Say It Ain’t So, Joe: Character Clause May Bar Any Candidate from Election to Baseball Hall of Fame This Year

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

The WSJ reports today that the membership of baseball’s Hall of Fame has shrunk over the last year in Baseball’s Hall of Fame Vote Becomes a Test of ‘Character Clause’, with seven members dying in 2020 and three more thus far in 2021.

The results of the latest balloting by Baseball Writers’ Association of America will be announced this week. Yet few, if any, retired baseball players are expected to make the cut, not because they lack the career performance – as reflected in statistics – that would have in the past led to their induction into the Hall of Fame. Yet being welcomed into that elite company is way tougher than making it into the show – as tough as that task is. Players need to secure a 75% majority  of ballots cast to get elected. And each candidate has ten chances to be inducted.

Allow me a short digression, one of my favorite scenes, from a favourite movie:

But this post isn’t about making it to the show, but getting into the Hall of Fame.

So, what’s the hurdle? What’s keeping the best of those who made it to the show and compiled Hall of Fame statistics, from their appointment in Cooperstown?

Over to the WSJ:

The reason: The best candidates are failing the Hall’s character test, signaling a new era in how voters treat the most nebulous—and controversial—barrier to entry for baseball’s highest honor.

Eligible members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America receive Hall-of-Fame ballots every autumn instructing them to choose candidates not only based on their performance on the field, but also on their integrity, sportsmanship and character. Some variation of those words have been part of the criteria for 75 years and have caused confusion and fierce debate ever since.

This year has put the meaning of the “character clause” to the ultimate test. Virtually all of the players on the ballot with the most obvious Hall-worthy statistics have something on their résumés that, depending on one’s interpretation of the character clause, could disqualify them from induction into Cooperstown.

When vote totals are unveiled Tuesday, the result could well be that no players reach the necessary 75% for enshrinement. That would be just the fourth time since 1960 that the BBWAA failed to vote anybody into the Hall.

Now, regular readers may be aware that my I’m a third-generation New York Yankee fan. One reason I think that my grandfather Scofield stayed sharp until he passed away one month shy of his 95th birthday is that he obsessively studied baseball statistics. He was happy to share details of how those statistics intersected with his life to anyone who seemed interested. Not only had he seen Babe Ruth play – a highlight of that life that was as significant to him as being on a ship that sank and passing through the Panama Canal. But he could – and did – tell you just how many times he’d seen the Babe play.  He  also knew how many home runs he saw Babe hit. Not to mention the number of times that he saw the Babe hit a home run, followed by Lou Gehrig smacking one out of the park as well. And he would also tell you how many times that had occurred overall in their careers. As well as lots of facts and figures about Yankee baseball.

I don’t think Grandpa would be a big fan of something as unquantifiable as a character test.

What Is Character Anyway?

I suppose it all turns on what one looks at for assessing the character clause.  If it’s interpreted to include things that affect the integrity of the game of baseball- by that, I mean the legitimacy of results – I guess at least in theory I’d support a character test. But I would still be sceptical about letting sportswriters assess character, retrospectively, based on vague criteria.

Let’s look at two character issues that potentially distort the outcome of a baseball game. The first would be for a player to take a payoff to affect results. The low point in that regard was the 1919 World Series, the infamous Black Sox scandal. If you don’t know the story, you could do worse than view the film Eight Man Out. But the bottom line is that after that scandal, baseball installed a tough commissioner, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, banned the accused players from further professional play  – even though they had been acquitted by a jury IIRC of losing the World Series deliberately. The bottom line is that ‘throwing” fixtures is not a problem in the modern game – or at least we don’t think it is.

The second type of integrity problem is a much more tangible issue and rumours and concerns about it are thwarting the efforts of certain standout talents – Barry Bonds, who holds baseball’s home run record, Roger Clemens, known for his pitching prowess and winning a record seven Cy Young awards. On a statistical basis alone, each of these two would have been elected to the Hall on his first try.

What’s the hold-up?. Let me turn to the WSJ again:

One group of players’ extraordinary accomplishments have been shrouded in accusations that they used performance-enhancing drugs during their careers, an issue that has polarized voters for years. Leading this class are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Bonds has hit more home runs than anybody in major-league history. Clemens won a record seven Cy Young awards. The specter of PEDs has kept them out, with enough voters concluding that their alleged use violates the character clause.

Bonds and Clemens are in their ninth year on the ballot, meaning they have just one more year of eligibility left. Their vote total has risen steadily, from the mid-30% range in 2013 to just over 60% last year. But [Ryan Thibodaux, whom the WSJ describes as an Oakland Athletics fan who tracks publicly available ballots] said that judging from the available data, voters’ opinions on how to handle PEDs is largely “set in stone,” and there’s no indication that there are any more minds to change. Other sluggers who have been linked to PEDs—like Manny Ramírez, Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa—have also failed to generate much support.

I really don’t know where I come out on this. I mean, it sure doesn’t seem fair that some players benefitted from using PEDs, to the detriment of of others who didn’t. But I’m not sure barring the doors to the Hall of Fame, retrospectively, after a player has finished his career, is the way to tackle  the issue either. It was clear to anyone who was watching that baseball had a big steroids problem. You only had to look at how  the bodies of players had changed to see that. And the sudden surge in crowd pleasing hime runs, especially in 1998,  when Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa vied  to break the on-year home run record – whether you think that was held by Babe Ruth (60) or Roger Maris (61, with an asterisk). The changes in bodies and the impact they had on baseball records didn’t come about as a result of better diet and training regimens alone. But the baseball industry benefitted hugely from the way steroids use transformed baseball into more of a slugging game, and pitching into hurling fire. Rather than playing small ball or exercising guile. Everyone knew the teams  needed to decide on and impose some form of drug testing regime. But as long as crowds crowded into see juiced players slug balls out of stadiums, an effective testing regime was a long time in coming.

