So what should you do if you suspect a Hall of Fame candidate did steroids?

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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.

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.