Dan LeBatard, formerly a columnist for the Miami Herald who now works for ESPN, recently turned his Hall of Fame ballot over to Deadspin.com, which filled it out according to a poll of readers and then submitted it to the office of the Baseball Writers of America.
When the BBWA learned of this misdirection play, its president, LaVale E. Neal III, suspended LeBatard from the organization for one year. This is a significant penalty. The Baseball Writers card grants entrance to any major league stadium, press box and clubhouse during preseason and regular season.
Neal also announced that LeBatard will not be issued a Hall of Fame ballot in the future.
“It was worth it,” LeBatard said. “I knew there would be consequences. Hopefully, change is a consequence, too.”
He believes too many people – including himself – are allowed to vote, and that the ball-writers are overly obsessed with steroids and other Performance Enhancing Drugs.
“I feel like my vote has gotten pretty worthless in the avalanche of sanctimony that has swallowed it,” LeBatard said, adding a protest about “all the moralizing we do in sports in general.”
LeBatard has a point, that baseball writers (and I’m one who has participated in Hall of Fame voting) are not qualified to pass moral judgments, which they have taken as their duty in this era of (we hope) post- PEDs. It’s fair for LeBatard to ask if we should penalize athletes for taking steroids the rest of us use to treat aches and allergies and all sorts of ailments.
LeBatard is a fine writer and an astute observer of the ironies of baseball. He makes outside-the-box observations that have validity. He complains, for example, that too few of the ball-writers speak Spanish, in a sport that is becoming increasingly dominated by Latinos.
But I side against him here.
While the ball-writers do take themselves too seriously, I applaud them for taking the Hall of Fame seriously. And I deplore LeBatard for his irresponsibility in devaluing it.
The Hall of Fame is important. The sprawling red-brick museum in tiny Cooperstown honors our boyhood heroes, the very best in what for most of our country’s history truly was its No. 1 pastime – played in the streets and alleys and fields more than in the stadiums.
What sets baseball apart from other sports: it reverberates with history; it has a timelessness the others lack. You watch 1950s film of football and the players look small and slow. You watch 1950s film of DiMaggio, Robinson and Mays, or the ‘60s of Koufax and Clemente, and they seem as superhuman now as they were then.
It’s important to know how to evaluate heroism, success, integrity. Somebody needs to do it. The ball-writers are the guardians of a significant part of the national history.
You could believe, as LeBatard apparently does, that judgment here is impossible. And from a legal perspective he appears to be right. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the most publicized of the alleged ‘roiders, are free and likely to remain so.
We don’t know what drugs, legal and otherwise, were injected by players who were never caught or even suspected of cheating.
But we can scrutinize the records, raise an eyebrow when we see that Craig Biggio, only 5-10, peaked as a power hitter at age 39. His 26 homers were four more than Babe Ruth hit at the same age.
We can assume Bidge took better care of himself than Babe did. But with two of his closest friends and teammates – Jeff Bagwell and the late Ken Caminiti – implicated for PEDs, Biggio draws a skeptical glance. Is it fair to wonder how he bloomed so late as a slugger?
And maybe that’s why the dirt-diving Astro was two ballots shy of admission, and why he expressed bitter disappointment as did Bagwell speaking in his behalf.
(See accompanying Feelgood Story).
It will be forever to his discredit that Bud Selig during most of his commissionership ignored a problem that was widely known at the time.
So now we have an ongoing procession of retired players with Hall of Fame numbers, and we wonder if the numbers are real.
The voter must go case by case, examining the evidence on drugs, but also asking if the candidate would have made the Hall of Fame without chemical enhancement. I think Barry Bonds would have, for sure. And Biggio.
Clemens? Probably. He won 193 games for Boston – 63 % of his decisions – and also a Cy Young Award and an MVP (in separate years) before he went to Toronto and allegedly made his first drug connection.
Many other cases are debatable and will continue to be debated.
As for those baseball writers who are not up to the challenge of the research and the debate, kindly return your ballot to the BBWA office and leave the Hall of Fame to those who care. Find yourself some other great American institution to make a mockery of.