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Character and the Hall of Fame?

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2020 Hall of Fame Press Conference Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Keith Law does an emailed newsletter every month or so. This month he talks about his struggle with the Hall of Fame ballot. About whether he wants to continue voting. It is mostly because of the “character clause”:

One of the biggest struggles I have with this list, however, is the ambiguity around the so-called “character clause” in the Hall’s instructions, which refer to the player’s “integrity” and “character” without giving any clarity on what those terms mean or even whether we should consider the player’s words and actions outside of his playing career, or during it, or just what happened on the field.

He goes on to say that he “wouldn’t pretend to know who has used PED”. As he says, Bonds was the best player in his era and Clemens was ‘one of the best’ (I don’t know who you would say was better) pitchers and that you can’t tell the story of baseball in the 90s without talking about them.

But that “character clause”.

Roger Clemens (ignoring PEDs) was not a good guy. Statutory rape (I’m supposed to say alleged but I don’t feel like it), one would think, would be against the character clause.

Barry Bonds was accused of domestic abuse. Where does that fall on the character clause scale? Andruw Jones as well.

Curt Schilling tweets something saying reporters should be hanged. Is that ‘free speech or is that showing a lack of ‘character’?

There are lots of guys in the Hall who were lousy people. Maybe they should get rid of that clause. Ty Cobb was a racist (of course baseball as a whole was racist back in those days) and likely worse. Heck, there are guys that were far worse in the Hall. Why should we be worried about character now?

You couldn’t convince me that Babe Ruth wouldn’t have taken PEDs if they were offered back in his day. Many of the former players that complain the most about PEDs took amphetamines back in the days.

If you are a voter, where do you draw the line? Rape? Spousal abuse? For some it is PEDs.

How do you balance it? If a player had 100 WAR do you overlook some of these things? 75 WAR? 60 WAR?

I don’t think PEDs should keep you out of the Hall, but in the case of Sammy Sosa, I think he is so close to the borderline, I subtract a little for PEDs and I wouldn’t vote for him.

But the problem of PEDs changing a vote is that we have no idea who used and who didn’t. There are a few we can be pretty sure about, but others, we may think they didn’t but we don’t know. I mean, I wouldn’t have guessed that Chris Colabello used.

Bonds I’d vote for. Clemens? Well, he makes me thankful I don’t have a ballot. There are so many different ways that he has broken the ‘character clause’ that even though he was a great player, I don’t think I could bring myself to vote for him. Schilling? Well, he became a very good pitcher after he turned 30 (he was 50-50 before his age 30 season and then 166-96 after). When players improve that much at that age, I question it. Add in the other stuff, he’s a tough call for me. If I was a writer and he suggested writers should be killed, I would have a very hard time voting for him. Free speech, to me, ends with suggestions of death.

Where would you draw the line on character? If a player killed a man in the middle of the street would you vote for him? If (hypothetically) a player gave women gift bags after they spend a night with him, would you vote for him? Is the line somewhere in between? Should we just delete the clause? If you deleted the clause, would the writers vote any differently? Or would they insert their own character clause?