the fifth player in MLB history to collect at least 3000 hits and at least 500 home runs; 33 home runs, which saw him pass Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time list; and 86 runs batted in, which saw him pass Lou Gehrig and Barry Bonds for fifth and fourth, respectively, on the all-time list—all while the New York Yankees paid him $22 million for the season as part of the 10-year, $275 million contract he signed with them in 2007.

Yet Rodriguez is only the most auspicious of the 13 players suspended in 2013 as a result of the Biogenesis scandal. Ryan Braun, a five-time All-Star, received a 65-game suspension while some of the 11 players who received 50-game suspensions included Antonio Bastardo, Everth Cabrera, Francisco Cervelli, Nelson Cruz, and Jhonny Peralta; Cabrera, Cruz, and Peralta had been chosen as All-Stars in 2013. In addition, Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colón, and Yasmani Grandal had all received 50-game suspensions in 2012 for their involvement with Biogenesis.

Furthermore, Braun had allegedly tested positive for testosterone in 2011, an allegation that would have netted Braun a 50-game suspension but that Braun successfully challenged on procedural grounds, raising questions about how test collector Dino Laurenzi, Jr., handled the test sample. Braun won the 2011 appeal, but his actions during and after the appeal netted him the additional 15 games as part of his 2013 suspension, which would have been the same 50 games meted out to the 11 others.

Nevertheless, Braun picked up where he had left off with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014, for whom he continues to play and for whom he was named an All-Star in 2015. Melky Cabrera continued to find work after his suspension, picking up with the Toronto Blue Jays before signing with the Chicago White Sox in 2015, for whom the switch-hitting outfielder batted .296 with 42 doubles and 86 RBI in 2016. Jhonny Peralta had received his 50-game suspension as a member of the Detroit Tigers in 2013—which didn't stop the St. Louis Cardinals from signing the hard-hitting shortstop to a four-year contract at the end of that year, with the Cardinals declaring that they were not the "morality police" and that Peralta had "paid for his mistakes" before disclaiming, "obviously if he were to make another [mistake], then it would be a huge disappointment."

Nelson Cruz has proved to have been anything but a disappointment following his 50-game suspension, although the PED taint did seem to dog him initially after he turned down a $14 million qualifying offer from the Texas Rangers, to whom he was contracted when he had been suspended. Just prior to the start of spring training in 2014, the slugging right fielder and designated hitter signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles, with whom Cruz led the Majors in 2014 with 40 home runs while driving in 108 runs. His stock on the rise, Cruz rejected the Orioles' qualifying offer of $15.3 million for a four-year, $57 million contract from the Seattle Mariners. With the Mariners, Cruz has hit 126 home runs and driven in 317 runs over the past three seasons, leading the AL in RBI in 2017 with 119 while being chosen as an All-Star in 2015 and 2017 and finishing in the top ten for MVP voting in those two years as well.

Meanwhile, Bartolo Colón has managed to keep working in MLB even at the age of 44. The big right-handed starting pitcher has posted a 79–63 win-loss record with a 3.95 ERA (and a 3.89 FIP and 98 ERA+) since 2012, when he received his 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone while with the Oakland Athletics. In 2013, Colón's age-40 season, he won 18 games for the A's against only six losses for a .750 winning percentage while posting a 2.65 ERA, a 3.23 FIP, and a 147 ERA+ as he made the AL All-Star team and finished sixth in Cy Young balloting. With the New York Mets in 2016, Colón was named to the National League All-Star squad as, in his age-43 season, he posted a 15–8 win-loss record, a .652 winning percentage, with a 3.43 ERA, 3.99 FIP, and 117 ERA+.

Since the Biogenesis scandal, Major League players who have been suspended for violating MLB's drug policies include outfielder Cameron Maybin, a member of the 2017 World Series champions the Houston Astros; right-handed starting pitcher Ervin Santana, a 2017 All-Star with the Minnesota Twins who posted a 16–8 record with a 3.28 ERA while leading the Majors in complete games (5) and shutouts (3); Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello, currently a free agent who has not played in the Majors since his suspension; second baseman Dee Gordon, who with the Miami Marlins led the National League in 2015 in hits (205), batting average (.333), and stolen bases (58) before testing positive for PED in 2016; outfielder Marlin Byrd, whose second positive drug test in 2016, resulting in a 162-game suspension during his age-38 season, effectively ended his career; and Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte, whose 2016 All-Star campaign was followed by an 80-game suspension in 2017.

