Monday, January 3, 2011

Comments Elsewhere: the Morality Police

I frequently comment on other blogs, and usually somewhere around the 3rd or 4th paragraph I wonder why I don't just make the tome a post over here as well. So I'm finally making my verbosity work double duty.

Over at Hardball Talk, Craig Calcaterra responded to some nonsensical chatter that the BBWAA makes for a suitable morality police squad. The discussion is interesting—not so much the argument over the factual reliability of history books in the United States public education system, but more the part about the issue at hand. Here's my response in the discussion of a post that accurately describes the case made by many writers over the infamous Character Clause, but one that ignores the rules applied to the rest of a player's credentials:

“That means that voters are asked not merely to decide if there is something “negative” in a player’s record, but whether he deserves to be enshrined BASED on his integrity, character, and sportsmanship. This invites a qualitative assessment, and suggests that players significantly deficient in these areas ought not to be admitted regardless of their other accomplishments.”

Except you (and voters who make this argument) fail to mention what the standard is for enshrinement in those areas. The Bible? The Constitution? Emily Post’s Etiquette, 17th Edition? Some voters are defiant that any cheating is grounds for dismissal. Others are at a loss to define it for themselves, begging the Hall to clarify or give some statement as to how to determine how to weigh integrity and sportsmanship.

It baffles me. Just use the same methods employed in baseball statistics: compare the player’s record with the record of his peers and that of other HOF members. Are McGwire and Bonds lower forms of life than the untold throngs of their contemporaries who cheated in the exact same way and competed against them? Does a steroid user have less integrity and weaker character than the amphetamine users, ball doctors, and racists who are currently enshrined? Because that’s the precedent. That’s the slope that thus far has proved anything but slippery.

If perfection is the standard, clear out the Hall. If being a really, really good person who never played a dishonest inning is the standard, There should still be dozens of ejections. But that’s not the standard. It’s not close to the standard. Anyone with an open and slightly functioning brain should be able to recognize the obvious standard: gambling is the only unpardonable sin baseball has ever formally recognized. Cheating successfully has long been greeted with open arms. The voters are changing that policy, and THAT is the slippery slope.
Obviously there's a big difference between ethical and moral standards in general and the standards historically applied when considering a player's Hall of Fame candidacy. I'm not arguing there was nothing wrong with PED use, I'm just saying it's foolish to pretend that PED users established a new low or that HOF members represent baseball's moral elite. No one truly thinks that even a little bit, except when they consider their HOF ballots.
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