One advantage of old age is the wisdom of having seen the benefits of patience. To my mind, the Hall of Fame voters, the baseball writers, made the correct decision when they failed to elect anyone to the Hall this year. Only Craig Biggio came close and such notables as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza failed to get the 75% vote necessary for election.
The baseball writers, a hard group, clearly were unwilling to anoint this group of players whose careers played out during the steroid era in baseball. All of them were tainted by a broad brush.
Those who favor the election of Bonds and Clemens, the two superstars of the group, point to the absence of hard evidence either one cheated.
But we all know the difference between a fact and proof of that fact. If I tell you a man walked on the moon and returned safely, you may ask me for proof. Similarly I may tell you how far it is to the moon but would have trouble proving that fact.
Bonds and Clemens cheated and we all know it. I see little reason to honor them. I know such existing Hall of Fame members as Cap Anson and Tris Speaker have been tainted by overt bigotry and allegations of corruption, respectfully, but their limitations are hardly relevant to the present cases.
The Hall of Fame is in a difficult position and we fans share the discomfort.
We want to honor those who played the game properly and fairly. We prefer to honor those who played by the rules and did not cheat.
I am secure in the rejection of those about whom there is doubt. Many serious commentators complain this result is not fair.
I agree but I argue patience is a virtue here. Why rush to decide now when we have years of eligibility ahead. If one of these players had been elected and then wrote a book admitting long time cheating, what would the Hall do? Think of Peter Rose and his long time denial of baseball gambling? When he was offered big money to write the truth in a book, he finally admitted to the gambling and to his lying about it.
If I were involved, I would do three things:
1. I would propose to the Hall that it establish some new form of recognition for those who cheated but put up career numbers that deserve Hall recognition. Perhaps there should be a separate wing for cheaters. And I would let the present members of the Hall decide which wing a player belonged in. Then if someone gets in under false pretenses, there is a corrective mechanic in place.
2. The Hall should make clear the voters are not obliged to reconcile their votes with the historic standard of noble conduct. Who says the voters have to be fair and not use evidence that might not stand the judicial standards? The task of the voters is to select for honor those players they believe meet a very high standard for on and off field conduct. If the Hall does not stand firmly for the tests of integrity and fair play the ring ceremony will one day have to be held in the prison yard at Levenworth or some comparable penitentiary?
3. I would have the present members of the Hall vote along with the writers who presently do the electing. That way the voting pool would include those who believe most in the honor component and not be confused by abstruse arguments over evidence and fair process. After all, the election to the Hall is based on subjective judgments by the voters. There is no science to it. And the voters make mistakes of omission and commission. Think of the exclusion of Marvin Miller.
The confusion in this nation on the subject of what is “fair” is endemic. The complaints about the failure of the baseball writers to elect obvious cheats and others who may not have cheated to the Hall of Fame are cloaked in the “fairness” shroud. In fact the writers did the wise thing. They deferred the question. Many tough issues in this nation get deferred. I like the result and much prefer a flawed deferral to a flawed election.
Fay Vincent is a former CEO of Columbia Pictures Industries. He served as the Commissioner of Baseball from 1989-92.