Open Letter to Bud Selig RE: Baseball Hall of Fame

To Bud Selig,

First let me start by saying I’m nobody important, just a humble fan. I have the utmost respect for your position and the game of baseball. I’ve been a fan since the mid 1980s when I was old enough to understand the game. The Montreal Expos were my team, followed closely by the Toronto Blue Jays. I remember watching every Saturday or Sunday, since there was only 1 game per week on in Canada back then, and the annual Expos/Jays series were something that me and my brothers would play out in our backyards after watching the games. 1992 and 1993 were easily the best years for me as a baseball fan, and still remember exactly where I was when Joe Carter touched ‘em all. 1994 was a dream too, possibly shaping up to be an all Canadian World Series, until the strike shut everything down.  That’s not what I am writing to you about Mr. Selig, though it is relevant, but rather the years after the strike, the so-called “Steroid Era,” and what effect it’s having on the annual Hall of Fame Voting process.

Since the first time Mark McGwire, the first poster-boy for the Steroid Era, was eligible to be on the Hall of Fame ballot, the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America have taken it upon themselves to “protect” the Hall Of Fame’s sanctity by not voting for him and other players in the same era, whose accomplishments on the field clearly warrant induction. I speak of the BBWAA as a whole, since there are those in its membership that have voted for McGwire, and later Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, and more. By and large, those writers that have explained their reasoning for not voting for Steroid Era players by citing the 5th Rule of the BBWAA Hall of Fame Elections Rules which states “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” These three words; integrity, sportsmanship, character and it’s many interpretations are what’s keeping the current leader of MLB in both single-season and career home runs out of the Hall of Fame.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that those words are not important, of course they are. I take issue with wide range of subjectivity that the words create. What actions of that player are the writers allowed to use to judge their integrity, sportsmanship and character? On-field actions only? Taking drugs, performance enhancing or recreational? What about how they interact with the media and the fans? What if they were arrested at any point and charged with a criminal offense while they were a player? Does the magnitude of the criminal offense matter? What if they just don’t like the player because he was cocky and arrogant?

Is it really fair for writers to be required to use their own morals and beliefs and apply them to the Hall of Fame Vote, when MLB and Baseball ownership are just as guilty in lacking integrity, sportsmanship and character?

From 1985-1987, the owners of MLB teams were accused of, and ultimately found guilty of collusion. MLB Commissioner from 1990, Fay Vincent said “The single biggest reality you guys have to face up to is collusion. You stole $280 million from the players, and the players are unified to a man around that issue, because you got caught and many of you are still involved.” That doesn’t sound like something that someone with integrity, character and sportsmanship would do. In fact, Vincent believes the 1994-1995 MLB players’ strike was largely due to the mistrust of the current MLB ownership and the Acting Commissioner, you Mr. Selig, since you were an owner of the Milwaukee Brewers during the “Collusion Era.”

But back to the writers. The seemingly unanimous reason for Steroid Era players to be excluded from the Hall of Fame is performance enhancing drugs. Fox Sports Writer Ken Rosenthal states this specifically in his column recently. Fans have been aware of Steroids or PEDs for a long time, even back to the late 80’s when Boston fans famously chanted “Ster-oids, Ster-oids” at Jose Canseco. So my question to you, Mr. Selig, is why didn’t you do anything about it until nearly 20 years later? I’ll tell you what I think.

Fans, after the 1994-1995 player strike, were just not coming back to the game very fast and these players reinvigorated baseball’s fan base and gave them something to cheer about. Baseball introduced a new ball in 2004 which supposedly also added to the surge in homers, and runs overall.There’s no doubt that the game of baseball benefited greatly from Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire chasing Roger Maris’ single season home run record, Barry Bonds passing Hank Aaron’s all time home run standard and runs being scored at a pace higher than ever before. I was glued to the highlights every night wanting to see what happened! National television exposure exploded, attendance was back up and money started rolling in for everyone; owners, MLB and the players.

That’s why. MLB prospered while these players were “cheating” so there’s no reason to kill the golden goose.

Then, suddenly the wind changed. The Mitchell Report was released, the United States Congress got involved and Jose Canseco put out a tell-all book which revealed just how rampant PED use was during these historic, record-breaking years. Suddenly, we were being told that we shouldn’t see these players’ accomplishments the same way anymore. You, the MLB, along with the MLB Players’ Association instituted a new drug policy with mandatory testing and harsher penalties for violators. Some players have admitted to using, many have not. These players are now on the Hall of Fame ballot, and every year, the results are getting worse. Players who have never been linked to PED use are being excluded because of nothing more than “guilt by association” when that association is nothing more than having played at the same time as admitted users, while others who have never been associated with PED use are voted in without a problem.

I know you are planning to retire as Commissioner after the 2014 season, but before you go, Mr. Selig, I implore you to do two things;

#1 – Take at least a little of the responsibility for the Steroid Era. It happened under your watch, and along with all the good things you have done for the game in your tenure; interleague play, the addition of the wildcard playoff teams, the beginning of video replay (yes I realize some will say these are not positives, but this is my opinion). You should acknowledge that while it was ultimately the players’ decision to inject or ingest PEDs, MLB today is better off as a whole in large part because of it, and to think this was all done without your suspicion or knowledge is just not right. I also know that you and the MLB are not responsible for how the BBWAA members vote, but this leads me to #2.

#2 – Work with the BBWAA to develop clear guidelines on what those writers should be using to judge a player’s integrity, sportsmanship and character. If it is ultimately decided that PED use should be a factor, that’s fine. Then, encourage some dialogue to provide guidelines about what can be included for the writers to use as evidence in their decision making, such as positive tests and player admissions of guilt, not back acne.

I ask this of you Mr. Selig, not because I think this whole Hall of Fame mess is entirely your fault. Of course it isn’t, but you are in the best position to make a positive change in that process before you leave the game. And, because if I had a ballot to elect you to the baseball Hall of Fame, I’m afraid I would have to exclude you on the basis of integrity, sportsmanship and character.

Sincerely,

John Havok, a fan of the game of baseball.

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Author: John Havok

I've been a baseball fan since the mid 1980's when I was finally old enough to understand and follow the game. I love new sabermetric analytics since it forces people to question and in many cases debunk longstanding "truths" of baseball. I'm currently in the insurance industry, and in my spare time I watch any and all baseball I can find, and annoy my wife to death by then talking, arguing, and writing about it.

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