While some players on the margins, Marlin Byrd or Chris Colabello, have had their careers effectively ended as a result of positive drug tests, others have experienced only a blip in their careers as teams seem to accept a failed test as simply a cost of doing business, such as a manufacturing company that pays a fine for polluting but continues on unabated. A failed drug test is simply a cost of doing business, part of the price of putting the best product possible on the field, with the aim of bringing a world championship to the city that hosts the team.

Alex Rodriguez helped to bring a world championship to the New York Yankees in 2009, the team's 27th World Series championship, by far the most in MLB history. When Rodriguez appears on his first ballot in 2022, no doubt that Joe Morgan will once again be urging voters to vote their consciences with respect to "cheaters" like Rodriguez, who like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Manny Ramirez is ridiculously overqualified for the Hall of Fame in terms of the hallowed "numbers" of baseball, the individual statistics that moral arbiters such as Morgan believe, implicitly or explicitly, deserve an asterisk next to them to indicate that the numbers have been tainted by the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

But what of the "numbers" of games won by the teams that hired or retained these players after they had been suspended for using PED? What of the "numbers" of division titles, or league pennants, or world championships, that resulted from the teams that strived to put the best product on the field, even if that "product" included players with PED associations? Moreover, what of the "numbers" in terms of the millions of dollars that these teams earned from putting the best product on the field, even if the cost of generating that revenue included the suspensions of those players with PED associations? As the St. Louis Cardinals acknowledged after signing shortstop Jhonny Peralta following his suspension resulting from the Biogenesis scandal, the team was not the "morality police."

No, that "morality" is left to the Hall of Fame, the final arbiter of legacy. Granted, inclusion in the Hall of Fame—with "inclusion" often described by the hallowed term "enshrinement"—is a privilege, not a right, a privilege awarded by a private institution dedicated to preserving and celebrating the legacy of baseball. It is a legacy that attempts to create a mythos of baseball, that of the national pastime as a reflection of what is good and great about America, an illusion of hard work, fair play, and excellence embodied in the careers of the individuals who have been elected to the Hall of Fame. As Joe Morgan stated in his letter: "For over eighty years, the Hall of Fame has been a place to look up to, where the hallowed halls honor those who played the game hard and right."

But why stop at those who played the game, Joe? Why not include all those who make the game possible, the owners, the front-office executives, the on-field managers, the commissioner, the writers who chronicle the game and bestow its awards? Without all these enablers, there would be no players to play the game—and the Baseball Hall of Fame has blithely ignored the culpability of these non-players who stood shoulder to shoulder with the players throughout this "tainted era where records were shattered," as Morgan put it.

Instead, the Baseball Hall of Fame has given a number of them a literal pass, a pass into the "hallowed halls" with nary the scrutiny it has given to the players even though they bear as much responsibility, if not more so, as do the players. We turn now to these enablers.

The PED Enablers in the Hall of Fame

Baseball players do not magically appear on the rosters of baseball teams and on the lineup cards of the teams as they take the field. They are hired and acquired by front-office executives and selected to play by the on-field managers, as part of a system called Major League Baseball that is overseen by the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball. Affiliated with MLB are the media, specifically, the baseball writers who belong to the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA), who vote on various seasonal awards such as the Most Valuable Player Award and the Cy Young Award for the American League and the National League, as well as voting on the players eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

All of these parties have enabled the use of PED, and all except the BBWAA have had representatives be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame after having benefited from players who have used PED—but unlike the players, they have undergone little if any scrutiny for their role in "[t]he cheating that tainted an era [and] now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too," to quote once again from Joe Morgan's letter.

Let's break down these enablers in turn.

Managers. In 2014, the Expansion Era Committee voted unanimously to induct Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre into the Hall of Fame. Let's note that one of the 16 committee members who voted unanimously was none other than Joe Morgan. All three managers are among the top five all-time in wins, and all three won at least one World Series championship.

And all three managed players with PED connections who helped to win all those games and titles that put Cox, La Russa, and Torre into the Hall of Fame.

I am indebted to ESPN columnist Rick Reilly for this insight, who made this connection between the newly-elected managers and their PED-connected players not long after the Expansion Era Committee vote had been announced. Reilly notes that as of late 2009, the three managers "oversaw at least 34 players who've been implicated as PED users and never noticed a thing wrong." Of the players on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot Morgan alludes to but does not cite by name, Bobby Cox managed Gary Sheffield while Joe Torre also managed Sheffield along with Roger Clemens and Manny Ramirez; next year's ballot will mark the debut of admitted PED user Andy Pettitte, who helped Torre win four World Series championships for the Yankees.

