Why should we care if a ballplayer is mean or if he’s “a punk?”

96 Comments

This is only tangentially related to the actual Hall of Fame vote because neither of these guys voted. One because he’s not a Hall of Fame voter and the other because, well, you’ll see that in a minute.

But it’s not an accident that the opinions referenced below came out on Hall of Fame day about Hall of Fame candidates and I believe it speaks volumes about how a lot of voters approach the Hall of Fame vote.

First, Jeff Pearlman, late of Sports Illustrated but more recently late of the best seller list where books he wrote on Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, among others, have landed. He was holding forth on Bonds last night:

He argues that, while PEDs is obviously the big issue for him, as a result of his meanness, it is not surprising that writers don’t cut him more slack and that he even gets fewer votes than his partner in infamy, Roger Clemens.

Next is Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Delaer. Hoynes is an excellent beat writer, by the way, one which I have a lot of respect for. Which makes what he has to say in his Hall of Fame column all the more surprising.

He starts out by saying that he didn’t vote. Not as a protest but because he simply didn’t get his ballot in the mail and then forgot to inquire about getting a replacement one before it was too late. The ballot “took a powder,” he says. But he thinks perhaps something in his mind pushed him to not follow up in a timely fashion because he Has Issues with one of the candidates:

Deep down, however, I think there was some Freudian thing at work.

Well before the ballots were released, I was wrestling with the idea of voting for Pedro Martinez. As great a pitcher as he was, I thought he was punk on the mound.

Hoynes cites the Don Zimmer incident and instances in which Martinez thew at guys for Martinez’s punkdom. Then he adds this:

I have to say those weren’t the only reasons Martinez irritated me. He quite simply dominated the Indians. He was 11-1 with a 1.77 ERA in 16 games against some of the best lineups the Indians have ever fielded.

Hoynes says, in the end, he would have voted for Martinez anyway, presumably making the point of just how much of a Hall of Fame lock Pedro actually was. But I’m not sure he makes the point he intends to make. Ultimately it took Pedro being historically dominating and a stray comment from Indians president Mark Shapiro to sway him. If, like most Hall of Fame caliber players, they aren’t quite up to Pedro Martinez’s level, does Hoynes vote against them if they’re “punks?” Does he somehow manage to locate his ballot and make damn sure that they do not receive his vote? Based on what he writes here, that seems like a logical outcome.

Put Hoynes and Pearlman together and you have a couple of sports writers who form their opinions about baseball players based on personalities and attitude and homerism — Hoynes is annoyed that Martinez pitched well against the Indians, remember — and whether they were polite in the locker room, not based on their baseball ability. And against that backdrop, I ask you: why should we give a crap about any of that?

Is whether a baseball player a jerk relevant to your enjoyment and appreciation of baseball at all? Sure, in extreme cases I can see it. If, say, the player is a literal criminal who beat his wife or something, yes, that can interfere with one’s enjoyment of the game and serve as a troublesome distraction. But if a guy is just a jerk or got into an on-field shouting match or what have you, what on Earth does it matter? I can’t see how it does. Pearlman references Ty Cobb. Well, Ty Cobb was horrible. He was also a Hall of Famer. Maybe Pedro did throw at some guys. So what? Usually people laud Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale for that sort of thing.

The idea that the personality of these guys matters is a creation of baseball writers who, by the necessity of their jobs, have to deal with baseball players in close quarters. For those purposes I have sympathy for baseball writers. I like a great many of them and it makes me sad if they have to deal with jerks all day.

But it shouldn’t matter for you and me. And it certainly shouldn’t matter for the purposes of historical assessment. That stuff is wholly irrelevant. Or at least it should be. And to the extent it infects Hall of Fame voting, it’s yet another significant flaw in the manner in which the Hall of Fame handles voting.