Jan 26, 2021 - Sports

Character counts in Baseball Hall of Fame voting

Table: Axios Visuals
Table: Axios Visuals

When Baseball's Hall of Fame voting results are announced tonight, it's likely that the Baseball Writers' Association of America will not elect any new entrants for just the sixth time since 1963.

The state of play: This is partly due to a weak crop of newcomers, but the bigger story is that Hall of Fame voters have become increasingly disenchanted with the once-revered responsibility of selecting Cooperstown's newest residents.

The backdrop: Last year, just four players earned even 50% of the vote (besides Larry Walker and Derek Jeter, who got above the requisite 75% for election), and they all carry significant red flags.

  • Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are in their penultimate year on the ballot, but their careers have been tainted by steroids.
  • Curt Schilling is also running out of time, but his history of offensive remarks (he recently supported the insurrection) has barred him thus far.
  • Omar Vizquel looked like an eventual shoo-in until domestic abuse allegations surfaced in December.

Between the lines: Hall of Fame voting comprises nine rules, but none loom as large No. 5's character clause, stipulating that players must display "integrity, sportsmanship [and] character."

  • The clause has been around since the 1940s, but only recently began dominating the conversation in the wake of the steroid era.
  • Interestingly, then-commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis (ironically, a noted racist) introduced the clause to give less-accomplished players a chance to gain entry on the strength of superior character.

The big picture: The BBWAA has repeatedly asked for rule changes and guidance on how to treat steroid users, but the Hall seems intent on letting the writers do their dirty work.

  • "You're supposed to be doing a fun thing, voting for the Hall of Fame," vote-tracker Ryan Thibodaux told WSJ (subscription). "Instead you're trying to weigh various transgressions and indiscretions."
  • The situation gets murkier still when you consider the players from baseball's golden era who made the Hall when the character clause was ignored.

What they're saying: ESPN's Jeff Passan stopped voting in 2017 for this very reason, spurred by a letter from Hall of Famer Joe Morgan asking voters not to elect steroid users to "the most sacred place in baseball."

"If, by sacred place, the Hall means one in which racists, wife beaters, drunks, gamblers and purveyors of manifold moral turpitude otherwise are celebrated, well, Cooperstown is a shining beacon of divinity set upon a hill of hypocrisy."
ā€” Passan's scathing response

The bottom line: Voters and the Hall seem to agree that times have changed, but they can't seem to agree on how best to change with the times.

Looking ahead ... Things won't get any easier in 2022, when a certain superstar named Alex Rodriguez debuts on the ballot.

Go deeper: Hall of Fame voting has become a hassle (NYT)

Go deeper