I have until the end of the year to make my choices and I will need that time, because I will take seriously the exhortation that “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”.
I intend to give each candidate due consideration. Actually, that’s not true. I already know that I will not be voting for Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza or Sammy Sosa.
These guys were legends when my obsession with baseball began. To a large extent, they were responsible for my obsession with baseball. Especially Roger Clemens, who has won more Cy Young awards than any other pitcher (many of them in the uniform of my beloved Sox) and Bonds with his almost super-human numbers.
It is pretty clear that they cheated me. They cheated their team-mates. They cheated the fans.
Most importantly, in my view, they cheated the game.
There is an argument, which is held by friends and baseball gurus whose opinions demand respect, that the taking of performance-enhancing drugs was so widespread that it should be discounted. There are some who believe that, as these drugs were not, at the time, banned by MLB, no illegal acts were committed. And there are others who will attempt to identify how good a player would have been had he not taken the drugs. Would have Bonds still hit 73 HRs in a season? Or merely 70? Or 65?
The point, or my point anyway, is that the numbers are only one element in the assessment. I want to major on integrity, sportsmanship, character as well. And regardless of what was or was not banned by MLB at the time, the underhand ways in which these drugs were used is pretty conclusive proof that those concerned knew that what they were up to was wrong.
Shoeless Joe (.356 lifetime!) is not in the Hall of Fame. Nor is Pete Rose, who had more hits than anyone else ever.
But the Babe is, and Ted Williams is, and Jackie Robinson is, and Willie Mays is.
I’m not saying that the Hall of Fame is inhabited only by the purest of the pure. I’m saying that there are precedents for refusing entry to those who have brought the game into disrepute, whether by gambling, taking bribes, or ingesting performance enhancing drugs.
As a sinner myself, I believe these activities are inimical to the game. They are – sorry about this, America, “just not cricket”.
PS. I would welcome the help of anyone with a case to make for (almost) any candidate, especially others in the UK and Europe, who have no voice.
Today's listening: the Dead, Winterland, October 1969, and wryly wondering how many (or rather, how few) would have made it to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame if we applied the same criteria ...