Ed Price and I have been great friends for almost 20 years now -- ever since we worked together in Augusta, Ga. -- and I have great respect for him as both a person, a baseball writer and a thinker. He wrote something on Monday that I thought was heartfelt and thoughtful. I also happened to disagree with it.
Well, that's not exactly right ... I disagreed with two relatively minor parts of what he wrote. The main thing he wrote, in my mind, is that he believes that the Baseball Hall of Fame's voting instructions -- to choose players based on their "record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team" -- demand that he not vote steroid users into the Hall. I think that is a fair interpretation of the Hall of Fame's charge. I happen to think those words are absurdly outdated, and bizarrely vague, and there is absolutely no hint that the Hall of Fame voters have EVER taken them seriously based on the fact that the very first person voted in was Ty Cobb. But I cannot disagree with Ed taking the words literally. I think every voter has to make that judgment.
But there are two more minor parts of what he wrote that bother me:
1. That the Hall of Fame is not a "court of law" and as such does not demand the standard of "innocent until proven guilty."
2. His announcement that he will now keep his votes private rather than publicly accuse players of PED use without evidence.
No. 1 was ably handled by the excellent Ken Davidoff but I thought I would throw a thought in here as well because we often hear the words: "This is not a court so I don't have to go by the standard of innocent until proven guilty." I think it's kind of tragic to hear anyone say that. "Innocent until proven guilty" is not simply a standard for a court of law ... it is a fundamental right of society. Perhaps what Ed and others really mean when they say that is that they don't want to go by the rigid court standard of proving guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." I can see someone arguing that reasonable-doubt is too stringent for something like the baseball Hall of Fame, especially when you consider how players fought drug testing, lied dramatically, and have hidden as much as they can hide.
But the basic concept of "innocent until proven guilty?" Are we really going to throw that one away? The concept goes back at least 700 years to the Jean Lemoine, a French Cardinal, who figured that since most people are not criminals they should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Are we going to start assuming that most people ARE criminals? And if we are going to assume that ... does that even make them criminals?
I'm not trying to go all philosophical here ... but don't we believe in the concept of innocent until proven guilt in every facet of our life? If an employer charges you with stealing petty cash, if your parent charges you with breaking the living room vase, if your friend charges you with backstabbing her at a party, don't they need at least SOME standard of proof? Every single day of our lives, we are faced with some test of innocent until proven guilty, and it seems to me that those words are not about legalities, they are about common decency.
I don't think the Hall of Fame is a court. I don't think a non-vote for the Hall of Fame is declaring guilt either. Ed is exactly right, when he says the Hall of Fame is an honor not a right. But you know what this part of the Baseball Hall of Fame really is? It's a room in the baseball museum in Cooperstown where they put the plaques of the greatest players in baseball history. It's a tourist attraction. It's a place where fans go and remember their childhood, reminisce about the game, consider their connections. It's so easy to get high and mighty about this thing, so easy to lose the whole point. I'm not sure how the Hall of Fame became about innocent and guilty in the first place. It's a room overflowing with cheaters and liars and gamblers and fools. It's a room overflowing with heroes and devoted fathers and good neighbors and nice men. But, really, it's a room with the greatest baseball players ever along with some very good players along with some good players who had powerful lobbyists.
It seems to me that throwing away our standard of innocent until proven guilty when talking about a baseball museum ... well, there's just something kind of sad about it.
No. 2 ... well, Ed absolutely has every right to keep his votes secret. Every voter has that right. And I realize that what Ed is saying and what he believes is that the burden of proof needed to suspect a steroid user and not vote him into the Hall of Fame is MUCH LOWER than the standard or proof needed to publicly call someone a steroid user. I don't think I fully agree with the premise, but I don't fully disagree either. I would prefer him and others raising the burden of proof for not voting someone into the Hall of Fame ... but, yes, public condemnation is a serious matter.
I guess, even more: I don't believe in things done in the dark. The Hall of Fame voting is an odd process. Players, assuming they get enough support, can stay on the ballot for 15 years. Why? As many, many people have pointed out, players don't get any better after they retire.
I think the reasoning is two-fold: One, circumstances change. For instance: A player might find himself on an overcrowded ballot for a time, which would hurt his chances. This very thing probably happened to Luis Tiant.
Two, more importantly, viewpoints change. It has taken a long time for voters to move beyond their initial impressions and biases and finally vote Bert Blyleven into the Hall of Fame (we all think). I think that, as we move away from Rickey Henderson's induction, people will begin to fully understand and appreciate the rare skills of Tim Raines. Some of the most cherished players in the Hall of Fame -- Harmon Killebrew, Billy Williams, Eddie Mathews, Yogi Berra and many, many others -- took time to get into the Hall.
So I think the Hall of Fame views evolution as an important part of the voting process. I think they want voters who are willing to keep developing their views and willing to change their minds. I think they want voters who will challenge their own convictions. And to me, keeping your vote secret encourages stubbornness and inflexibility. If you don't want to defend your reasons publicly -- where they will be disputed and mocked and protested -- it seems unlikely to me that will want to defend your reasons privately either.
This is not true of Ed, who I know takes his voting very seriously and will always challenge his own views. He thinks about this stuff a lot and thoroughly. I honestly believe that he is taking an honest stand here. But I really dislike the concept of keeping things secret. If I get an anonymous email or letter, I throw it out without reading it. If I get an anonymous phone call, I pay no attention to it. I believe we should stand behind what we think or what we say. A person's opinion, in my mind, is worthy of respect if he or she stands behind it. I'm not saying that anyone has to trumpet all their Hall of Fame picks or write stupid 15,000 word blog posts about it. But I think that the process is better if it's an open dialogue. I think voting for the Hall of Fame is a pretty cool honor, and what we're trying to do is create a living and breathing history of baseball. My own belief -- and I know very smart people who strongly disagree with me -- is that we should stand behind our votes.
When Buck O'Neil fell one vote short of the Hall of Fame in a special Negro Leagues election a few years ago, I thought the nay votes should have had the courage of their convictions and explained their reasoning. I suppose you could argue -- some have argued -- that by keeping the balloting secret they did not have to publicly embarrass Buck by saying that they thought he wasn't a good enough player or his accomplishments were not quite enough or whatever reason they would have given. And some think a secret ballot is pure because you won't vote based on public pressure. But I think all that's kind of a copout. I have been led to believe -- and probably will always believe -- that some of the Buck O'Neil voting was political and petty and mean-spirited ... and it's a lot easier to be petty and mean spirited when you don't have to stand publicly behind your vote.
I guess my point is that I believe in light. I think Ed is onto something here, and I think as these ballots get trickier and tricker more and more writers will follow his lead and simply stop giving out their ballots. I hope not. I don't think we have reached any real consensus on what the Hall of Fame should look like after the baffling Selig Era. And I think we should reach a consensus. That's our job as voters. We have been asked as a group to imagine the future Hall of Fame. I think for that we should have open dialogue, with all the bumps and bruises that go along with it.