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.