Hall voters don't need morals clause to determine who is worthy

Posted: January 12, 2011

"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."

- Baseball Hall of Fame

Instruction to Voters

THE "INTEGRITY, sportsmanship, character" determination has become the Catch-22 of the annual BBWAA election of eligible former players to the Hall of Fame.

That's Catch-22, as in catch 22 guys who used performanc-enhancing drugs during their careers and triple that number will go uncaught.

I think I can safely say a majority of the 500 plus Baseball Writers Association of America members eligible to vote for the HOF candidates have become increasingly uneasy about the process.

More and more players are becoming eligible who bring with them the taint of suspected PED use. More and more were named in a slipshod witch hunt called the Mitchell Report - 99.9 percent of the "evidence" was provided by ex officio trainers and other whistle-blowers, including Super-Snitch Jose Canseco. If Jose had a quill sticking out of him for every needle he says he stuck into a ballplayer's butt, he'd look like a giant porcupine.

I am increasingly uncomfortable determining who is in and who is out of the HOF based on a process in which an increasingly undefinable moral code is the compass in the absence of evidence.

Rafe Palmeiro, HOF first ballot-worthy on the strength of 500-plus homers and 3,000-plus hits, marked himself lousy by stating before a congressional committee while under oath that he never used PEDs. Then it was leaked that Rafe had, indeed, flunked a test.

Liar, liar, pants on fire . . .

Neither Mark McGwire, Jeff Bagwell nor Juan Gonzalez ever failed an MLB-mandated drug test. In fact, when McGwire admitted using the common bodybuilding enhancer creatine and was found to have androstenedione prominent in his locker stall, neither was a banned substance. In fact, MLB didn't have a banned-substance list, a testing program or the cooperation of the players association in agreeing upon and implementing an enforcement plan.

McGwire was plainly dirty from the moment he stonewalled Congress to his reluctant admission of guilt last winter, offered to clear the air enough for the Cardinals to hire him as their hitting coach. Mac became an easy no vote. No moral code was necessary.

But Bagwell and Gonzalez were first-time HOF eligibles. Bagwell was not mentioned in the Mitchell Report and was never a Canseco teammate. Gonzalez was mentioned in the report and in Canseco's book. By Internet law, that made Bagwell a "probable" using the Little Man, Big Power theory. And it convicted Gonzalez. Juan got only 5.2 percent of the vote and probably will be off the ballot after next year's election. Bagwell's 41.7 percent was about what I expected in a year in which the voters' main focus was on 2010 near-missees, Bert Blyleven and Robby Alomar. Next year, with no locks on the ballot, Jeff should get at least into the 50s.

After I wrote the annual column disclosing my ballot, the e-mail was understandably conflicted. How could I vote for Bagwell, an obvious cheater? one fan raged. Another congratulated me for not "swallowing all the forum and chat rooms gossip."

It is past time for the people who make the Hall of Fame eligibility rules to lose the morals clause, or at least the "integrity, sportsmanship, character" wording.

Integrity? Ty Cobb, who was in the first Hall of Fame class in 1937, was linked to both betting on games and fixing them, but never charged. Sportsmanship? Robby Alomar was "penalized" by a number of HOF voters last year for the John Hirschbeck spitting incident and just missed first-ballot election. In 1912, Cobb went into the stands of the New York Highlanders ballpark and brutally beat a heckler. A heckler with one hand. Character? Cobb would have spiked his mother if she were taking a throw at second or third. The guy was a flaming sociopath.

As the PED testing process slowly evolves through painstaking negotiation with the union - there is still no blood-testing for human growth hormone at the MLB level - amphetamines have been given equal status as a PED. First-time offenders get a 50-game suspension testing dirty for either.

Since amphetamine use was rampant in the 1960s and '70s, do we slap asterisks on all the HOF heroes of that era? Steve Carlton and Pete Rose were on the prescription list of the Reading Phillies volunteer team physician charged with writing the prescriptions and having the pills delivered to Veterans Stadium by a couple of fans. When I went on the beat in 1966, the use of "greenies" and "red juice" (liquid amphetamine) were so common, nobody questioned it. Pine-tar use was more rigidly enforced.

Taking it back an era, the Volstead Act, prohibiting the sale and manufacture of alcohol except for medical or scientific uses, became history's most abused law. And while there was no penalty for a citizen drinking alcohol (wine or beer in limited quantities could be produced for home consumption), it was illegal to patronize a "speakeasy," where bootleg spirits were sold.

Between 1919 and repeal in the fall of 1933, do you think Babe Ruth might have been in a few speakeasies? Since baseball's inception, booze has been the pastime of the pastime.

Just let us vote the HOF ballot without the impediment of a moral code guiding a flawed process in which big-league players can't even be tested for HGH, where all those Barry Bonds-sized heads and jacked-up strength and reflexes come from.

Most of us know a great ballplayer when we see one. Let us decide without a morals clause whether the guy cheated to become one. *

Send e-mail to bill1chair@aol.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/conlin.

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