It's Okay To Think About Jeff Bagwell

HOUSTON: Jeff Bagwell addresses the media during a press conference as the Houston Astros announced that Bagwell was replacing Sean Berry as hitting coach in Houston Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Whatever you might think about Jeff Bagwell and his contemporaries, may we agree that it's appropriate to keep thinking about them?

Lynn Henning, who's been around for a while and who I've known for a while, has published his Hall of Fame ballot: Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell, Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez.

The sabermetric-minded among you have already noticed a notable omission. Henning:

That's a tight group made tighter by the fact one guy who deserved to be there has been, perhaps wrongly, suspected of having had some help. Jeff Bagwell played most of his career during a period when steroids and human-growth helpers weren't, in fact, a violation of baseball's rules.

So, why penalize him in the absence of any corroborative evidence? And if he is left off my ballot, as Mark McGwire has been steadily since he hit eligibility, why next year will I probably bite the bullet and vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens?

... I'm open to new arguments and evidence. Bagwell's case is particularly troubling, because of timing and lack of evidence, and a year from now he very likely will get a vote. It's a matter of discussing, researching, thinking.

You might not believe this, but in some quarters one is actually mocked for taking more time for discussion, research, and thought.

Drugs are hard, man. Cheating is hard. Circumstantial evidence is hard.

It's hard, so most people just don't bother with any of it. It's either all good, or all bad. Seems like most Hall of Fame voters simply will not vote, no matter the circumstances, for any player who's been attached to steroids. Seems like most bloggers and fans of bloggers, no matter the circumstances, give a free pass to every player who's ever cheated.

Well, you know. That's one way to live your life. The easiest way, probably.

I remain unconvinced that it's the best way, or the most interesting way.

Leaving aside the actual results, I'm fairly sure that Lynn Henning's process for filling out his Hall of Fame ballot places him in the 99th percentile of voters. And that number would remain extraordinarily high even if you threw open the process to all the bloggers who come up with the same answers I would, every year.

Lynn's results are pretty good, too. My ballot would definitely contain four players, just like his. Three of them are the same: Trammell, Larkin, Raines.

Frankly, I'm a little surprised that Lynn has left off Bagwell, but not Edgar Martinez. Bagwell was the better all-around player, and there is exactly as much reason to suspect Edgar of steroid use as Bagwell. Unfortunately, Henning doesn't explain this (apparent) inconsistency. I am pretty sure he's at least thought it about for a while, though.

Which is a good thing. Players remain on the ballot for 15 years. Even later, there will always be some mechanism in place to redress an injustice to a particular player, if one was done. But if an injustice is done to the institution -- say, if Freddie Lindstrom or Jim Rice is elected -- that cannot be undone. So I find it exceptionally hard to fault a voter for reserving his right to continue thinking about a player. As long as he's actually thinking.

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