I’m not sure letting sportswriters make decisions, post hoc, based on their individual perceptions.of whether or not a player’s stats were juiced, is a system I can get behind. It seems to violate  the most elementary due process considerations. Readers?

Other Character Issues

Still, at least the issue of steroid use, no matter how flawed the process for assessing that question may be – does concern the integrity of the results. Over to the WSJ:

Jay Jaffe, the author of “The Cooperstown Casebook” and the creator of the popular Jaffe Wins Above Replacement Score metric for evaluating Hall of Fame candidates, said that though the character clause has existed since the mid-1940s, voters largely ignored it for decades. It was seen as vague and subjective and was rarely, if ever, invoked as a mechanism to keep players out.

That suddenly changed when players from the Steroid Era started appearing on the ballot.

“It became an excuse to bar the door to PED users,” Jaffe said. “We don’t have a long history of the character clause being invoked as a determinant.”

Yet the situation gets even murkier when we look at alleged character flaws, no matter how deplorable they may be, that have nothing to do with the integrity of baseball results. Per the Journal:

Recently, the character clause has risen to the forefront for reasons that extend far beyond baseball, inspired by the larger cultural turmoil around issues that past voters dismissed. In some cases, these off-field actions could make the difference between being elected to Cooperstown and falling short.

Consider Omar Vizquel, one of the best defensive shortstops in major-league history and the winner of 11 Gold Gloves. He appeared on 52.6% of ballots last year and seemed to have a path to eventually reach the 75% threshold. Then in December, with voting already in progress, The Athletic published an article detailing accusations from Vizquel’s wife that he physically abused her. Vizquel denied the allegations

Nonetheless, Thibodaux’s tracker has recorded 11 writers who voted for Vizquel last year but dropped him this year. Some writers who submitted their ballots before The Athletic’s article came out said later that they wouldn’t have voted for Vizquel if they had read it.

“Omar Vizquel is not the first player with domestic-violence accusations,” Thibodaux said. “But it feels like the first time that a large number of voters are reckoning with that and making decisions based on it. I think it’s more at the forefront now than it’s ever been before.

I don’t think I would endorse defining character in such a way that rumour and innuendo about domestic abuse would qualify. Would I keep someone out who had been convicted of a domestic abuse charge.  I still think not. I guess when I think about the issue, I’m not a fan of including a character test at all, particularly if the character element doesn’t relate to the integrity of the game.

And the final example, and one it especially pains this Yankee fame to consider, is the case of Curt Schilling.  Which will force me to recall as painful as it still is to me his epic 2004 performance – the case of the bloody sock – and the infamous swipe by Yankee third baseman Schilling’s bloody sock the bridge to history that helped knock my Yankees out of the postseason when they originally took a 3:0 lead in the best of seven series:

The first time it felt like the Yankees might actually come back and win Game 6 was in the bottom of the eighth, just after they had clipped the deficit to 4-2. With Miguel Cairo on second and Derek Jeter at first and nobody out, A-Rod hit a tapper to the right side of the mound, toward the first-base line. Reliever Bronson Arroyo picked it up and went to tag Rodriguez. Suddenly, the ball traveled all the way down the right-field line and it looked like Cairo had scored, with Jeter roaring to third and A-Rod taking second.

But plenty of people — including most of the umpires — saw what actually did happen. Rodriguez, in a pure act of desperation, flat-out swatted the ball out of Arroyo’s hand as he went for the tag.

Now, it pains me to say this. You have no idea how much. But Curt Schilling beat us, fair and square. And on the basis of his pitching career, he deserves to be voted into the Hall of Fame. I would vote for his Hall of Fame admission if I were a sportswriter and had a vote (even though it would make for some awkward conversations at Scofield family reunions if my apostasy ever came to light.)

But I don’t have a vote and Schilling may not be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Over to the WSJ:

He was on a clear trajectory for Cooperstown, receiving 52.3% of the vote in 2016. Later that year, he posted a tweet with a photograph of a T-shirt endorsing the lynching of journalists. His vote total dropped to 45% in 2017. More recently, he tweeted in support of the Capitol rioters earlier this month. After that, one voter went as far as to ask the Hall of Fame to rescind his vote for Schilling after it was cast, a person familiar with the matter said, but was denied.

The support for Schilling, now in his ninth year on the ballot, climbed back to 70% in 2020, putting him within just 20 votes of enshrinement. He still could get in, either this year or next. Had it not been for voters invoking the character clause, it wouldn’t be a debate.

“Without a Twitter account, Schilling probably would either be in the Hall of Fame or would be in the Hall of Fame this year,” Thibodaux said.

With the benefit of hindsight, I realize how unusual my childhood was – especially the way I was brought up to idolize men who, really, despite their obvious skills in pitching a ball or hitting a ball with a bat perhaps had little more to recommend them.

But when it comes to lauding baseball players for their career achievements, I don’t think it’s all that much better to allow sportswriters to employ a vague character test to vote to exclude  candidates for what in essence are their political beliefs.  (And I also hear my father’s voice, murmuring softly, in his self-effacing way, yet nonetheless criticising for Schilling being what Dad would have called a “jackass”. I cannot remember the details but I recall some ill-considered, to say the least, remarks about the Olsen twins.)