Roger Clemens 2018 HoF
Roger Clemens (shown with the Boston Red Sox) helped Joe Torre win two World Series. Torre is in the Hall of Fame; Clemens is not.

Meanwhile, Tony La Russa managed Mark McGwire both with the Oakland A's and with the St. Louis Cardinals, including McGwire's record-breaking 1998 season; McGwire's 2001 retirement put him at the forefront of the PED backlash, but seven years on the BBWAA ballot seemed to have no effect when La Russa appeared on the 2014 Expansion Era ballot, although McGwire got no pull-through from La Russa's election three years later when McGwire appeared on the Today's Game ballot.

The three managers were inducted at the 2014 ceremonies along with players Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Frank Thomas. Thomas was the lone active player to speak on the record to the Mitchell Committee as a long-time opponent of PED, and during his Hall of Fame eligibility period he was equally adamant about declaring that he had, echoing Joe Morgan's language, played the game the "right way," which makes his recent commercial endorsement of the over-the-counter testosterone booster Nugenix a rather droll one.

Executive. One of two candidates elected on the 2017 Today's Game Committee ballot was John Schuerholz, who had been the general manager of the Kansas City Royals from 1981 to 1990 before filling the same position for the Atlanta Braves from 1990 to 2007, and then becoming the Braves' president from 2007 to 2016. He won World Series with the Royals in 1985 and with the Braves ten years later, and, like Cox, he oversaw the winning of 14 consecutive division titles with the Braves during his tenure.

He also hired and acquired the same PED-associated players whom Cox managed on the field including Melky Cabrera, David Justice, and Gary Sheffield. Other players who passed through the Braves organization during Schuerholz's tenure include Matt Franco, Kent Mercker, Denny Neagle, and Mike Stanton, all of whom appear in the Mitchell Report.

Schuerholz was elected by all 16 members of the Today's Game Committee. Among those members were Bobby Cox and Frank Thomas.

Commissioner. Appearing with John Schuerholz on the 2017 Today's Game Committee ballot was Allan "Bud" Selig, who had been the Acting Commissioner of Baseball from 1992 to 1998 before officially becoming the ninth Commissioner of Baseball in 1998, holding that position until he stepped down in 2015. Selig received all but one of the committee's votes to be elected to the Hall of Fame on his first try.

Selig was the Commissioner of Baseball all through the Steroids Era, from the Wild, Wild West to the 2006 adoption of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program to the appointment of former U.S. Senator George Mitchell to lead an independent investigation into PED that same year. By 2006, much of the damage had been done, and the Mitchell Commission, which focused exclusively on the players and not the infrastructure of baseball that enabled the players to use PED, was essentially Selig's public relations mechanism to make it appear as if MLB was taking decisive action, as Baseball Prospectus writer Joe Sheehan maintained in 2007.

Selig himself told different stories to different audiences regarding his awareness of the PED problem. In 2005, he claimed to reporters that he had never even heard about steroids until 1998 or 1999, on or just after Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had re-ignited baseball with their 1998 home run chase. But in 2006, as he testified to Congress, Selig claimed that he had spotted the PED problem as early as 1994, and by 1998 he was already working on a "strategic plan" to eliminate PED from the game.

The bottom line is that Bud Selig did little to stem the flood of PED into MLB until the problem blossomed into a seemingly perpetual issue, one that is likely to remain an issue for years to come. As a former franchise owner, of the Milwaukee Brewers, Selig had been squarely the owners' commissioner ever since, as an owner, Selig engineered the removal of his predecessor Fay Vincent over the issue of collusion in the late 1980s, when owners teamed up to depress free-agent salaries and discourage the signing of free agents, with team owners agreeing in 1990 to pay the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), the players' union, $280 million in damages. Selig continued that de facto loyalty to the owners throughout the PED era, focusing on the players' behavior while ignoring the infrastructure of baseball in which the players operate.

For his loyalty, Bud Selig was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017, two years after he retired as commissioner.

Notice that we have not mentioned anything about the players' union, which had as much culpability as any party in the PED issue and that had to cooperate with Selig in order to facilitate a drug-testing agreement.

To date, the MLBPA has no representation in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In late 2017, the Modern Baseball Committee met to vote on a slate of ten candidates, nine players and one executive, Marvin Miller, the Executive Director of the MLBPA from 1966 to 1982, who was instrumental in dismantling the Reserve Clause, introducing modern free agency, and increasing the salaries of baseball players, making Miller one of the most important figures in the history of baseball. Miller received seven votes from the 16-member Modern Baseball Committee, which included Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz, five short of the 75 percent necessary to be elected, this marking the eighth time that Miller, who died in 2012, has failed to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, Cox and Schuerholz and Selig were all voted in on their first try.

