This morning I opined about the voters who leave Jeff Bagwell off their ballots because they suspect he did steroids. In the piece I explained what I took to be the thought process of such voters: either they know nothing about his PED use but merely have a hunch or else they know something but can’t publish it because it wouldn’t pass editorial muster.
My conclusion — as I’ve said many times before — was that such a state of affairs is an illegitimate means upon which to base one’s Hall vote. Put up or shut up, you know. My friend Rob Neyer — after dropping the winning phrase “Calcaterrian whatfor and whatnot” — took issue:
I wonder if Craig’s legal background isn’t tripping him up here, just a bit. He’s saying, I think, one of two things (or perhaps both):
1. A voter who hinges his decision about a particular player on the use of PEDs should consider only documented evidence; there’s no room for hearsay, or statistical oddities, or visual impressions;
2. If a voter does have some worthwhile evidence, he’s not allowed to write about the voting decision unless he’s also willing to discuss that evidence.
While I believe Bagwell should be in the Hall of Fame, I’ve never quite understood the argument that a Hall of Fame voter — if he thinks steroid use is germane — should ignore every scrap of evidence that doesn’t appear in the Mitchell Report or wherever.
I’ll grant that a voter can’t just ignore the hearsay. And to be clear: I know there’s hearsay out there. Last winter I spoke to a writer who, while not a Hall of Fame voter, covered baseball during Bagwell’s prime. He said that there is a lot of stuff floating around about Bagwell out there. People talk. No one ever says they saw Bagwell using anything first hand, but lots of people know someone who says they did. Or knew some guy whose brother did. That kind of thing. I think such evidence should be ignored and I would ignore it myself, but not everyone agrees and, no, you can’t un-hear that.
But I do think it is incumbent upon those who do consider that kind of evidence germane to say so if they write about their votes or else simply not write about it. Why? Because when they go from merely whispering about it among friends to executing one of the duties of their profession based on that evidence they are necessarily making an accusation. A far less factually-based accusation than those they’ve excoriated others for making in the past.
They may not believe they are, but they are. Read any writer who makes a point to ding Bagwell because of “uncertainties” and tell me that they’re not making him a steroid suspect. And not just because he was a power hitter of his era, because they’re not giving the same treatment to many other players.
I agree with Rob that voters will consider such things. But if they do so, they cannot ignore the fact that the single biggest question among members of the media and the public with respect to the steroids era is who was doing it and who wasn’t. And via their public, defacto accusations that Bagwell used PEDs, they’re putting him in a group of people who have been, rightly or wrongly, rendered pariahs. I think doing so requires more than that hearsay we’re discussing.
I’ll grant that about 95% of my rhetoric on this topic is about how people should not vote such a way for such and such a reason. But in light of Rob’s piece, I have to admit that what bothers me about it is less the vote itself and more about what the vote means. It means being assumed to be guilty. And sorry, my legal background does trip me up when it comes to that sort of thing, even if the Hall of Fame is not a court of law.