The Hall of Fame gives voters a clear signal: moralize about steroids even more

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In the past couple of weeks many Hall of Fame voters expressed dismay at the dilemma they faced regarding PED users and the character clause in their voting instructions. Some — including Ken Rosenthal and Jayson Stark — have openly asked the the Hall provide guidance on the matter.  Well, the Hall did so last night. In the course of this interview with Joe Posnanski, Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson made it clear that the Hall is pleased with and fully expects writers to continue what they’re doing :

“Baseball has historically been held to a very high standard, right or wrong. There’s a certain integrity required when it comes to baseball’s highest honor, which is being inducted into the Hall of Fame. The character clause exists as it relates to the game on the field. The character clause isn’t there to evaluate and judge players socially. It’s there to relate to the game on the field … The voters should have the freedom to measure that however they see fit.”

Asked if that means that the Hall is fine with keeping out Bonds, Clemens and players like Jeff Bagwell for whom there are only baseless steroid suspicions, he made it pretty clear that it is:

“When you look at the Hall of Fame elections, you see that those who are elected are representative of that era. The Hall of Fame election is a continuum. And the standards have upheld the test of time. We believe they work. We believe the voters have exercised a great understanding about the candidates in the Hall of Fame. I think when you look at who the writers have voted into the Hall of Fame, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t belong there …

… Am I worried that this era will be under-represented? No. I mean, you have a set of guidelines and rules in place. … I think we are happy with the way the voting has gone, we’re happy with the diligence of the voters who have participated, and the chips will fall as they fall.”

I think that there is a 100% certainty that voters will be citing this interview for years as a basis for being even stronger in their moral indignation at PEDs than they are now. Those who have no compunction about smearing Jeff Bagwell with both their words and their vote now have the approval of the Hall of Fame itself. Those on the fence now have the cover to join the high-horse crowd.  Those of us who find this all tremendously troubling will be shouted down with reference to Idelson’s words. We’ll be asked who the hell are we to protest when the man who runs the Hall of Fame himself has told us that he’s just fine with our playing the Morality Police. And they’ll have a good point.

But I fear that as a result of this we’ll also have a Hall of Fame on the fast track to irrelevance.  Because of the manner in which the Hall of Fame has set up the voting of the Veteran’s Committee, the Hall is now and likely forever will be without Marvin Miller, the architect of the free agency era and without Buck O’Neil, the man who did more than anyone to ensure that the Negro Leagues didn’t just disappear into the mists of history.

Because of the Hall’s slavish devotion to Major League Baseball’s official banned list, it is without the game’s all-time hit king, Pete Rose and, even if I personally oppose his induction, it is without Shoeless Joe Jackson, who many believe belongs.

And now, because it has sided with the steroids hysteria crowd, it will be without the home run king, one of the greatest pitchers of all time in Roger Clemens and countless other players who played in the 1980s and 1990s. Mike Piazza? He’s out. Pudge? Gone. Bagwell? Forget it.  And of course, given the total lack of scrutiny on the matter every other player of that era could suddenly and baselessly find themselves blacklisted like Bagwell has been. Indeed, if the voters are intellectually honest about it, they’ll have no choice but to give the entire era a miss.

What will become of the Hall of Fame if it continues down this path?  I raised that question on Twitter last night. Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe and I discussed it a while. He (and many others) believe I’m overreacting. I suppose that’s possible.  But I think the Hall of Fame is important. And it’s important not by some immutable law of the universe. It’s important only because people believe it’s important. They go way the hell out of their way to a village in upstate New York because they believe the museum represents something official and — though I cringe at the invocation of divinity — they believe it is hallowed baseball ground.

What happens when people in Texas stop believing its important because Jeff Bagwell isn’t in there? When Giants fans scoff at it because Bonds is out?  When Rangers fans — or hell, Latino fans — think the place unfairly kept out Pudge Rodriguez?

None of those exclusions is major in and of itself, I suppose, but legitimacy can be a fickle thing. I already believe that the moral standards being applied by the BBWAA and the Hall are out of step with that of most baseball fans. I think, with Idelson’s words, that trend will accelerate.  And I fear that as it accelerates, the Hall of Fame will find that it speaks to fewer and fewer people as time goes on.

UPDATE: For some more spleen on this, go check out Bill’s take over at The Platoon Advantage.  Also, the comments to this post are shaping up to be quite strong so far, so I highly recommend that you check them out below if you don’t normally do so.

UPDATE II:  Crashburn Alley takes things even further. Is the Hall of Fame [gulp] like that museum on Creationism?

Neal Huntington thinks players should be allowed to re-enter games after concussion testing

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Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who has suffered many concussions throughout his 12-year career, was hit on the back of the helmet on a Joc Pederson backswing Saturday against the Dodgers. Through Cervelli remained in the game initially, he took himself out of the game shortly thereafter and went on the seven-day concussion injured list on Sunday.

Perhaps inspired by Saturday’s event, Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested that players should be allowed to re-enter games once they have passed concussion tests, the Associated Press reports. Huntington said, “Any player that had an obvious concussion risk incident should be allowed to be removed from the game, taken off the field, taken into the locker room, assessed by a doctor, assessed by a trainer, go through an extended period of time and then re-enter the game. Because right now, all of this has to happen on the field.”

Huntington added, “The player has to feel pressure as he’s standing there with 30,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 eyes on him. He has to feel pressure to make a decision whether (he’s) in or (he’s) out of this game. He knows if he takes himself out and he’s the catcher, there’s only one other catcher, and the game becomes a fiasco if that other catcher gets hurt.”

Huntington, who has been forward-thinking on a number of other issues, has it wrong here. The concussion protocols were created because players frequently hid or under-reported their injuries in order to remain in the game. Especially for younger or otherwise less-proven players, there is pressure to have to constantly perform in order to keep one’s job. Furthermore, there is an overarching sentiment across sports that taking time off due to injury makes one weak. Similarly, playing while injured is seen as tough and masculine. Creating protocols that take the decision-making out of players’ hands keeps them from making decisions that aren’t in their own best interests. Removing them would bring back that pressure for players to hide or minimize their ailments. If anything, MLB’s concussion protocols should become more stringent, not more relaxed.

The powers that be with Major League Baseball have no doubt followed the concussion scandal surrounding the National Football League. In January, the NFL settled for over $1 billion with retired players dealing with traumatic brain injuries, including dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. For years, the league refused to acknowledge the link between playing football and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia and has many negative effects, such as increasing the risk of suicide. Since baseball isn’t often a contact sport, MLB doesn’t have to worry about brain injuries to this degree, but it still needs to take preventative measures in order to avoid billion-dollar lawsuits as well as avoiding P.R. damage. In December 2012, former major league outfielder Ryan Freel committed suicide. Freel, who claimed to have suffered as many as 10 concussions, suffered from CTE. MLB players can suffer brain injuries just like football players.

Huntington seems to be worried about not having enough rostered catchers in the event one or two catchers get injured. That is really an issue of roster management. Carrying only two catchers on the roster is a calculated risk, often justified. Huntington can ensure his team never has to be put in the position of not having a catcher in an emergency by rostering a third catcher. Rosters are expanding to 26 players next year, by the way.