Cancel culture has expanded to take in baseball – and this Yankee fan has to stand up and criticize that. Even if the person being cancelled is the obnoxious Curt Schilling, from the arch-enemy Boston Red Sox.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Jefferson Berlin

    Bonds, Clemens and the rest cheated, period. None of them belong in the Hall. Maybe a little less relativity will help clarify for everyone, particularly players, the standards they need to maintain.

  2. NotTimothyGeithner

    Before Schilling’s views and video game foibles were less well known, there was an article about why he wouldn’t get in despite being the best pitcher in baseball for five years. It boiled down to a few issues:

    -75% is hard to reach.
    -The DBacks are just the DBacks. The West Coast voters don’t care, and East Coast voters barely know where the West Coast is.
    -Too many hometown heroes on the ballot who will get votes meaning someone is going to lose votes.
    -A few guys who are in the running for unanimous selection.
    -Schilling was pretty good in Philly, not great.
    -When he was with the Sawx and DBacks, he was the second fiddle in the minds of the audience.
    -Going back to the candidates to vote for, we are going through a stretch with a high rate of first ballot hall of famers and a crowded field of the hall of very good sucking up votes. A few of the players receiving votes is insane. This moves votes away from guys like Schilling.

    The Old Timer’s committee will put him in. It is what it is.

  3. verifyfirst

    The steroids absolutely affected the integrity of the game–those guys cheated deliberately, on a long-term, sustained basis–to gain a performance advantage, no different than Lance Armstrong. They knew full well they were cheating. The deal they made with the devil may have brought them riches and temporary fame, but the accomplishments steroids gave them were not theirs. I suppose if you wanted to put the steroid in the Hall Of Fame, that might be ok.

  4. polecat

    These idpol purists are indubitably TOXIC to normal human behavior, with all it’s quirks and subsocially prejudicial leanings (EVERY hominid grouping possesses them in SOME form or another …) They wish for an unobtainable kind of ersatz oneness, a state that defies reason, and sincere empathy .. for whirlwind dictates, and spiteful vengeance.

    Freaking POD People, they be!

  5. politicaleconomist

    Arguably sportswriters are on the other team from ball players and clearly are as much journalists as most who claim to be . So for Schilling to proclaim that they should be lynched is bad sportsmanship. That should Exclude him from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

  6. The Rev Kev

    Well if you are going to select players on character, maybe Ty Cobb’s place should be under review. And yes, ‘Bull Durham’ is a great film and Susan Sarandon did a great job in that film.

    1. Krombopulus Michael

      Right, I thought of Cobb, for his – ahem – not so PC viewpoints as well as sliding into bases with his spikes up as making him available for ostracism. But getting into revisionism gets pretty messy.
      About PEDs: I don’t doubt that people were taking steroids (and may have been for longer than suspected). Of course, what we don’t have is a historical baseline of rules that say no “extra stuff” for the entire history of baseball. You can talk about steroids, but for other “performance enhancers” what do we know? How many guys might’ve been using beanies, reds (amphetamines) back in the 50’s? Would Doc Gooden have pitched so good without the cocaine? Now that he’s gone, looks like Boston’s Big Papi David Ortiz had been hitting the medicine cabinet too. What about guys who get sudden prescriptions for Modafinil for “narcolepsy” or Adderall for ADHD, but they sure can react faster on the ball.
      But as far as steroids, was any player actually convicted?
      What really burns me is the more recent Houston Astros clearly cheating and ending up winning the World Series. Of course, it was somehow deemed a bridge too far to claw back bonuses, take the rings, etc. Those players got a boost in pay as a result of it, how is it not dishonest? What say you all about this?

      1. The Rev Kev

        You get this going on the Olympics too and Russians sourly point out that 70% of Norwegian Olympic skiing medals were won by asthmatics. In fact, the Norwegian Olympic delegation brought around 6,000 doses of asthma medication to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. It is just a coincidence that their medications also helps open bronchial airways and increases fatigue resistance but they were given the go ahead to use it as they are “legal” drugs-

        And they are not the only team to use such drugs.

      2. Whiteylockmandoubled

        Cobb and Speaker may have fixed games. They were cleared by a hand wave investigation. There’s as much evidence of that as there is of steroid use for at least some of the players being kept out on “suspicion.”

        For me, cheating to lose is a far more serious offense than cheating to win.

  7. petal

    It’s funny, I shared that very Bull Durham clip with a friend on Friday. One of my favourite movies.
    I have a baseball signed by Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Pesky. It’s one of my treasures, and my late grandmother got to see Babe Ruth play once when he came to Rochester. I sat in the Fenway Park bleachers for several years in all kinds of weather.
    The cheating with PEDs should keep them from the Hall forever. Sorry. They cheated at the game that they should have/were supposed to have held sacred. As an athlete, I think they disrespected it in one of the worst ways possible. Sportsmanship and ethics is at the heart of the game, any game-“It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” Apparently this means nothing anymore. I wish it would make a comeback. Maybe those guys losing their last chance at the Hall would be a start.
    ps-Schilling shooting off his mouth, that’s just him being stupid. And the guy was retired. It doesn’t even come close with me to the cheating/PED stuff-that happened while playing.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      Agreed – HoF induction should be decided by on field actions. I don’t think corking bats or stealing signs should eliminate someone from consideration, but PEDs should. The problem there is determining who did and who didn’t. We look at Clemens and Bonds and other 90s players because they got caught, but I doubt current players are drug free. Even if MLB has juiced the ball in recent years, and I believe they have despite their denials, there are still some extremely “fit” baseball players hitting an inordinate amount of home runs.