Baseball Writers' Association of America. The BBWAA is an indirect party in the PED issue in that it makes no policy with respect to regulation or enforcement. However, it is culpable in that the BBWAA supplies the voters for the players' ballot and is the group targeted by Joe Morgan's letter imploring those voters not to vote for players with confirmed PED connections, specifically, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, and Gary Sheffield, with Sammy Sosa a shadowy candidate whose PED connections are not as clear as the others.

Starting with the 2016 election, the Baseball Hall of Fame amended the voting rules for the BBWAA, requiring that voters must have been active BBWAA members within 10 years prior to the election. This sloughed off emeritus voters who had not been keeping up with baseball, including the PED furor, and the effect was immediate: Mike Piazza, dogged with usage of androstenedione ("andro") early in his career, although andro was legal and available over the counter at the time, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2016.

The following year, Jeff Bagwell, long dogged with rumors of PED usage, was elected to the Hall along with Ivan Rodriguez, elected on his first ballot even though he too had been implicated with PED going back to Jose Canseco's 2005 tell-all book Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big. Moreover, Manny Ramirez, whose Hall of Fame goose seemed to have been burned to a crisp way back in 2011, when he failed his second drug test, received 23.8 percent of the vote on his first ballot while both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens nosed past the 50-percent mark for the first time.

Clearly, the streamlined BBWAA votership had abandoned the moral dudgeon that had marked BBWAA voters in years past, which then necessitated the PED smack on the nose administered by Joe Morgan and the unnamed other Hall of Famers he purported to represent to keep the voters in line.

But the BBWAA had been guilty of hypocrisy for years. Recall that the BBWAA also votes on the seasonal awards including the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards. The BBWAA had been voting those awards to PED users all along—and not just in the Wild, Wild West days, either, when Bud Selig either didn't know about any PED problem or when he already had a solution to the problem, depending on which story he was telling.

During his career, Barry Bonds won seven MVP Awards, the most ever by any MLB player in history. He won four of those awards consecutively, from 2001 to 2004, when everybody had realized that there was a PED problem and Bonds appeared to be in the thick of it. Similarly, Roger Clemens won seven Cy Young Awards, the most ever by any pitcher in MLB history. He won two of those consecutively, in 1997 and 1998, when the PED issue was beginning to manifest itself, and then in 2001 and 2004, when there was clearly a PED problem in MLB, with Clemens, in his age-41 season in 2004, a seeming beneficiary of the problem.

Barry Bonds 2018 HoF
The BBWAA voted Barry Bonds a Most Valuable Player an unprecedented seven times but has not elected him to the Hall of Fame.

How could the BBWAA vote awards for Bonds and Clemens, in essence stating that they were the best position player and pitcher, respectively, for that season, and then refuse to vote for them for the Hall of Fame?

Granted, that is a collective charge levied against a group of individual voters, and I do not know how many, if any, members who voted on the seasonal awards also have a Hall of Fame vote. Nevertheless, the BBWAA is the arbiter of both seasonal awards and career legacy, and it smacks of hypocrisy to say, in essence, yes, you were the best player or pitcher in a given year, and thus we'll recognize that, but your overall conduct prevents you from entering the Hall of Fame, which is for the best players who kept their noses clean because baseball has standards.


Say It Ain't So, Joe

By now, it is clear that as long as a player does not get himself banned permanently from baseball, he can still find a job on an MLB team even if he does get himself suspended for testing positive for a banned substance. This is simply the cost of putting the best product possible on the field, much like a company pays a fine for exceeding emissions or pollution standards during the course of manufacturing. After all the moral thundering and posturing that has been done about PED, it has done little to alter baseball's business as usual.

But while the PED stigma may follow a player significant enough to merit serious consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame, that stigma does not appear to apply to the front-office personnel who hired or acquired the player, or to the on-field management who penciled the player onto the lineup card as the team sets out to win games, divisions, pennants, and world championships. That stigma also does not apply to the Commissioner of Baseball who presided over the rise of performance-enhancing drugs and who did little to arrest the rise until it became an endemic and systemic problem.

The simplistic moral outrage expressed in Joe Morgan's letter to the voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America mirrors the personal-responsibility mantra that falls squarely and exclusively on the players while ignoring the infrastructure of baseball without which players would not even have a venue in which to play, let alone "cheat."

