'Tis baseball's pearl-clutching season, when writers sit down with their Hall of Fame ballots and combine wisdom with morality. Improprieties -- and even suggestions of improprieties -- are addressed with a dismissive omission. Check marks are used and withheld with Olympian loftiness.
The result is an incoherent mess. Even those who win induction end up losing something in the process. The focus of any story regarding the Hall of Fame has become -- and will remain -- those who are denied. There's toxicity associated with every aspect of the voting process, and these efforts to elevate the Hall to baseball's Vatican -- it's a museum, and nothing more -- have paradoxically served to degrade it along the way.
Just watch. The second paragraph of any story announcing Greg Maddux's election on Jan. 8 will be about those who were rejected on moral grounds.
So here's a question for the voters: Who, exactly, are you presuming to protect?
If it's baseball -- Major League Baseball, that is -- you appear to be wasting your time. All the debated names associated with performance-enhancing drugs, from Barry Bonds to Roger Clemens to Mark McGwire, remain on the ballot, eligible to be enshrined. Moreover, the general managers and owners obviously don't share your vigor for the eternal prosecution. Otherwise, they wouldn't continue to hand out new and improved contracts to known present-day cheats. Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, Jhonny Peralta and soon Nelson Cruz -- all richer, or soon to be, despite PED suspensions.
If owners and general managers don't care, why should baseball writers?
Here's the obligatory disclaimer: I respect those who cite the Hall's moral clause -- it hinges on one word: integrity -- as the reason they can't elect PED cheats. It's perfectly understandable that intelligent people can choose to omit certain players because they both cheated the game and inflated their own worth by ingesting or injecting banned or illegal drugs. I was a member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America for nine years -- one short of earning voting rights -- and I used to be able to summon the high dudgeon needed to dismiss Bonds and Clemens and anyone else who dared besmirch the game. I get it.
But more writers, including The Boston Globe's esteemed Bob Ryan, seem to be softening on the issue. In explaining that he remains committed to leaving PED users off his ballot, Ryan wrote, "I may very well wake up one day and say, 'I give up. Juiced pitchers threw to juiced batters. We will never know the full effect of the PED usage. It is impossible to be both judge and jury in this matter. So, let 'em all in. If they've got the numbers, vote 'em in.'"
That's the point: It's too muddled to pin down. It's impossible to differentiate between who did and who didn't use, or why a 2004 HGH user is more of a cheater than a 1968 greenie user. And more importantly, why is the Hall of Fame being turned into a court of law?
It seems to me the best way to send a message is to vote them all into the Hall. The most revolutionary ballot would include Bonds and Clemens and anybody else the voter deems qualified.