      The tragedy of Clemens is that he would have made the HoF without the roids, and if the Sox had a better front office he may have never started taking them. His final season in Boston was in ’96 and after that, the Sox front office didn’t want to pay him, thinking he was washed up. Clemens had asked for a relatively modest contract extension – don’t remember the exact figures, but I think he was looking for a 3 year contract at around $8 million per, which at the time was pretty middle of the road for a pitcher with 3 Cy Young awards already to his credit. I thought he deserved the money considering the 13 years he had already spent putting butts in seats at Fenway for far less money, and near the end of his final season with the Sox he struck out 20 in a game for the 2nd time, matching his own record and proving he could still bring it. But the Sox front office looked at his 10 wins in ’96 which admittedly wasn’t many, and didn’t take into consideration the absolutely horrible bullpen the Sox had that year who blew a bunch of games that Clemens would have gotten a win for otherwise, and so let him walk.

      Clemens left the Sox for Toronto and started taking steroids to prove he still had it. He won the Cy Young the next two seasons with Toronto and two more after that later in his career with Houston and a team whose name escapes me at the moment… My dad and uncle were at the first game he pitched in Fenway as a Blue Jay in ’97 when he whiffed 16 Red Sox, and IIRC he made a point of staring at the Sox owner’s box when he left the mound after 8 innings just to remind them what they could have had. Too bad he felt he had to cheat to stick it to the ownership who didn’t appreciate him.

      Political actions shouldn’t even come into play. Schilling is a meathead but that bloody sock game is legendary. Schilling’s overall stats are maybe not the most exceptional considering the era he played in (that would be Pedro), but they are very good and the bloody sock game near the end of his career should be enough to put him into the Hall. We’ll see if our cancel culture allows it.

      My all time favorite response by an athlete to a political situation was Larry Bird’s when he declined to visit Reagan after winning the NBA championship, not because of any political differences but because he was hung over and just didn’t feel like going. Like a modern day Diogenes addressing Alexander, Bird said “If the president wants to see me, he knows where to find me.”

  8. Mike X

    Thanks for this Jerri-Lynn. This is a nice diversion from more serious matters.

    “I really don’t know where I come out on this.” I think all of us (sportswriters included) are in the same boat largely because of the (lack of) actions from those responsible for protecting the integrity of the game during the 80s thru early 2000s. It’s fine for us fans to hem and haw but the writers have to actually take a stand one way or the other, and they really weren’t to blame for any of the mess. I don’t envy them- it’s a very difficult spot.

    I’ve thought that maybe players enshrined who played in that time period should have a small note on the plaque noting that the statistics of said players are in question due to the rampant steroid use of the time. Sort of a “telling the full story” type thing. But then that didn’t seem fair to paint all with same brush in the abscence of any clear evidence they used. Alternatively, maybe they could group that era of players in their own wing with a prominent exhibit detailing how that era was marred by rampant steroid use. MLB management is to blame but so are the players as a whole. The players’ union work for the players and I recall union lawyer Gene Orza in particular making some absolutely ridiculous arguments against any kind of testing program. The Union fought testing tooth and nail for many years and it’s because of that we don’t have any concrete evidence who was using and who wasn’t. So maybe placing a collective stain on all of those players is a fair resolution. If you are going to let some players in from that time, then the whole truth should be memorialized in some way.

    Finally, if they are going to punish some of the players for their actions then why did the guy who was in charge at the time (Commissioner Bud Selig) breeze into the Hall with 94% of the vote?

  9. John Emerson

    What I think is that we should put all of them in the Hall of Fame and use the Hall to teach kids that people super talented in one thing might not be wonderful people otherwise.

    1. SouthSideGT

      I hope Schilling makes it to the Hall if only to help educate players to be careful with their money. Maybe the Hall can even create an exhibit about players who did not exercise due diligence. “Field Of Schemes” is taken but I am sure the baseball writers could come up with something appropriate.

      But, yes, cancel culture has “expanded to take in baseball”. IMO baseball writers are now woke. Maybe it’s about time.

  10. urblintz

    Would that there were a “character clause” for politicians, though we’d need “journalists” capable of examining “character” outside of partisanship for it to be effective.

  11. a fax machine

    This is less a referendum on Baseball or Sports Writing and more Twitter. The (voluntary) death of online anonymity has created a situation where people with serious, professional careers readily put themselves into hairy situations or otherwise harm themselves with careless and poorly thought commentary. It doesn’t make them bad people, but it is a thing they should refrain from doing under their real names.

    Personally, I blame Google. Many years ago, in 2013, Google’s corporate policy decided anonymity was defunct and making everything into Facebook was the future. Most websites then required and posted real names as a result, a horrifying trend that massively fueled political partisanship than extremism as offhand comments divided everyone into easily compartmentalized camps. The end of this system was Trump’s capitol riot, which anyone associated with it are now being screwed (justifiably or not). Post-hoc we are seeing countries react to Twitter’s bans on people by divesting their communications elsewhere. This situation couldn’t exist to this extreme had people kept posting under silly names, as is done here, which allows for a level of communication befitting the format.

    The steroid issue becomes more complicated in this light. It’s not just baseball players suffering from it – it is law that entrants into sports shooting contests must pass a drug test. Handling any firearm while “on drugs” (defined as failing a drug test) is a crime and a very serious one with special penalties designed to force the Three Strikes Law’s hand. The NRA could never find their footing on this issue, and pre-Trump this was why NRA alternatives began existing as drugs became more regulated and accepted recreationally as firearms are. This is exactly the void where America’s two party system fails, as neither side wants to mix the two as it introduces difficult questions about their own firearms and drug control policies.

