Jeff Bagwell a 'No' for This Hall Voter
No, I didn't vote for Jeff Bagwell for the Hall of Fame. Yes, it's for the reason everybody loves to hate. I don't know for sure that Bagwell took steroids or any other performance-enhancing drugs to help him attain his Hall of Fame-caliber numbers. I don't have evidence, like we do against Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. But I'm suspicious. And this year, that suspicion was enough to make me send back my ballot without the Bagwell box checked. I'd rather withhold the vote based on suspicion than vote the guy in only to find out later that he cheated and I shouldn't have.
I understand the position of those voters (and non-voters, for that matter) who insist it's not fair to take such an action without hard proof. Understand it and actually agree. It's not even slightly fair. But it's the world in which we voters and Bagwell and his fellow Hall candidates now live -- a world of the cheaters' creation. If Bagwell's upset about it, and if he truly is innocent, then he has my apology, but I'd also advise him to seek one from McGwire and Palmeiro and all of his peers and contemporaries who decided they had to cheat and break the law in order to play baseball better.
Bagwell insists he's innocent, which is what you'd expect him to do whether he is or isn't. The Steroid Era (and the supposedly post-Steroid Era) has shown us repeatedly that the cheaters don't admit to anything until they've been caught -- and that even then they'll only admit to the exact thing for which they were caught, nothing more. Bagwell surely wouldn't be the first to passionately deny guilt only to later be proven guilty. So with all due respect to the man's words, I don't think they're worth very much in this debate.
This isn't about whether I believe what Bagwell says. It's about suspicions I harbored long before he spoke out on the issue. It's about where he played and when he played and the teammates with whom he played and a whole bunch of circumstantial evidence that I readily admit wouldn't hold up in a court of law.
But this isn't a court of law. This is a Hall of Fame vote. I don't need proof beyond a reasonable doubt in order to cast a vote for any candidate in either direction. I could refuse to vote for someone because I didn't like him personally, though I think that would be wrong. I could refuse to vote for somebody based on racial or ethnic or religious grounds, though I think that would be despicable. I could withhold a vote because I don't want people in the Hall of Fame who have blue eyes, or owned cats, or ever played on a Texas team. It's my vote, and the only standards to which I am beholden are my own.
So yeah. I'm suspicious of Bagwell, and what that means is right now he doesn't get my vote. If he registers a "yes" with 75 percent of the electorate, then congratulations to him, he earned his way in. If he doesn't, I promise to grant him my full consideration in every future year in which he appears on the ballot, as I do with every candidate every year. But where I am with the PED guys is I don't vote for them. I haven't voted for McGwire or Palmeiro. Right now, I don't plan to vote for Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds. I could change my mind, but that's where I am right now on the issue. And in order to be consistent with that position, I don't feel I can vote for anybody I suspect, even if that standard casts an unfairly wide net.
People will hate this position, and I understand that. But I offer this in my defense: we writers who covered the game during the Steroid Era are often criticized for not reporting more skeptically based on the suspicions we harbored then. And while much of that criticism is justified, I believe the fact that we and our newspapers could have been subject to legal action for such reporting works in our defense.
The withholding of a Hall of Fame vote based on suspicion of illegal activity is not the same as writing a newspaper story accusing someone of illegal activity. I'm not accusing Jeff Bagwell of taking steroids or any other performance-enhancing drug. I'm just saying I'm suspicious. The five players for whom I voted this year -- Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Barry Larkin, Jack Morris and Tim Raines -- escape my suspicion, and I admit I could be wrong about any or all of them, too. But all any of us can do is the best we can with our individual ballots. And if you don't like mine, I'm sorry. But now at least you know the thinking behind it.