I do not support in the least the moralizing, sermonizing, and character-judging being done by BBWAA’s members over the Hall of Fame. It is taking place on their ballots and publicly, as they rush to write columns and post tweets damning players they believe to have used PEDs. “Cheaters,” they are calling them. This year as in the past they will fail to cast ballots that are backed by rational analysis and will instead cast votes rooted in self-righteous disgust. A disgust directed at ex-players who they wrongly believe tarnished something that was spotless.
If Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Jeff Bagwell do not belong in the Hall of Fame because of PED suspicion, then there is a larger group who similarly don’t deserve reward or association with the Hall: the baseball writers.
Each year a baseball writer is given the J.G. Taylor Spink Award during the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, the highest honor given by baseball writers to baseball writers. The morals clause does not apply, of course. Bill Conlin, a Spink winner, has been accused by numerous people of being a child molester. He has slithered out of the public eye. The BBWAA’s stance on Conlin, printed here on their own website:
“Bill Conlin has been a member in good standing of the BBWAA since 1966. The allegations have no bearing on his winning the 2011 J.G. Taylor Spink Award, which was in recognition of his notable career as a baseball writer.”–Jack O’Connell, BBWAA Secretary/Treasurer, December 20, 2011
How about that? A body whose current President, Susan Slusser, has advocated that members do not vote for suspected PED users on their HOF ballots due to character issues, will not back down from supporting one of its own amid accusations of molesting his niece and, per a former child prostitute, being in a pedophile ring that included Jerry Sandusky. It’s ok to judge a player on character, per the BBWAA, but it is absolutely not a stance they’ll take with a fellow writer.
Beyond the character hypocrisy, there is job performance. In the late-1990s, we are told now, in hindsight, by baseball writers, PED use was rampant. Players ranging from replacement-level guys hanging on to their jobs to superstars breaking home run records were using them. “Isn’t it obvious,” a BBWAA scribe will write today, “Their heads grew, their bodies grew, and home run records were shattered.”
I am left to wonder how these writers did not see that in the 1990s, when they were in the locker rooms and on the field conducting interviews, and while balls were flying out of ballparks at record paces. Baseball writers are, at their core, journalists. They’re tasked with investigative reporting and with telling the narrative of games, seasons, off-seasons, careers. Plainly: if these writers did not know steroid use was rampant in baseball in the 1990s, they completely failed to do their jobs as journalists. And now they wield the sword of Character, which they have no business carrying. They’re not our priests or rabbis, they’re journalists, and they–if they were active writing about baseball in the 1990s–were demonstrably bad at their journalism jobs, having had about a decade to uncover steroid use in baseball and failing.
If baseball players who were great but had character shortcomings are not deserving of the Baseball Hall of Fame–built to honor the game’s best players –then I think baseball writers who were bad at their jobs don’t even deserve the opportunity to reach character consideration in their J.G. Taylor Spink cases. They should be eliminated well before that, just on poor job performance alone. I would like to see anyone with a vote in the Spink award cast and empty ballot over the next couple decades, so we can be sure that no one who was terrible at their journalism job gets to speak at Hall of Fame weekend, don the yellow blazer, and count themselves among their profession’s best. If that is the road they are willing to travel with the players, it is one they should apply as well to themselves. The Spink should be reserved for journalists who wrote about the game and were truly great at their job, not the failures who covered it during the steroid age, failed to report what was happening in the game, and later reserved the right to pass judgement with the benefit of foresight.