Is Barry Bonds really getting a “fair hearing?”

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In the wake of yesterday’s Barry Bonds press conference, Ken Rosenthal talks about Bonds’ Hall of Fame case. Rosenthal opposes Bonds’ induction. He says this about those who do not:

I hate when some in favor of Bonds’ and Clemens’ candidacies disdainfully describe voters like myself as “gatekeepers of morality.” Guilty as charged, I guess, but I don’t see it that way at all. Maybe in five years I will view my current stance as too harsh. Opinions evolve, perceptions soften over time.

Bonds is eligible to remain on the ballot for 13 more years—he received 36.2 and 34.7 percent of the vote in his first two years, well short of the 75 percent needed for induction. The crowded ballot probably isn’t helping him any, but if Bonds cannot get elected by 2027, I doubt many will complain that he did not receive a fair hearing.

A “fair hearing” entails more than just being subjected to a previously set-up process. It also entails being judged by the same standards as everyone else who went before the tribunal in the past and the presence of impartial arbiters. Barry Bonds may be getting the BBWAA-allotted 15 years on the ballot, but is he getting a “fair hearing?” Based on those criteria, I think not.

Bonds is being judged by historically arbitrary standards, in that there are several PED users in the Hall of Fame (and worse) and the “character clause” which is keeping him (and others) out has never been applied by the BBWAA as it is currently being applied against him. In a fair system, precedent and deterrence are important concepts. The accused either knows or should know that whatever act he takes can and will be punished in such a fashion and has a chance to tailor his behavior accordingly. Bonds took PEDs, of this I have no doubt, but he did so at a time when doing such things had never been sanctioned in this way before. That is, unless I’m missing the fierce debates about Mickey Mantle and all of the players who took amphetamines.

Moreover, in his case, the judge (BBWAA voters) also happen to be his prosecutors. The same can’t be said for Pete Rose or Joe Jackson, who aren’t being barred by writers. In those cases it was MLB leveling charges and disabilities to their candidacy. Here, MLB is perfectly fine with Bonds (and Clemens and McGwire) being in the fold, even in uniform. The ones who would disqualify him are the same ones who have built the case against him. The writers.

I’m never going to claim that Barry Bonds was some angel. Nor do I believe that Barry Bonds being in the Hall of Fame (or not) validates him in some way that truly matters. I know he was great. You do too. Even the people who would keep him out of the Hall of Fame, like Rosenthal, know he was.

But if you do want to bring up the topic of his treatment before the Hall of Fame tribunal, it’s hard to say how his hearing has truly been “fair.” He engaged in behavior that was entirely acceptable within baseball circles for decades and is told only later that, as it applies to him, it is a Hall of Fame disqualifier.  And, even if he is getting a hearing, the prosecutor also happens to be the judge.  Against that backdrop, as far as I’m concerned, the trial can last 25 years and it wouldn’t be fair.

It will take more than a cursory apology for Josh Hader to put this behind him

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If you missed it, Brewers reliever Josh Hader landed in hot water the minute he stepped off the mound in Washington last night when multiple tweets he made in 2011-12* were uncovered containing some seriously gross, racist, misogynistic and homophobic language.

Almost as soon as it broke, Hader made a quick apology for the tweets, saying that he’s not the same person now than he was when he was 17 years-old. Major League Baseball is investigating the matter and Hader acknowledged that he must and that he will talk to his teammates about this, so the story is not over.

Some commenters and correspondents of mine, however, have said they believe it should be over. Indeed, they said it almost as soon as the news came to light. While a small handful of those folks likely take no issue with the language Hader used — there’s a lot of ugliness out there, particularly noticeable in the anonymous online world — others have simply, and it would appear genuinely, said that we should cut Hader slack for some bad choices he made when he was 17.

I will gladly cut Hader more slack for six and seven-year-old tweets he made as 17 year-old that he apologizes for genuinely than I would if he tweeted that stuff yesterday, but let’s not rush to “aww, he was just a kid” land seven hours and a night’s sleep after it all came to light. Indeed, there are many reasons why this is not a case for instant and automatic forgiveness.

This was not some kid breaking out a neighbor’s window with a slingshot. This was not someone saying “that’s gay” instead of “that’s dumb” in the way a lot of us have in the past. This was not someone using a word or phrase that only recently came to be accepted by most people as unacceptable or said something that, while not containing any awful individual words was insensitive, to use the parlance of the day. It was some seriously ugly language (go read it if you’d like), used consistently, repeatedly and confidently. It’s not from some hazy time in the past like the 1970s. It’s from 2011 and 2012. It’s language that he and everyone else knew, at the time, to be profoundly offensive to a massive number of people and which was unacceptable to use in a public forum. Not just now, with the hindsight of age and time, but then, even at the age he was. The tweets are a window into a really gross and disturbed person’s mind.

Hader should — and he will — be given the chance to apologize and to make amends. No one is suggesting he be banished to an island and he certainly won’t be, so don’t even make a suggestion that he is or will be any sort of victim of P.C. culture or whatever the hell else people cite in order to excuse their awful behavior or the awful behavior of others. At the same time, however, let us not let him off the hook with a cursory apology and a conclusory “I’m not like that anymore” statement to a beat writer five minutes after the controversy came to light.

For one thing, no one else would be given such an easy pass like that. No politician or musician or artist or job applicant or anyone else, famous or non-famous, would simply be able to cite being 17 as a get-out-of-decency-free card. We routinely try criminal defendants that age as adults. We make 17 year-olds of color conform their behavior to the most unreasonably high standards, set by others, in order to avoid being discriminated against or worse. For his part, Hader was an elite high school athlete who knew damn well that what he said and did in public was scrutinized in a fundamentally different way than what others said and did and nonetheless tweeted that garbage anyway. He did it either because his level of empathy and respect for women, blacks and homosexuals was defective and abhorrent or because he knew better and simply didn’t care.

I am not suggesting Hader not be given a chance to apologize and make amends for all of that. I am not suggesting that he not be able to continue to pitch late innings for the Milwaukee Brewers, become rich and famous and live his life happily and freely. I am merely saying that it is not too much to expect him now, less than 12 hours after all of this has come to light, to have to do some actual work to explain and atone for it. To not just say that he’s “a different person” now but to tell us how — apart from getting caught being obnoxious — he became a different person and what that really means. To expect him to explain this and to apologize to his teammates, and not just the two who happened to be in Washington with him last night. To explain and to apologize to his fans, many of whom are women and minorities, and to ask for their forgiveness and understanding.

I am not, to use a phrase someone threw at me last night, “on my high horse” about this. I am not holding Hader to some unreasonable, liberal/P.C/social justice warrior standard in which poor, victimized Josh Hader can simply not win. I am simply saying that this is far more serious than finding out some 80-year-old man jumped a subway turnstile back in 1954 and that the acceptance of responsibility, the apology and the work Hader has to do in light of this is not to issue some quick and cursory one offered to a national beat writer as he towels off after a postgame shower.

I realize our standards and expectations of certain public figures in this country have become impossibly low, but my God, they are not that low, nor should they be.

*There were some putative Hader tweets floating around Twitter of a more recent vintage, particularly one about Trayvon Martin from 2016, but there is reason to suspect at least that one is a photoshop. Hader has locked his account, however, and it cannot be confirmed. It’s not really important, though, given that Hader has admitted to making multiple ugly tweets, to inspect every single one this moment, so we’ll leave the analysis of each and every individual tweet for another time.