Changing Cooperstown With The Character Clause

Former Houston Astros hitting coach Jeff Bagwell looks on from the dugout at Minute Maid Park during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals in Houston Texas. Bagwell has once again come under fire from Hall of Fame voters for suspected steroid use. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Jeff Bagwell has destroyed the innocence of yet another sportswriter, but maybe disenchanted voters are on to something.

It's begun. That time of year where sportswriters lament the steroid era, and do so by voicing their opposition to players eligible for the Hall of Fame, regardless of whether there is any hard evidence against them or not. There are a lot of complaints against this "guilty until proven innocent" point of view, especially in regards to the character clause that facilitates the lack of voting. 

Jeff Idelson, president of Cooperstown, explained his views on integrity and character in baseball in an interview with Joe Posnanski:

"Baseball has historically been held to a very high standard, right or wrong," he says. "There's a certain integrity required when it comes to baseball's highest honor, which is being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

This high standard is why players like Jeff Bagwell supposedly get the shaft when it comes time for Hall of Fame voting. There is no direct evidence against them for any wrongdoing, but they were associated with an era that makes us all want to bury our heads in the sand. Some might find this wrong; I don't think it goes far enough.

Idelson says "historically" that baseball has upheld this high standard, but a look back through history tells another story. There are cheaters, racists, alcoholics, drug users, and generally unlikable people enshrined in Cooperstown. If anything, there has been a terrible job done of upholding a high standard of integrity for players elected to the Hall of Fame. Maybe it's time to burn the whole thing down and start over with only those players innocent enough to merit inclusion.

No excuses, no reasoning a player entry into Cooperstown. If a player's character was ever deemed questionable -- even by association -- then they are out of the Hall of Fame. That way, we'll only have players we absolutely know represent the high standard of integrity that Idelson and many voters aspire to.

Let's start at the beginning: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson were the first Cooperstown class, back in 1936. Cobb is famous for hitting baseballs real well, but he's also famous for being a racist. As if that weren't enough to damn him through the eyes of this 21st century writer, he also assaulted a handicapped heckler in the stands in 1912. Fred Lieb wrote that Hornsby was a Klan member, putting him right out of the Hall. And if you don't believe that, Hornsby once punched Art Fletcher in the face since talking wasn't making his point. 

We might not have the same evidence against the other three, but don't worry. Due to association and the fact that baseball's color line forced the formation of the Negro Leagues due to segregration, we can safely throw all of these pre-1947 players out of Cooperstown. If they weren't overtly racist like Cobb, Hornsby, and others, they at least played a part in keeping the status quo with their silence. See what you did, Cap Anson? Now it's not just your hit totals that are being changed after the fact. 

You might think this is extreme, considering baseball integrated before the rest of the United States did, but there's nothing we can do. Racism is intolerable, and these players (and executives, too) should be retroactively punished for their misdeeds. 

Moving past integration, we come to a whole new set of problems. In Jim Bouton's seminal Ball Four, the author and pitcher opens up about baseball's clubhouses: the drugs, the booze, and most importantly, the amphetamines. Greenies, the pre-steroid performance enhancer that gave players the energy to maintain their focus throughout the season. Their use didn't start with Bouton's career, but he was the first to blow the lid on it. This means anyone who played during Bouton's career (from 1962 through 1978) isn't eligible for the Hall of Fame, either, as amphetamines give you an edge, and that constitutes cheating. Cheating doesn't have much integrity in it, does it, character clause? Since rumors of amphetamine use go as far back as Ted Williams, we're probably safer if we just cancel out anyone between 1947 and 1962 as well. We wouldn't want anyone to accidentally earn enshrinement and defile the integrity of the institution.

If supposed use of greenies isn't enough to remove Willie Mays from the Hall, then how about the fact he was part of the 1951 pennant winning Giants? They had an elaborate system for stealing signs. It's been a while since I've cracked open a Bible, but I'm pretty sure I remember learning that stealing is wrong. Ergo, he's out, as is anyone else on that club (like Leo Durocher, who, as the former manager of Jackie Robinson, otherwise would have been safe).

Pitchers aren't saints, either. Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, Whitey Ford, and others defaced baseballs with anything they could sneak on to the mound. Perry even named his autobiography, "Me and the Spitter" -- toss him out for audacity, too.

In the 80s, you've got drug use. Paul Molitor and Tim Raines (sorry, Jonah Keri) were both involved with cocaine. Ferguson Jenkins was arrested by customs agents for having cocaine in his suitcase. A few years before that, Orlando Cepeda smuggled 150 pounds of marijuana into Puerto Rico, went to prison for it, and was arrested again in 2007 for having drugs in his vehicle. Between amphetamines, rampant drug use, and the start of the steroid era in 1980s Oakland, it's probably not safe to allow any of these players into Cooperstown anymore without a ticket.

This doesn't even fully cover the character-related issues that Hall of Fame baseball players have had. Kirby Puckett had more than rumors swirling about him for domestic abuse. The recently inducted Roberto Alomar also came under scrutiny for domestic problems. Wade Boggs is an admitted sex addict. George Brett's pine tar incident (and subsequent tantrum) is one of the more famous 80s moments. Jim Bunning was a politician. 

I don't need to rally against steroid era players, given voters are already doing their fair share of that, evidence or no. If Jeff Bagwell and his muscles make you nervous about your vote, remember that it's not always the big and strong players who were using. It could be anyone, at any time! Our advice? Blank ballots from here on out. Even today's game isn't safe, thanks to Ryan Braun; who knows when we'll be able to safely vote again, if ever.

That takes care of... well, the entire Hall of Fame. It's time to collect all of the memorabilia for the hundreds of former members found within its halls, and sell it all to the highest bidder. Cooperstown can then donate all of the money to the children whose lives players like Bagwell and Braun have destroyed. Now that's how you build character necessary for Cooperstown induction.

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