In that respect, Morgan is the ideal spokesman for the Hall of Fame, which reflects the primacy of the owners while treating the players as employees who should be grateful for the privilege of being allowed to enter the Hall of Fame. After all, the BBWAA, which votes for the players, is subject to various strictures with respect to their voting—in December 2016, the BBWAA itself voted overwhelmingly to make all ballots by its Hall of Fame voters public in a measure to increase transparency. However, in November 2017 the Baseball Hall of Fame rejected the BBWAA's initiative. By contrast, the various veterans committees do not have to disclose their members' ballots, and the veterans committees are the ones that vote on the managers, the executives, and the commissioners.

As an active member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Joe Morgan has been a tool to orchestrate conduct that reflects the attitude of the owners, an attitude that strives to create that "uplifting, feel-good" atmosphere about the national pastime overseen by the beneficent owners of baseball, who treat the players as if they were precocious children who must be punished when they are willful or disobedient while they themselves do not have to be held to account for enforcing segregation in baseball, for holding its players like chattel through the Reserve Clause, for colluding to discourage the hiring of free agents once the Reserve Clause had been abolished, and who looked the other way at the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs as long as their business continued to be profitable, and when the outrage over PED finally forced baseball to address the problem, the owners continue to employ PED violators as long as they have not been banned permanently from the sport.

You evaluate the baseball you have, not the baseball you wish you had, not the baseball that conforms to some childish, whimsical conception of baseball as a pure and innocent pastime immune from the corruption of the society that spawned it. Performance-enhancing drugs are as much a part of baseball as the gambling and brawling that marked its beginnings, the racism—individual and institutional—that marked its development until the middle of the 20th century, and the indentured servitude that marked its economic model until the 1970s and the abolition of the Reserve Clause and the rise of free agency.

And to think that only the players are responsible for PED is to fail to recognize the infrastructure of baseball that enables the players to participate in the first place. While the opprobrium over PED has raged in the foreground over the legacies of players such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro, the non-players who also compose the infrastructure of baseball have quietly waltzed through the back door into their places in the Hall of Fame: Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre, the managers who inserted those players into their lineups, day after day; John Schuerholz, the front-office executive who hired and acquired those players; and Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Baseball who watched the entire distasteful PED era unfold under his guidance of baseball.

Once inside the Hall of Fame, these non-players begin to serve on the various veterans committees appointed to evaluate players and non-players alike for their inclusion in the Hall, working with Hall of Famers such as Joe Morgan in what begins to look like a star chamber that determines the legacy of baseball. And if that sounds too conspiratorial, then these veterans committees should have to make public their ballots, their complete record of who they did or did not vote for, as the voters of the BBWAA called for starting with the 2018 ballot--until that initiative had been struck down by the Hall of Fame itself.

"Times shouldn't change for the worse," Joe Morgan writes in his letter imploring BBWAA voters not to vote for players with established ties to PED. Indeed, they shouldn't. With the recent rules changes by the Baseball Hall of Fame, from requiring that BBWAA voters make public their ballots to the 2014 rule change that limits players' maximum allotted time on the BBWAA ballot to ten years, the various veterans committees will now assume greater responsibility for voting players and non-players alike into the Hall of Fame.

This means a far smaller body of voters, half of whom already members of the club for which they are deciding additional membership, with another quarter of that body composed of the executives in direct service to the business of baseball, meeting in private to cast their ballots, which they do not have to disclose to anyone; all we see is a partial tally of the top vote-getters. This is in essence a peer vote that does not have to be shared with the public, many of whom will come to the Baseball Hall of Fame for, as Joe Morgan terms it, "an uplifting, feel-good visit."

Is it "uplifting" to know that baseball legacy is being concentrated into fewer, less accountable hands exercising a selective morality when it comes to players and non-players? Is it a "feel-good" experience to know that the perception of baseball is being shaped by the minority that controls the infrastructure of baseball at the expense of the majority that labors within that infrastructure?

Say it ain't so, Joe.

Last modified on Tuesday, 03 July 2018 21:59


0 #2 Darryl Tahirali 2018-01-22 20:48
Thank you, Committee Chairman.

I was sure you would have put in Vizquel, but like you said, there is opportunity down the road.
This is Vizquel's first year, and I think he'll get at least five percent to return next year. With my strategic voting approach, I would pick first-timers for whom a five-percent minimum vote isn't certain (Rolen, Santana) and those who have been on the ballot for a few years--notic e that my top two are Larry Walker (8th year on the ballot) and Edgar Martinez (9th year).
0 #1 Committee Chairman 2018-01-20 01:26
Another outstanding piece.

I guarantee that most of the baseball voters did not put as much thought on than you did.

I was sure you would have put in Vizquel, but like you said, there is opportunity down the road.

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