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Saunders: Baseball Hall’s Morality Clause Hides Real Reasons for Bonds, Clemens Snubs



Pittsburgh Pirates, Barry Bonds

I’m a little bit upset about the fact that Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and company are not going to get in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I’m not actually upset about those players being excluded. I’m bothered by why they were excluded. The thing about the Baseball Hall of Fame voting that bothers me is that, at least speaking broadly, it’s not about morality. 

The Hall of Fame voting process, through the Baseball Writers Association of America, does contain a morality clause, and many have used that as justification for withholding votes from players that have been accused of PED use that otherwise have the credentials to get a call to Cooperstown.

That, of course, is nonsense. Despite the morality clause, there are racists, wife-beaters, and cheats of all kinds in Cooperstown. Gaylord Perry literally wrote the book about cheating. He’s in the hall. Don Sutton, another noted ball-doctorer, is too.

In addition to being a racist and being accused of murder, Ty Cobb fixed games along with Tris Speaker. The color barrier that Jackie Robinson broke was put into place by Hall of Famer Cap Anson. There is some evidence those three may have been in the Klu Klux Klan. The Red Sox were so embarrassed by the racist history of former owner and Hall of Famer Tom Yawkey that they changed the name of the street beyond the fence of Fenway Park. But his plaque remains in Cooperstown.

Bobby Cox was arrested and charged with beating his wife in 1995. He was voted into the hall in 2014.

It’s not about drug use, either. There’s no one that ever got held out for cocaine use, or greenies, and there are plenty of drunks — Babe Ruth most famously. Tim Raines testified to his cocaine use in court. Mike Schmidt wrote about using greenies. Orlando Cepeda went to prison for marijuana.

The reason steroids are treated differently is that baseball people hold numbers sacred. 

If Sosa, McGwire and Bonds never passed Hank Aaron, no one would have ever cared about steroids in baseball. It’s just a reaction to a broken idolatry. The number that had meaning to people no longer has that meaning and the reason is not because the new player was better, but because he was given an opportunity his predecessor was not. 

Baseball is the only sport that thinks this way. The NFL paves over its records like they don’t exist. Current teams play nearly double the games of teams from when the NFL got started. Nobody cares. Re-write the record books all you want. 

Hockey has spent years trying to figure out how to possibly get players to score more. Have you seen how many steps LeBron James in allowed to take? Across all boundaries, offense is what packs in the crowds, so leagues willingly and shamelessly give the people what they want. The record book is the farthest thing from people’s minds.

Except baseball. Don’t mess with the record book. Don’t dare put your name alongside some figure of the past unless you’ve actually earned it. 

That’s why we have a steroid era. That’s why Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and a half-dozen others aren’t in the Hall of Fame and won’t be. 

And that’s OK. The people that vote earned that right. You have to watch an awful lot of baseball to even get that baseball writer’s card and you have to keep it for an awfully long time to get the right to vote. This writer never even got close. They should be able to pick who gets to be in the Hall of Fame: which wife-beaters, which drunks, which racists and which cheaters. 

But don’t let them wrap themselves up in morality. Because that’s not what it’s about. 

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