    Where these issues mix: firearm websites. It is tradition to disallow ALL drug talk on them, for the same reasons most explosives/chemistry talk isn’t allowed outside of very strict discussions about gunpowder. Fact is, the average gun site cannot afford an ATF lawsuit let alone a DEA one or a joint one led by the FBI. Such talk isn’t even allowed on the various -chan weapons boards, due to the extreme danger in mixing the two subjects. So then this talk is pushed to the boundaries of the Internet, typically IRC and email newsgroups, where people convene in private.

  12. Whiteylockmandoubled

    I’m a lifelong SF Giants fan, but I can’t take any of these fake moralists seriously until they kick Gaylord Perry, Sandy Koufax Mickey Mantle and most of the 960s stars out.

    Perry’s cheating was much worse than any alleged drug taking. Steroids do you little good unless you actually work hard in the gym. Perry took the lazy player’s route to success.

    Koufax would have had one decent year if it weren’t for his special doctor. His fastball got faster every year with a sore arm shot through with steroids and anything else his doctor could imagine. He retired because he was so zonked up on painkillers that he thought he might die from a liner back through the box.

    Mantle, and most of the 60s and 70s stars all did amphetamines like they were going out of style. The pearl clutching from HoF voters is pathetic. The Veterans committee has already long since eroded any meaningful standards. It’s a baseball museum ffs. Can’t wait til someone builds a better one.

    1. Maxwell Johnston

      Don’t forget about Whitey Ford, whose ability to scuff the baseball made Gaylord look like an amateur. Jim Bouton exposed the reality of amphetamine abuse (“greenies”) in Ball Four. Eventually, the moralizing will be forgotten and only the statistics will remain: at which point Bonds and Clemens (and who knows, maybe even Pete Rose) will be admitted to the hall. But not anytime soon.

      1. voteforno6

        Pete Rose broke the number one rule – no gambling on baseball. It’s posted in every clubhouse, so it’s not like he didn’t know about it. I have doubts he’ll ever get in. As for the others, there’s cheating and there’s “cheating.” Taking PEDs, especially to the extend that it noticeably affected performance is clearly the former. The main difference between the ones in the eighties onward and the ones from before is that it was so much more effective, distorting statistics from historical norms (and baseball has a lot of history to compare against). What the others did, such as doctoring baseballs, was wrong, if they got caught. It might not make sense, but the baseball types for the most part have made a distinction between the types of cheating. There’s a good story about Albert Belle being accused of corking his bat, and how his teammates tried to prevent him from being caught. He was punished, but with a smile.

      2. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

        Yes, even I knew about greenies, growing up in NJ when Bouton’s book, Ball Four came out in 1970 Bouton had pitched for the Yankees (including winning two World Series starts in 1964) and my father bought and read the book. I was allowed to read it too even though I was barely 9 in 1970. This book wasn’t the sort of baseball book intended for kids. No matter. My parents never imposed content restrictions on my reading – and in fact, went to bat for me when librarians attempted to do so.

        Dad didn’t think much of Bouton, as his book brought our household heroes into disrepute. I remember quite clearly one player – his name escapes me – prancing around the locker room, intoning “Got to greenie up, got to greenie up, got to greenie up for the big one.” I can recite that ditty today even though I certainly didn’t grasp the full implications of greenieing up. Bouton’s book clearly had an effect on this reader, who 50 years later, can still recite the chant.

        1. 1 Kings

          Still, I don’t remember 165 lbs guys bulking to 210 in one year(one of the Boone kids) and jacking 50 homers and thus getting a huge pay day. Then shrinking quickly and out of the league soon after.
          I remember a Oakland A’ s 2nd basemen(early 2000’s) look like Bluto from Popeye. He was huge up top and had the skinniest legs ever. And the A’s with Canseco and McGuire were the poster boys for roids.
          No greenie players in the 60’s ever hit 60 or 70 jacks, had their heads increase in size, or continued pitching well into their 40s, with increasing speed on their fastballs. (Kind of like Tom Brady today saying his 40-time is faster than when he was 22.That cutting out sugar does wonders..)
          Guess my point is the guys from baseball past weren’t angels, and some cheated like no one’s business, but it would have shown up in their stats. And I don’t see it.

    2. Arizona Slim

      My grandfather was a sportswriter.

      After he died, I inherited the baseball pictures. They show Grandpa with various stars of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Frank Howard, Gene Mauch, Fred Hutchinson, Casey Stengel, and Yogi Berra.

      The Casey photo really stands out. Looks like he and Grandpa had enjoyed quite a few drinks before the game even started.

      That was Casey. And that was Grandpa too.

      Let’s not leave alcohol abuse out of this discussion.

  13. Jim

    Pray tell, when are the team owners, and the television networks, going to return all the money they made during the steroids era? As Jerri-Lynn says, it was bloody obvious to those watching the game, that players suddenly became bigger, stronger, faster – even as they aged, when their abilities would be expected to decline.

    Others have already pointed out the use of amphetamines in earlier times, utterly commonplace.

    If the owners and television networks happily raked in the dough as home runs flew into the seats – seats which were occupied by many more fans than would have been otherwise – then how can HOF voters exclude (hypothetically speaking) an allegedly juiced Roger Clemens, who pitched to an allegedly juiced Barry Bonds?

    Shouldn’t there be an asterisk beside the name of every Major League player admitted to the HOF before Jackie Robinson was allowed to play? The Negro Leagues had many players superior to the white guys. Satchel Paige in his prime would have lowered many Major League batting averages.

