Salem trial

What’s wrong with “innocent until proven guilty” for PEDs?

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Several writers who have defended excluding Jeff Bagwell from their Hall of Fame ballots have said that they don’t have a problem doing so even though there’s no evidence that he used steroids because the Hall of Fame is not a court of law, and the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” does not apply. The latest to do so was Ed Price yesterday.

I have a serious problem with this because even if it’s not a court of law, innocent until proven guilty is a fair and decent concept. There are a lot of places that aren’t courts of law that respect the concept that you actually, you know, have to be shown to have misbehaved before punishment attaches. School. Your office. Even a baseball field.  No one expects a criminal standard of proof — evidence beyond a reasonable doubt — but some modicum of a burden would be nice before one is punished. Or, in the Hall of Fame debate, one’s name and reputation is sullied. I don’t think “at least a shred of credible evidence” is too daunting.

Newsday’s Ken Davidoff dealt with this yesterday, and he hit on another reason why requiring some evidence is a good idea: consistency. As in, how can voters possibly be consistent if they don’t demand any evidence before throwing someone in the PED pile:

Price, with whom I’m friendly enough that we’re currently working together on BBWAA matters, writes, “This isn’t a court of law. Innocent until proven guilty does not apply.”

I used to feel exactly the same way. In fact, I referenced that here. But the more I thought about the haphazard way in which we learned about players from the pre-testing era, the less I could identify with such logic. I say, why not apply the “court of law” standards to Hall of Fame morality issues? Otherwise, there doesn’t appear to be an equal application of justice across the spectrum. No, we’re not deciding on people’s freedoms. But the Hall of Fame is taken extremely seriously by people both inside and outside the baseball industry. That’s why I’ve grown most comfortable with a consistent line of thinking.

There are a couple of great concepts there. The first being that one about our haphazard knowledge of PED use in baseball.  A couple of years ago I wrote an article for the Hardball Times Annual explaining how deeply flawed and under-inclusive the Mitchell Report was, and thus why using it as a go-to resource for PED use in baseball is a fool’s errand.  The point is that even with the Mitchell Report and the subsequent things we’ve learned, we have no idea who used and who didn’t, and thus pretending that we do without anything more (i.e. evidence of a specific player using) is madness.

The second great idea in Davidoff’s passage is how serious the Hall of Fame is taken by people in the industry.  I don’t think the Hall of Fame is hallowed ground or anything, but I do take it seriously. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have written 50 posts on it in the past few weeks. The voters take it seriously too, as is evidenced by the fact that every writer who goes on to hold Bagwell off their ballot has noted how important their task is and how difficult it is to approach the voting process.

It seems to me, however, that a serious undertaking requires an intellectually-serious approach. And to the extent I’ve taken issue with someone’s Hall of Fame ballot, it’s not because of their choices per se. It’s because they exhibit a fundamental incoherence of approach. Just some of the examples:

  • Applying different standards to two different but similarly-situated players;
  • Exhibiting blatant biases without any attempt to explain or to reconcile them;
  • Importing their own rules over and above that which the Hall of Fame itself sets forth;
  • Demanding, in effect, that players prove a negative in order to meet the voter’s standard;
  • Explaining away their votes by saying “it’s totally subjective, so I can vote how I want;”
  • Admitting that their reasons for voting in a certain way are too irresponsible to voice in public, yet continuing to adhere to and honor those reasons when casting their ballots.

If, as Davidoff says, as most voters say and as I believe, voting for the Hall of Fame is a serious undertaking, none of these things are acceptable. Because no serious undertaking allows for such intellectually unserious behavior.

But more important than any of that, no serious person flings a serious accusation at someone, either expressly or by implication, without at least having a single shred of evidence.

Jorge Posada highlights 16 one-and-done players on Hall of Fame ballot

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 24:  Jorge Posada addresses the media during a press conference to announces his retirement from the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on January 24, 2012 in the Bronx borough of  New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada received only 17 total votes (3.8 percent) on the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot. Unfortunately, he is one of 16 players who fell short of the five percent vote threshold and is no longer eligible on the ballot. The other players are Magglio Ordonez (three votes, 0.7 percent), Edgar Renteria (two, 0.5 percent), Jason Varitek (two, 0.5 percent), Tim Wakefield (one, 0.2 percent), Casey Blake (zero), Pat Burrell (zero), Orlando Cabrera (zero), Mike Cameron (zero), J.D. Drew (zero), Carlos Guillen (zero), Derrek Lee (zero), Melvin Mora (zero), Arthur Rhodes (zero), Freddy Sanchez (zero), and Matt Stairs (zero).

Posada, 45, helped the Yankees win four World Series championships from 1998-2000 as well as 2009. He made the American League All-Star team five times, won five Silver Sluggers, and had a top-three AL MVP Award finish. Posada also hit 20 or more homers in eight seasons, finished with a career adjusted OPS (a.k.a. OPS+) of 121, and accrued 42.7 Wins Above Replacement in his 17-year career according to Baseball Reference.

While Posada’s OPS+ and WAR are lacking compared to other Hall of Famers — he was 18th of 34 eligible players in JAWS, Jay Jaffe’s WAR-based Hall of Fame metric — catchers simply have not put up the same kind of numbers that players at other positions have. That’s likely because catching is such a physically demanding position and often results in injuries and shortened careers. It is, perhaps, not an adjustment voters have thought to make when considering Posada’s eligibility.

Furthermore, Posada’s quick ouster is somewhat due to the crowded ballot. Most voters had a hard time figuring out which 10 players to vote for. Had Posada been on the ballot in a different era, writers likely would have found it easier to justify voting for him.

Posada joins Kenny Lofton in the “unjustly one-and-done” group.

Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez Elected to the Hall of Fame

1990:  Outfielder Tim Raines of the Montreal Expos in action. Mandatory Credit: Otto Greule  /Allsport
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The 2017 induction class of the Baseball Hall of Fame was announced Wednesday evening and we have three inductees: Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez. Raines and Bagwell had to wait a good long while to get the call. Rodriguez is in on his first year of eligibility. But nowhere on the plaque will it say how long it took. All that matters now is that three of the greatest players of their respective generations finally have a place in Cooperstown.

Players must be named on 75% of the Baseball Writers Association of America’s ballots to get in. Raines was named on 86% of the ballots. Bagwell was named on 86.2%. Rodriguez was named on 76%. Non-inductees with significant vote totals include Trevor Hoffman at 74% and Vladimir Guerrero at  71.7%. The full results can be seen here.

Others not making the cut but still alive for next year, with vote totals in parenthesis: Edgar Martinez (58.6); Roger Clemens (54.1); Barry Bonds (53.8); Mike Mussina (51.8); Curt Schilling (45.0); Manny Ramirez (23.8); Larry Walker (21.9); Fred McGriff (21.7); Jeff Kent (16.7); Gary Sheffield (13.3%); Billy Wagner (10.2); and Sammy Sosa (8.6). Making his final appearance on the ballot was Lee Smith, who received 34.2% of the vote in his last year of eligibility. He will now be the business of the Veterans Committee.

Players who fell off the ballot due to not having the requisite 5% to stay on: Jorge Posada; Magglio Ordoñez; Edgar Renteria; Jason Varitek; Tim Wakefield; Casey Blake; Pat Burrell; Orlando Cabrera; Mike Cameron; J.D. Drew; Carlos Guillen; Derrek Lee; Melvin Mora; Arthur Rhodes; Freddy Sanchez; and Matt Stairs

We’ll have continued updates on today’s Hall of Fame vote throughout the evening and in the coming days. In the meantime, congratulations to this year’s inductees, Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez!