Editor’s Note: The Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced the results of its annual Baseball Hall of Fame election two weeks ago, stirring the debate about whether players linked to steroid use should receive this highest honor. Writer Carter Gaddis cast one of the 440 ballots in that most recent election.
I used to daydream about meandering through the Baseball Hall of Fame with my sons. I tell them that as an honorary lifetime member of the BBWAA and a Hall of Fame voter, I proudly played a small role in helping to commemorate the history of the game.
Every now and then in this daydream, the boys and I pause and read the bronze plaques of the players who earned my vote. I tell them about watching Rickey Henderson steal bases; about witnessing Greg Maddux bewitch batters; about Ken Griffey Jr.’s backward cap and his contagious smile.
At some point during this little Norman Rockwell painting of a baseball dad’s dream, I take a minute to explain that even though the players they see enshrined in Cooperstown earned it, the Hall of Fame was incomplete.
Some of the greatest players were missing.
Pete Rose, yes. Shoeless Joe Jackson, sure. They gambled with their legacies, and lost.
But also Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield and Roger Clemens. Imposing batters who hit many majestic home runs and an intimidating pitcher who might have been the best ever.
Champions who were as exciting to watch as any players of any era. Baseball players who dominated the game during their careers.
Then I tell my sons: I did not vote for any of them.
I tell them about the rule, the one that instructs Hall of Fame voters to take into account “integrity, sportsmanship, and character” of the candidates, as well as their playing records and contributions to their respective teams.
Bonds and Clemens, I explain to my sons, were tied to the illicit use of performance-enhancing drugs, which in the opinions of many observers tainted these great players’ historic achievements. The other four also were implicated in PED use to varying degrees.
It all sounds so logical in my head. In my vision, I have all the answers.
But the idyll is shattered when, like a needle scratching a vinyl record, my sons say to me in unison, “So what?”
To this, I have no answer.
The question is what the current debate about Hall of Fame voting comes down to: So what? Why do “integrity, sportsmanship, and character” matter in a candidate for the Hall of Fame, beside the fact that an archaic stipulation written generations ago says those qualities must be taken into account?
For my part, I take the privilege of voting seriously. I conduct thorough research, then make my decisions based on the best information available. I trust my experience and, ultimately, my instinct.
Voters (including me) have hemmed and hawed and given reasons why and why not, and excoriated fellow voters for naked hubris or ignorance. The public (and many voters) have decried the process.
Who are we to say Bonds and Clemens are not Hall of Fame worthy?
Well, we’re members of the BBWAA, and the responsibility was offered and accepted long ago. I do it because I care about the game, and because I was asked to do it.
That is a debate for another time, another place.
I write this now as a father, a father who happens to also be one of the privileged few to cast a ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame. As with every role I play in life, my status as a voter is linked to and influenced by the most important role I will ever play.
Let me be clear – the moral and ethical ambiguity of Baseball Hall of Fame voting is child’s play compared to the daily challenge of parenthood.
The parenting decisions I make every day, the lessons I try to impart, the love I share, the example I try to set for my sons … in these things and all else, integrity, sportsmanship and character matter. I don’t need a written rule to tell me that.
I want so much for there to be a correlation between my stance as a voter on Bonds, Clemens, et al, and my role as a father. I want to be able to point to those players and say to my sons, “See? This is what happens when you cheat, when you take shortcuts in life. We must live with the consequences of our actions.”
I want to wrap this in a moral, ethical bow – an object lesson in parenting brought to you by the great game of baseball.
This isn’t that.
I’m not cynical, but I am realistic enough to know that my day-to-day responsibilities as a parent only relate to the raging debate about the qualifications of certain Hall of Fame candidates in the most tangential way. Still …
If I could script that daydream vision of Cooperstown with my sons, they would not ask why it mattered that Bonds, Clemens and the rest of the exiled greats were excluded. In the face of evidence of cheating, they would not ask me, “So what?”
Instead, they would file the fact of Bonds’ and Clemens’ absence away for future consideration, and we would move on. They would point to the bronze image of a man with a script “B” on his cap and ask: “Who is that?”
And I would say: “That’s Jackie Robinson. He changed the game in 1947, the year your grandfather was born. See what it says there?” And I point to the final sentence on his plaque:
“Displayed tremendous courage and poise in 1947
when he integrated the modern major leagues
in the face of intense adversity.”
That is true character. They would file that away, too. And we would move on.
Photo credit: Kevin McKeever