We're smack dab in the middle of Hall of Fame discussion season when it comes to baseball talk. Here at CBS Sports, we're profiling the prominent candidates on a one-per-day basis. In the course of these discussions, invariably a big part of the discussion is the so-called "character clause." That is, within the guidelines of voting by the Hall of Fame, therein lies this:
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.
For the most part, we're seeing this applied to players who have been connected to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Many believe using them was a flagrant violation of the integrity, sportsmanship and character qualifications. I'm not here to argue that, but I am here to note that we're standing atop a slope that is a wee bit slippery.
Keep in mind the voting body is a group of individuals prone to biases and subjectivity. And, hoo boy, "integrity, sportsmanship and character" are subjective terms, aren't they?
I write this the same day we're running the Hall of Fame case for Curt Schilling and this isn't a coincidence. He's lost more than a dozen votes so far from last season based upon some of his comments, most notably saying a shirt that suggested lynching journalists was "so much awesome." Now, he said he was kidding after the backlash, but the damage was done in the minds of some voters.
For me, words are simply that: Words. I don't care much about a player's words once his career is finished when it comes to judging his Hall of Fame merit. But some in the voting body were offended and are using the character clause as a reason to not vote for Schilling. I'm not a fan of this. I think Schilling should be in the Hall of Fame, but that's neither here nor there. I don't like the direction the character clause is taking us as a whole.
Let's keep in mind that Schilling retired after the 2007 season and didn't make any comment of the sort while he was playing. It seems to me that the character clause specifically notes that voting shall be based upon the player's record, which seems to me that we should only really consider his behavior while he was playing.
[ASIDE: Let me also make clear Schilling's claims he hasn't gotten into the Hall due to his support of President-Elect Donald Trump are lunacy. He got 38.8 percent of the vote back in 2013 and it dropped to 29.2 percent in 2014. He's also prone to either distorting the truth, revisionist history or out-and-out lying, such as claiming John Smoltz made it into the Hall on his first try due to being a Democrat. Smoltz is a Republican, as are most players and former players. None of this should disqualify Schilling from Hall of Fame candidacy, in my view.]
Of course, this is also a slippery slope, because there's a hypothetical that actually did play out in the NFL. Darren Sharper was sentenced to 20 years in prison for drugging and raping women in four different states, but then showed up on the Hall of Fame ballot. I think we could all agree that we don't need a character clause to eliminate a baseball player from the Hall of Fame discussion in a similar situation, right? Just don't put said player on the ballot. We don't need a character clause to exhibit common sense in situations of serious crime.
But words? It's pretty hard for me to get overly worked up over words, especially given the large number of well-documented racists, for example, already in the Hall of Fame.
Giving voters a crutch like this can run deeper, too.
Integrity, sportsmanship and character. Hmmm ...
Gaylord Perry doctored baseballs. Juan Marichal charged the mound with a bat in his hand once, trying to strike John Roseboro's head. Players like Tris Speaker and Rogers Hornsby have reputations of being rather nasty personalities. Dozens of players from the 1960s and 1970s in the Hall of Fame have copped to using "greenies," which are amphetamines that now carry suspensions in MLB. There are a well-documented number of drunks in the Hall who certainly didn't play in the best shape due to their affliction and that could 100 percent be questioned under "integrity" or "character" if we're driving hard in that direction.
Mickey Mantle in particular was said to have been a lazy player both on the bases and in the outfield by his manager, Casey Stengel.
We could go on with many other instances of things that seem to violate the character clause, such as fighting, throwing at the heads of opposing players on purpose, spiking opposing players on purpose, betting on baseball -- before the Black Sox Scandal was happening and several Hall of Famers have been implicated -- and rampant racism, but we aren't going to be removing any plaques from the Hall. All we can do is be mindful of what behavior was never previously a non-starter for induction into the Hall of Fame and move forward in consistent fashion.
The standards for induction should not change. That's the main problem, for me -- that the character clause leaves open the door to ignore or revise history and punish players for things that previously weren't punished.
A player is constantly labeled "lazy" for not running out routine grounders? Does that really mean a player has no integrity? Of course not, but I could see someone being petty enough to withhold a Hall of Fame vote for, say, Robinson Cano -- even though he's pretty clearly great at avoiding injury, so it ultimately helps his team.
What about a big-time bat-flipper? Are you going to tell me that no curmudgeon would, in true "get off my lawn" fashion, withhold a Hall vote and claim the player violated the sportsmanship clause? Let's say Yasiel Puig ends up with a Hall-worthy resume. It's a long-shot, but if he does, are we 100 percent sure we'll see zero columns about his bad sportsmanship being reason to not throw him a vote? I'm about 100 percent sure we would see it.
It would be incredibly petty, but some voters are petty. In recent years, we've seen a voter renege on his vow to stop voting and specifically say he did so due to spite. This year that same voter turned in a blank ballot, and it really sounded like it was out of spite.
PEDs were used and abused for decades (Google "Pud Galvin" if you'd like), but only now are the players who took part being punished. Even some who we aren't sure used are punished.
And now we're gonna start withholding votes based upon an ultimately harmless -- though remarkably foolish -- tweet?
We're on a mighty slippery slope here and shouldn't trudge forward in this manner. The character clause was likely created with great intention, but it gives voters far too big a subjective crutch to wield however they please.