The Baseball Hall of Fame and Morals: It's Too Late for All That

Mark HauserCorrespondent IIJuly 24, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 26:  Barry Bonds #25 of the San Francisco Giants swings at a pitch during the first inning against the San Diego Padres September 26, 2007 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California. Tonight will be the final home game for Bonds as a member of the San Francisco Giants.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The bottom line is this: Why do sports’ Hall of Fames exist? 

Basically, it is to signify which players were the best players of all time in their particular sport. 

None of the Hall of Fames have a moral clause, except baseball, of course.  The rules for the voting include taking into consideration a player’s “integrity, sportsmanship, and character.”   While this may have seemed like a good idea when it was written, all it did was open the door for inevitable unfair subjectivity, and ultimately, hypocrisy.

Right off the bat (pun intended) these qualities were ignored as Ty Cobb (98.2 percent of the votes), and perhaps to a lesser extent Babe Ruth (95.1), were inducted into the Hall of Fame. 

Now, I am not suggesting that they should not have been voted in the Baseball Hall of Fame—that would be silly.  But unless the biographies of Cobb and Ruth are inaccurate, a precedent has now been set and it was clear that those three words really don’t apply to the rules.   Hence, either those three words should have been taken out of the voting rules, or they should have never been considered or brought up again.

And if baseball, either now or back in 1936, wants to get all high and mighty and self righteous, how about the fact that many players refused to take the field with black players for over a half century?  This was despicable and hardly a display of “integrity, sportsmanship, and character.”  And some of these same players I would bet are in the Hall of Fame.  Sorry, baseball opened up the can of worms. I am just slugging through their mud.

If baseball wants to ban players from the Hall of Fame for throwing games because that is a specific offense that won’t be tolerated, then fine, as long the players know that is what the rule is.  Pete Rose’s case, however, is more complicated because he did not bet on baseball when he was a player and he would only be going into the Hall as a player and not a manager.  Perhaps if he handled it better he would be in right now.

Steroids present an even bigger problem because taking them is clearly cheating; yet since baseball handled it so poorly we don’t have the evidence we need to apply it fairly. 

What’s fair?  I don’t know—it is a mess.  Personally, I would do what I think a majority of the voters are going to do, which is vote for the players that I think were clearly good enough even without the help of steroids (Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Roger Clemens) and not vote the borderline cases that I strongly suspect took steroids.  This is totally unsatisfying, and of course, potentially unfair.  Thanks again, MLB.

All this means is that I would probably vote Rose, Bonds, Rodriguez, and Clemens into the Hall (sorry, Shoeless Joe Jackson took the money without a gun to his head even though I am not convinced he helped throw the series). I think they are all jerks, but deserving jerks, nonetheless. 

This, I guess, is my way of saying that I don’t think much of their “integrity, sportsmanship, and character.”  I don’t care because I didn’t think much of Cobb’s, Ruth’s, and any racist player who deprived MLB of all those great black players that were forced to play in the Negro Leagues. 

What’s fair is fair, except in baseball.