  14. PlutoniumKun

    I’m a cycling fan, and the problem with how to assess the great riders in history with reference to PEDs is a very difficult one. Going back to the 1950’s, one of the great rivalries was between the Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor. Although both came from humble backgrounds, Anquetil had an arrogant and aristocratic air, while Poulidor was very much a ‘son of the soil’ (in reality, things were a little more complex). Anquetil was an open user of PEDS who saw it as part of the game, while Poulidor was very verbal in his opposition to them. At that time, of course, medical testing was cruder so there was more of a grey area about what was permitted and what was not. Amphetamines were widely available, although the benefits to a rider were probably more psychological than real. For this reason, lots of fans are willing to give riders like Anquetil a ‘pass’.

    It was very different in the EPO era. EPO and related products gave such an enormous boost to a systematic doper (to get the best of them you had to use them in a very structured way), that it destroyed the sport as a spectacle. Unless you had extraordinary genetics, it was almost impossible to compete clean for a period in the 1990’s and early ’00s. Armstrong was a strong rider, but there was no way he would have been a grand tour winner without them, he simply didn’t have the stamina. He won not through taking PEDS (pretty much everyone was), but because he and the US Postal team structured their entire strategy around making the most use of EPO and testosterone drops (the latter allowing for quicker recovery after tough days). Or put more simply, they cheated more efficiently than everyone else. Even some of the big teams were surprisingly amateurish in their cheating and probably did their riders more harm than good.

    Some of my favourite riders from the 1980’s were probable dopers, but I’m inclined to give them a pass because it was imply seen as part of the game for a pro then, and its unlikely to have given specific riders more than a marginal benefit over those who ran clean. It was certainly possible to ride and win clean up to around 1990. Greg Lamond was probably the last Tour winner who was clean.

    It gets even more complicated in other sports. East European track and field athletes, especially the women, were ‘roided up to their eyeballs in the 1970’s and 80’s, and probably had little or no say in the matter, in contrast to some of their western counterparts, who deliberately chose doping. These days, there is little doubt that many of the African distance runners who dominate the events have been doped, at least in the early days of their careers by ambitious coaches, but I find it hard to condemn someone who comes from abject poverty and sees this as a way of getting some sort of success in their lives. Its the system rather than the athlete that should be condemned in those situations.

    Anyway, I think that its all down to context. I don’t know much about baseball, but it seems to me that as with cycling in the 90’s or track and field power events in the 1980’s, the best thing to do is void that entire era when it was clear that all the top people were doped and clean athletes had no chance whatever. But when there was no clear advantage, then perhaps the benefit of the doubt should be given.

  15. Robert Gray

    I couldn’t care less about baseball but I would like to comment on the use of steroids and other drugs in sport. Anyone over the age of, say, 30 remembers the time when it was Very Important to maintain a distinction between amateurs and professionals. How silly all that seems now. Similarly, I have long argued that there should be an ‘open’ category in sport, where there is no drugs testing. ‘What?!?’, you say. Well, why not? Sportspersons play their games for a variey of reasons: money, fame, even something so nebulous as personal satisfaction. But they do so knowing that there is always a risk of injury, from tennis elbow through blown-out knees up to broken necks and Chronic Brain Bashing. Yet, as competent adults, they choose to play — and we enjoy watching their displays of skill. Obviously, you can’t let kids take steroids but if an adult wants to do things to his or her body that might have negative repercussions later, I say, in a free world, why not?

    PK says above:

    > EPO and related products gave such an enormous boost to a systematic doper …
    > that it destroyed the sport as a spectacle. 

    I disagree. And I think the baseball fans who flocked to the stadia in the ‘80s to be thrilled by the home-run kings smashing ‘em out of the park would too. Far from destroying the spectacle, it maximises it. Naturally, all this would be optional. The purists could of course continue to impose their restrictions. Why, they might even find a modern-day Jim Thorpe that they could disqualify.

  16. Wukchumni

    The parallels with MLB & Wall*Street are pretty stark, and it appears to me that once extravagant money started flowing into the former, any means possible to get more was the order of the day, and how the public loved the steroid home run derbies while it lasted, or was I talking about the latter?

    The difference being the numbers game, Dow Jonestown @ 31k, is tantamount to a major leaguer hitting 103 dingers in a season, or a team winning 143 games, fantasy league stuff.

    The issue of cheaters trying to punch a ticket into the HOF will right itself once they run out of chances, game so over.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      The public has always loved home runs – and spectacle, e.g., Babe Ruth’s famous ‘called shot’. Yankee Stadium – the House That Ruth Built – was built by Ruth (and Gehrig) hitting balls out of the park, not by eking out quality at bats.

        1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

          Oh I do. But more for the time Dad went nuts when Carew stole home. I was trying to date my memory and learned that Carew stole home seven times in 1969 alone – when Billy Martin was managing the Twins. Talk about the ultimate baseball anti-Boy Scout. Whom the Yanks had to send packing because of the influence he had on golden boy Mantle – someone who was himself quite good at smacking balls out of the park.

          1. Wukchumni

            Billy Martin was such a rebel, and I had no idea Carew stole home that often. He’ll always be on the woeful Angels hitting for 1 lowly part of the cycle, in my mind.

  17. Wukchumni

    Bang The Drum Slowly would be my favorite baseball movie, and what a cast.

    Bull Durham is excellent also, but more of a look from the minors…

    When I was a kid, it was pretty common to mention the other job an MLB player had in the off season on the stat side of a baseball card. Seems quaint now~

      1. Wukchumni

        The Natural is a keeper, but more in the fantasy league.

