I recently was looking through old papers and found an analysis I did on the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s character clause. This may be a lengthier read than normal posts but thought it would be fun to put up. Enjoy!
Major League Baseball has been around for over one hundred years, and over those hundred years people have gotten the pleasure of seeing some of the most fascinating sports figures and feats of all time. Babe Ruth and the called shot, Joe DiMaggio and the fifty-six game hitting streak, Ted Williams hitting for a four hundred average for the last time, all the way up to Bonds hitting his record setting 762nd homerun. To commemorate this amazing players and accomplishment the National Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF) was opened up in Cooperstown, New York in 1939. Although people have gotten the chance to relish the memories of many of the games finest players, the HOF has still lacked allowing true baseball history through its doors. They have done this by enacting what they call “the character clause”, in the voting process. I am going to show that with the removal of the character clause, the HOF can truly be a place where history can be seen.
The Character Clause
Five years after it was, the HOF had written rules about the induction process of the players. Parts of those rules were certain qualifications for them to get in, which includes the character clause. The character clause, according to Chafets (2009), states, “Voting shall be based on the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played” (p. 49). Although the initial point of the clause was to make sure that the players with good attitudes as well as spectacular play got in, the rule was sidestepped very early on. Out of the thirteen initial HOF inductees, many of them had questionable character flaws. The most notable was that of Ty Cobb, who was a well-known racist during his playing days, and had even claimed to murder a man. Regardless, the clause has been upheld since the beginning to current day voting.
This has created a problem very recently with the era of baseball we are leaving. The last twenty years have been marked as the “Steroid Era” due to the rampant use of steroids throughout the sport. Steroids have been argued to change the way that the game was played, making players stronger. Burg and Johnson (2009) describe this well when they wrote, “The apprehension expressed by sports writers, Hall of Fame voters, Club owners, and baseball administrators over the impact of steroids on baseball speaks to a broader question regarding the dimensions to and implications of ‘cheating’” (p.352). Although this point has its flaws, it is nonetheless the belief of a majority of the voters for the HOF. Therefore, most players that played during this era have been stained and have essentially been barred from the hall. That has created a large gap in the history of baseball that is going unnoticed because baseball writers feel they need to uphold a faulty rule in the voting. This has prevented game changing, and record-breaking players such as Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Mark McGuire from entering the HOF. The largest effect that this has had is that it is hiding and avoiding a large and important part of baseball history. The attempt to avoid that this period of time didn’t happen, and that these players did amazing things, and in some cases made history, is something that is putting a dark mark on the history of the game. The long-term effect of this is the potential problem that it creates for players in the future. Without the ability to move past this part of the game, everyone who does spectacular things in the game will be questioned if they do steroids. The second long-term problem that this creates is that it backlogs potential HOF’ers. Because there is an attempt to avoid certain players from a certain time era, this allows voters to avoid anyone in that time under the suspicion that they “could have done steroids. Players who played a major part in the development of baseball, and some who have even reached milestones that are seen as legendary have been held back because of this. Players such as Mike Piazza and Craig Biggio are being denied the chance to be forever enshrined as legends of the game because of this stoppage of letting players from an era that really happened into the HOF.
The situation is an interesting one, given that there is only one side that has any type of authority. Major League Baseball does not control the HOF, so the MLB players union, or the owners have no say of what rules there are and who goes in. This clearly puts the power in the hands of those in charge of the HOF because they are the ones that control the rules. This has created an obvious one-sided victory for the HOF without allowing them to need any type of evidence to support their side. The evidence that has been used to support their side is provided by some of the writers who vote for the HOF. This has allowed for there to be a little fight from the opposition, given that the writers for both sides of the argument have an equal amount of power. This allows for the writers on both sides to hold the other responsible for good reason and evidence, and hold both sides accountable for their own burden of proof. The burden of proof in this sense would be the classical view that Whatley discussed. Whatley describes the burden of proof as the need for sufficient evidence to support their want for change. In this situation, there is a need for both sides of the argument to provide sufficient amounts of evidence in order to make it clear that steroid-era players should be allowed in or not. This has created even playing grounds for both sides of the argument, although the type of evidence that both sides have given is so different it is hard to judge who is winning. Chafets (2009) goes over both sides of the argument clearly; people who say steroids were cheating use statistics as their reasoning and evidence and people who say steroids didn’t play a part use scientific evidence to show that steroid have no literal effect on the skills needed to play baseball. This is where the debate should allow for those in support of changing the rule to get the upper hand, but the HOF still won’t budge.
The reason for the rule to change lies within Wallace (1963) and his description of good reasons. Wallace (1963) describes that good reasons lie within not just the style of the argument, but substance is also fundamental to give good reasons (p.240). When assessing the situation described above, it at first appears that both sides have provided both style and substance. The style given is with the way the writers have shown their passion about the subject, and the substance is the use of evidence. The problem lies within the evidence itself. The evidence given by those who support the HOF is the inflated statistics during the time that is questioned, but that is it. They show no direct correlation to how steroids effect how the players played, the just know that stats were increased during that time. A similar example to that is that both murder and ice cream sales increase during the summer time. Just because they both increase at the same time does not mean that one affects the other. Using this logic, we can see that there is no real connection to the inflated statistics and the use of steroid in the game. There have been attempts to connect them, by saying that steroids make you stronger, which would lead to you throwing harder and hitting farther. Aside from this, there has been no real evidence as to how it has negatively affected the game. The other side of the argument has not only provided the good reasoning that Wallace discussed, but also gives actual evidence to the connection between steroids and baseball, or the lack of it. This shows that not only is there a false perception that the steroid era was full of “cheaters”, but the HOF character clause is flawed.
The steroid era is something that happened, regardless of what people want to believe. With that said, the HOF has to recognize that it happened and honor some of the great players of that time. The logic and reasoning used by those who believe that the players who used or were suspected of using steroids should not be in the HOF is flawed and should not be taken into account. As great as it would be to change people’s opinions, I realize that this would be an impossible and flawed way to solve the problem. The way to solve the problem would be to take the character clause either completely out of the voting process or to update it. Reword the clause to discuss the character that they played the game with, how they acted to their teammates and fans and that is it. Whether or not they potentially cheated, depending on whom you believe should not be accounted for when voting. In essence, although a change in attitude or values would be the ideal thing to change, the real change would have to be a policy change by changing the wording of the character clause. I believe that even though some may feel that this is a “dark mark” on baseball history, it should not be ignored because it actually happened. MLB and the HOF have already dropped the ball on key figures in baseball history with not lifting unnecessary lifetime bans on the all-time hits leader Pete Rose, and one of the best career hitter of the early 1900’s in Joe Jackson. It is time for real baseball history to be in the HOF, because as we have learned with U.S history and world history, you don’t actually know it unless you know the whole story.
Chafets, Z. (2009). Cooperstown confidential: heroes, rogues, and the inside story of the Baseball Hall of Fame. New York: Bloomsbury USA.
Burg, R. V., & Johnson, P. E. (2009). Yearning for a Past that Never Was: Baseball, Steroids, and the Anxiety of the American Dream. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 26(4), 351-371.
Wallace, K. (1963). The Substance of Rhetoric: Good Reasons. The Quarterly Journal of Speech, 49(3), 239-249.