The first two selections on my baseball Hall of Fame ballot last month were Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens because they were the best player and best pitcher of their generation. Performance has always been my sole criteria.
Unfortunately, it isn’t so simple for other writers, and it’s complicated by the sanctimonious twits who run the Hall of Fame now and insist that character should be a factor to be considered by voters. If we’re going to do that, we should clear out the previous inductees whose characters were deficient. Ty Cobb, who confessed in his autobiography that he may have killed a man during his playing career, should certainly go. So should Cap Anson, who famously shouted a racial slur toward a black player to get off the field when he entered the game for an opposing team.
There are any number of drunks and womanizers, with Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle leading the group, who would never have passed a character test. Fortunately for them, there wasn’t one and there shouldn’t be one now. The Hall of Fame should honor accomplishment. It is not a cathedral.
As for the current candidates, I wrote in the late ’90s that Bonds’ contempt for writers would come back to bite him because writers would find a way to punish him.
That issue became steroids. Those voting against Bonds (and Clemens) will say that they can’t vote for cheaters, though in the case of steroids, we have no way of knowing who was taking them and who wasn’t. The ones who have been caught — a list which does not include Bonds by the way — are only the tip of the iceberg.
And players had been taking performance-enhancing drugs for many years before steroids. One important one was amphetamines, commonly known as “greenies.” Players have told beat writers that the decline in power numbers last season was because of the banning of amphetamines, which had been widely used as an antidote for hangovers and/or the mental fatigue caused by the long baseball season.
Cheating, or “getting an edge”, has always been a way of life in baseball. I saw Gaylord Perry go from a pitcher whose major league career was about to end to a Hall of Famer when Bob Shaw taught him how to throw the spitter, an illegal pitch but one which has been used by other pitchers as well.
Former Giants manager Alvin Dark had his groundskeeper water down the base paths to slow down Maury Wills.
Stealing signs has always been an acceptable tactic.
The one proven advantage of steroids is the ability of players to extend their careers. So, in the case of Bonds and Clemens, just chop off the last five years of their careers. That would leave Bonds with far fewer home runs and Clemens with far fewer wins — but they’d still be the dominant player and pitcher of their era. There is simply no justification for voting against them.
I think both will eventually get in, when younger writers who have had no personal experience with them will simply vote them in because of their records. It’s a shame that current writers cannot because of their personal animosity.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.