        My favorite MLB highlight as far as being there didn’t happen during a contest, my little league team went to an Angels game circa 1971 and we got there for batting practice, and our seats were in danger of causing nosebleeds or merely excellent practice for a future Himalayan ascent, and a teammate screamed to a very distant Frank Robinson on the Orioles to throw a ball his way, and it would’ve been the equivalent of an outfielder on the warning track throwing a perfect strike to the plate from a distance standpoint, I can still see my teammate’s outstretched glove that he didn’t need to move even a scintilla, PLOP!

      1. John Wright

        One baseball player, whose name I can’t recall, left me with a memorable quote.

        When asked what he planned to do in the off season, he responded with: “I’m going to help my dad”.

        Then he was asked “What does your dad do?”

        He responded: “nothing”.

  18. Steve Ruis

    People keep saying that taking PEDs was cheating. Well, for many of the years over which this “cheating” was occurring, MLB had not banned those substances. So the users were breaking the law, but not the rules of MLB. Plus, if you go back to the 50’s and 60’s there are stories of clubhouses “dispensing” uppers and downers to players who needed “a little help.”

    The League was complicit. The teams were complicit. If we bar all of those athletes from the Hall (those who deserve to get in based upon merits) we lose the history of the era. I say let ’em in and include the “scandal” on their plaques. As has been pointed out the Hall isn’t exactly full of choir boys, now is it?

    I might point out that most of the entrants into the HOF to my knowledge were incredible racists. Should we go back and check out whether those players were on the right side of history?

  19. michael hudson

    If you’re going to keep Joe Jackson out, then you have to remove Charles Comiskey. I think that rather than “throwing the game,” the Black Sox players were on strike — against Comiskey’s using his monopoly right to screw them in salary. From their point of view, it was “no pay, no work.”
    But of course, the Major League owners would not want this kind of framing of labor-capital fight.

      1. Big Tap

        Would you want to play for the Phillies at that time? I don’t blame Curt Flood not wanting to go there. Plus as a black man he knew how badly Dick Allen was treated in Philadelphia. The racism was in the open then.

  20. Matt Provenzano

    With all due respect, I very much disagree that this is some egregious form of cancel culture; this is merely a Pandora’s box that the baseball writers themselves opened. Baseball writers like to think of the Hall of Fame as a sacrosanct institution, and it’s held up in regard as a parallel to the moral authority the United States has on a global scale. These are giants among men, and they were treated as such.

    Because the Steroid Era was essentially the Black Sox scandal of our time, it harmed the credibility of the game, and thus of the state, in a fairly significant way. The actual history of this being that the owners and Bud Selig found steroids perfectly acceptable to juice attendance in the wake of the ’94 strike, until it become public that is. So, moralizing about the bad, evil players making bad, evil choices was a way to rationalize their decision and to make sure that The Game was still pure, it was just those naughty players again getting in the way.

    So the Hall of Fame voting follows suit, by the same reporters who very much parroted the opinions of ownership and the commissioner’s office through the previous strike, and they were happy to cast aside Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, and Sosa to Steroids Purgatory.

    The problem with that is that the character clause was required to make that choice justifiable; it was not thought of at all until then, save Pete Rose, or as you mention, the cheating scandals of nearly a century earlier. The character clause was a modern interpretation to get around this legitimacy problem.

    Yet once you decide this is the rationale, then the clause is quite broad in interpretation. Schilling, by his own admission, is a rabid supporter of the far-right and has posted numerous photos online about joking about hanging journalists, or comparing Islamic fundamentalists to Nazis, or hate about trans people. This rightly got him kicked off the air of ESPN, further embittering him. Now that he supported the Capitol Riots, reporters are again scrambling to build back that legitimacy by going as far to try to revoke their vote. Once again, like steroids, they made that bed.

    Yet this opens actual, normative applications for the character clause. Barry Bonds’ character, who has a documented history in divorce proceedings of abusing his ex-wife, ought to be called into question. Roger Clemens, who groomed literal child Mindy McCready until she later committed suicide, ought to have his character called into question. Omar Vizquel, who was not accused based on hearsay but based on what we would call actual evidence–firsthand accounts–ought to have his character called into question. Others who have engaged in such behavior ought to, not for behavior regarding doping that the league condoned in word if not encouraged.

    I respect the “just follow the stats” argument. Yet the BBWAA, as stubborn as they are, doesn’t actually believe that. They wholeheartedly believe in the sanctity of the character of their inductees, yet Cap Anson is plastered right there on the Hall’s walls, and they have made no intention to remove the character clause, the easiest “solution” if they wanted one. But once they decide to draw a line in the sand at steroids, it is only fair to wonder whether real, normative questions can be raised about the people we claim to honor as heroes. And for what it’s worth, as a Yankees fan, the Bloody Sock is already in the museum as a reminder of Schilling’s greatness on the field sans plaque, ceremony, or speech.

    1. Tom Doak

      It’s very much a cancel culture, and baseball writers have been working on it much longer than the “woke” crowd of today. It has always been the case that there were players the writers liked and covered for, and other players they didn’t like, and good luck getting your due in history if you were one of those guys. Dick Allen was one. Albert Belle another. (Coincidentally, both were angry black men who treated the writers as an annoyance.) Even before the PED allegations, many of the writers hated Barry Bonds, because he didn’t want to do interviews for them. They just wouldn’t have had an excuse not to vote for him, until the PED’s came along.

      It’s the same thing with baseball fans, like some of the posters above. The thing is, nobody really knows who was on the juice at some point, and who wasn’t. Just like you can’t prove that Bonds used PED’s, even though he almost certainly did, you have no idea whether Mike Piazza or Big Papi or Derek Jeter ever did the very same thing. You just already have your mind made up in their favor. Jose Canseco was happy to tell everyone how many guys did it, but of course he wasn’t liked, so his story was dismissed.

