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.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

Brandon Belt
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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.

Keith Law: The Braves have the best farm system in baseball

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Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!

Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.

This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.

If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.