“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.”
Hmm, pretty stern words from the rules for election used by Baseball Writers’ Association of America, the group that votes on the yearly inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Surely, that so called “morality clause” has never been circumvented to honor a gentleman so gifted on the diamond that his off-the-field character was overshadowed.
Oh wait, yeah, the BBWAA has conveniently done that with Cap Anson, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Bud Selig, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Tom Yawkey, Gaylord Perry, Orlando Cepeda, and Charles Comiskey, among others, all of whom are celebrated in the Hall of Fame, and all of whom have done despicable stuff on and off the field.
All because the “morality clause” that can be found here only exists today as an excuse to judge players from the 1990s and 2000s for the use of performance enhancing drugs that, often times, they did only because teams found players who abstained from steroids as selfish and unworthy of a spot on the club.
It’s fine if you are a disgusting, racist pig (Anson, Cobb, Landis, Yawkey, Comiskey), or if you famously cheated from the outset of your career (Perry), or if you were an imprisoned drug-smuggler (Cepeda), or if you illegally bet on games (Speaker and also Cobb, again), or even if you oversaw the controversial steroid era and did absolutely nothing to change it (Selig).The BBWAA's 'morality clause,' which makes a big deal about a player's character and integrity, is seemingly only ever used to degrade the efforts of steroid-era players.Click To Tweet
If you did what was customary and bulked up with the drugs that were available to you (commonplace in baseball society since, well, forever), then forget about your records, your legacy with or without steroids, and your prowess over players who were using the same drugs as you were. The BBWAA and the Hall of Fame want to erase you from history, as opposed to giving you a rightful, permanent spot in the antiquity of the American pastime.
The 2019 Hall of Fame class, as projected by Ryan Thibodaux and crew, is shining a light on that fact. Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay are no-brainers, while Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina are deserving candidates in their own right. But the two best players in the most polarizing era in the long history of the game, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, sit outside of the 75% vote threshold needed to achieve baseball immortality.
Bonds is the all-time leader in home runs (762), the single-season home run leader (73), and was the most feared hitter of all time, being intentionally walked 120 times in 2004, which is also a record that seems unlikely to ever be beaten. In that 2004 season, Bonds reached base 376 times in 373 official at-bats, a stat that only makes sense when Bonds is the subject. The seven-time National League Most Valuable Player is the only player in major-league history with over 500 home runs and over 500 steals, and is also the only one with 400 of each.
Clemens won a record seven Cy Young Awards in his accomplished 24-year MLB career, making 11 All-Star teams and winning two World Series titles in the process. “The Rocket” won 354 career games with a career 3.12 ERA, pitching at an elite level into his 40s; at 42 years old, Clemens posted a 1.87 ERA with the NL pennant-winning Houston Astros, leading all of baseball in ERA+ (226) and fewest hits per nine innings (6.4).
Both Bonds (162.8) and Clemens (139.6) are in the all-time top eight in career Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement. Both are also obvious steroid users (though Bonds was never proven to use PEDs), a fact that has plagued their Hall of Fame cases, and rightfully so, because PEDs are a stain on the integrity of the game of baseball. But I would argue that racism, the endorsement of unprovoked violence, and the peddling of crackpot white supremacist conspiracy theories are far worse than any performance enhancing drug.
Go back to that Hall of Fame voting tracker for a second. Bonds (72.8) and Clemens (73.3%) not only sit outside of the necessary voting threshold, but they also sit behind Curt Schilling (74.4%). Schilling was one of the most dominant pitchers of his era, and absolute nails in the postseason, where he posted an 11-2 record with a 2.23 ERA in 19 starts, four of which were complete games. His infamous “bloody sock game” helped the Red Sox win the 2004 World Series, their first title since 1918.
He never won any major individual, regular-season award, but he was a six-time All-Star, three-time World Series champion, and was named the 2001 WS MVP as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The right-hander has a somewhat deserving Hall case and it’s easy to see why voters are backing him up, but Schilling as a human is exactly what the BBWAA is trying to keep out, at least from what the “morality clause” stands for.
And while Schilling’s personality traits may have delayed his election by a year or two, he never used PEDs that we know of, so he trends higher than two clearly superior players. Bonds and Clemens have been dealing with the effects of their character issues since they were put on the ballot, and the BBWAA has voted accordingly, keeping two all-time elites out of the Hall, while Schilling is closer than ever before at induction without anyone batting an eye at his post-career public controversy.
Here is potential Hall of Famer Curt Schilling essentially advocating for the lynching of journalists. Here he is pushing false information about Muslims and comparing the people to Nazis in 1940s Germany. Here he is claiming, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that teenage activist David Hogg of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is actually just a paid crisis actor trying to get guns banned. But Schilling is steroid-free, and therefore, the “morality clause” apparently does not apply to him.
Schilling, Bonds, and Clemens are perfect examples of the BBWAA’s approach to voting in an age where the ballot is filled with mid-90s-to-early-2000s stars, a good number of whom willingly and knowingly involved themselves with PEDs. That era of players are unfairly kept away from induction just because they competed in an era afflicted by performance enhancing drugs, a byproduct of Major League Baseball’s ignorance and the pressure players felt to juice up.
But don’t worry, you can be a racist, bigoted, intolerant trashcan and still get a plaque in Cooperstown with your name on. Worry not about a rule in the voting process that judges your character and integrity, you’re good to go.