In the course of Michael S. Schmidt’s recent column on Jeff Bagwell, Ross Newhan, the retired Los Angeles Times writer and still-current Hall of Fame voter, describes what he sees as the role of the electorate:
“Somebody said we are not the morality police, but yet I think we are. If we aren’t, who is? Part of our job is that we are custodians of the game’s history.”
I get why someone can think that. The Hall of Fame ballot invites voters to weigh-in on the character of candidates. But there’s a big difference between passing on a single player’s character and being “the morality police” or “the custodian of the game’s history.”
In the former instance, a voter is merely judging one player. If limited to that, one must necessarily look at Bagwell’s record and note that there is not a single thing on his professional resume that could be viewed as a character deficiency. In the latter instance, however, voters give themselves permission to read all of baseball’s sins of the Steroid Era into Bagwell’s biography. They feel they are protecting some sacred institution, not merely judging one man. In this case it’s easy, then, for a writer to explain away the injustice he might visit upon Jeff Bagwell. After all: he believes he is doing something more important than passing on Bagwell. He’s protecting the Hall of Fame! Even though there is nothing on the ballot or in his marching orders that tasks him with this.
And why would there be? The Hall of Fame is capable of protecting itself. It does so by setting its eligibility standards. It could change them in five minutes if it felt threatened. It hasn’t done so in response to the steroids epidemic. That should tell the writers something. Sadly, it has not.
The Hall of Fame is not heaven, my fellow baseball writers, you are not St. Peter at the gate, and no one — not even Jose Canseco — has written baseball’s book of life. Have a sense of humility about you. Understand that your role is not to be baseball’s moral arbiters, writ-large. You are to look at one player at a time and judge him accordingly. If you have nothing negative to say about him, and if his accomplishments are sufficient, vote him in.