      The Commissioner’s report on steroids followed hearsay reports, chasing down rumors about some teams and ignoring others. Another coincidence: Henry Aaron was Bud Selig’s idol and later a dear friend, and when all those young men started threatening his career home run record, suddenly the SHTF. Nobody cared about Roger Maris’ record because he wasn’t an anointed God — Roger didn’t like the media, either — but Henry Aaron’s record was as sacred to many people as Babe Ruth’s before him [which has now all been blamed on racism].

      Meanwhile there’s a whole separate committee [with no BBWAA members on it] to name people like Bud Selig to the Hall as quickly as they can kiss his behind. I have loved baseball since I was a small child, but I really dislike the Hall of Fame.

      1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

        Another great Bull Durham scene: when the Kevin Costner character, Crash, instructs the pitching star on working on his cliches — i.e., interview prep. Spot on! Impossible to watch a baseball interview after seeing that and not recall that scene.

        The writers have always had their favorites.

        Poor Maris. Never given his due. All that asterisk crap – which IMHO would never have got started if Mantle had broken Ruth’s record. 61* is a pretty good film for that story.

        1. The Rev Kev

          Know exactly the scene that you mean. I thought about it while typing up my comment yesterday. After seeing it, I noticed the same with interviews with cricket and football players here. Bland, repetitive stuff and I figured that they go to a course somewhere in handling interviews. Bet the same is true of American gridiron-

        2. Tom Doak

          I have a baseball simulation game where the computer AI produces a writeup of the game along with the box score, using AI-generated quotes from players or the manager. They are hilarious.

  21. Dave in Austin

    Drug use? Baseball?, all I have to say is “Rhenquist”.

    Supreme Court Rhenquist was on Placidil. Prescribed use was recommended for only 10 days because it was so addictive. Placidyl killed more people than heroin in the 1970s. Rhenquist took it for 10 years. It got so bad according to the NYT reports that he would ask half a question, forget where he was, and another Justice would have to genteelly finish the question. Rhenquist was a pretty tough guy and he knew he had a problem, so he tried to quit cold turkey over a Christmas vacation. He ended up in DC’s George Washington University Hospital in critical condition on life support. Where did he get the stuff? The drugs came from the Senate Pharmacy (which he didn’t legally have access to) without a payment or (apparently) a prescription. When he went for Chief Justice there was an “investigation”- the NYT said the investigation reported something like “he has no present drug dependency”.

    On the Democratic side of the Court we have Byron “whizzer” White; he got the free drugs for his serious back pains. He also wrote the Navy’s official 1943 report on the PT 109 sinking, which exonerated Kennedy Let me see.. a 100 ft long PT boat is floating around at night in a war zone with the engines off and nobody topside? A 300 ft long Japanese destroyer spots it and doesn’t even bother to fire a shot- it just turns, travels 1 1/2 miles and runs it over at 25 knots without being spotted. Crewmen die. A Court Marshall? No problem with White writing the report… and White gets a seat on the Supreme Court as a reward.

    Oddly enough I have a certain amount of respect for both these guys, and anybody who’s ever worked in the Senate or the House knows which members (and family members) have had drug problems. Drug use and the baseball museum in Cooperstown make an interesting article… but I’m more worried about the folks who name federal post offices, research facilities, court houses and dams after themselves.

  22. Mr Grumpy

    The effects of PEDs and weight lifting were all over baseball during the 1990s and early 2000s. When you are in your 20s and 30s it is very easy to make huge strength gains in a relatively short period of time with the right training program. College strength & conditioning coaches do it routinely all over the country nowadays. Once baseball players really took to weightlifting in the early 1990s we were bound to see jacked bodies, harder hit balls, faster pitches across the board within a few years. Some players obviously injected themselves with PEDs to boost the effect. But a great many others were just taking supplements like creatine and protein/amino acid powders. At the time many of those products were laced with steroids. This was a huge problem in track & field in the late 90s-early 2000s. Hundreds of athletes could trace their positive tests back to the supplements. It’s hard to untangle the added boost to performance the injector set (Bonds, Clemens and some others) got from the general weightlifting, supplement, tainted supplement effects. Especially when there were also still players who did not make much of a switch in their training regimen, and we don’t have a clear picture of who falls in which bucket and when. For Bonds and Clemens I’d say they were awesome before PEDs, the boost they got couldn’t have been any more than what Ruth got by not having to face Black players. McGwire, too. But guys like Palmeiro I knock down a peg. I think he clearly would not have been as good as, say, Fred McGriff if not for PEDs.

    The knock on Koufax above is undeserved. The stuff they used to keep his arm intact had no bearing on his overall strength. Despite being lean he was always known among his teammates as being very strong. He also was able to perfect a very rare straight over the top delivery (making him appear like a much taller pitcher, even though he’s 6’3″ already) with basically perfect biomechanics. Additionally, the spin rate in his curve must have been otherworldly. It was the pitch that he could not throw when the pain flared up, so the motion likely caused much of his problems. Koufax was much like Marc Spitz in swimming, biomechanically perfect for what he did (throwing hard, not for health).

    1. Wukchumni

      I was watching Koufax shut out the Twins in the 7th game of the 1965 World Series on 2 days rest after also pitching a shutout in the 5th game. Just a masterful performance, and if you speed the video up towards the end, the victory celebration by the Dodgers could be any old regular season victory, so wonderfully low key…

      …Vin Scully describes the action

Comments are closed.