For This Voter, Hall Calls Are Now Private
However, from now on, I will no longer reveal my ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. And that is because journalistic principles of fairness trump the desire for openness.
Let's make this clear: The Hall of Fame asked the Baseball Writers' Association of America, from the very beginning, to elect inductees. It is not the BBWAA's Hall of Fame, but we take the responsibility seriously -- at least every Hall of Fame voter I know does.
It's not an easy task to vote on the Hall of Fame even just considering a player's career accomplishments. The debates over Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris should make that clear.
But the instructions to voters make it even harder: "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
Every voter has his own interpretation of those instructions. Mine says that cheating shows a lack of integrity, sportsmanship and character, and I believe that using performance-enhancing drugs is cheating.
(If using steroids isn't cheating, why didn't players just shoot up in the open? Why has every player, at least initially, denied using PEDs, if they all didn't know it was cheating?)
In a Twitter debate with my friend Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post, Mike tweeted: "I'd rather be wrong letting guilty in than keeping innocent out."
I disagree. This isn't a court of law. Innocent until proven guilty does not apply. I feel strongly enough about cheating that, in fact, I feel the opposite of Vaccaro; I prefer to err on the side of keeping the innocent out rather than letting cheaters in.
When I hinted at this stance on Twitter, I got some pretty intense feedback. In response, as best as I can put it:
1) I don't believe this is "punishing" anyone unfairly. I believe getting in the Hall of Fame is a reward. But not getting in isn't punishment.
2) I don't believe anyone blanketly "deserves" to get in the Hall of Fame. It's an election. It's necessarily subjective. Some cases are obviously stronger than others. But no one yet has been unanimously elected.
3) And since a player's statistical qualifications can be borderline or debatable, so can his integrity, sportsmanship and character.
4) I'm not saying I won't vote for any player from the Steroid Era. But, yes, I am holding players from that time to an extreme standard, whether they used PEDs or not, though I don't think I'm treating those players unfairly. Besides, these are the same players who, for many years, resisted calls for testing and fought to keep the game unclean. So I have no sympathy there.
5) I didn't have a vote when Ty Cobb (racist) or Gaylord Perry (spitballer) were up for election. I have enough trouble deciding on the players up for election now, and those guys are already in, and I can't do anything about that. All I can control is who I vote for now.
Again, I stress this is only my position (although others have pretty much the same one, such as FanHouse's Dan Graziano). I'm not saying that every voter should use the same criteria or interpretations. Another of my FanHouse colleagues, Jeff Fletcher, has written, in essence, that since PED use was so prevalent in the recent era, he doesn't "see (his) ballot as an opportunity to exercise ... moral judgment."
While I disagree with the stance, I believe Jeff is entitled to it. And the beauty of the process is that if 75 percent of the electorate -- with its diverse reasoning -- agrees on a player, then he gets in.
Unlike the annual BBWAA awards, Hall of Fame voting is by secret ballot. And while in the past I have published my vote, I no longer believe I should.
And that's because I don't believe it's fair to publicly accuse someone of using PEDs without some evidence. If I reveal my ballot, and it doesn't include an obvious choice, then I am, in effect, accusing that player because I have made it known I will not vote for a player if I believe there was a reasonable chance he used PEDs.
My friend Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com recently wrote that because he, too, won't vote for players whom he suspects of cheating, he is willing to say who was on his ballot and why he voted for them -- but not the reasons he left off anyone else.
I'm not even willing to do that, although I could always change my stance. (I went from voting for Jim Rice to not voting for him -- in the year he was elected!)
Say what you want about my position on Hall of Fame voting, but it's no cop-out. As I said, filling out the ballot is hard enough without taking PED use into consideration. Now -- because, for a long time, no one took action against cheating -- I have to make my best guess as to who cheated. It's not easy and it's not fun.
If you want me to change my position, then get the Hall of Fame to change its instructions to something like those of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which specifically instructs voters to NOT take into account off-field conduct. Take out the part about "integrity, sportsmanship, character" and I'll vote for Mark McGwire.
But for now, I feel I'm following the instructions given me. And I'm not ashamed of my stance. I'll get plenty of backlash, and I hope for reasoned debate rather than name-calling. Throw all the numbers you want at me -- and I like to look at all the numbers -- but I abhor cheating, and that takes precedence over all.