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Wednesday BP, 1/23/19

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Barry Bonds San Francisco Giants Number 25 Retirement Ceremony Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Jeff Passan talked to some No PED Users Hall of Fame voters and published an extensive article about his findings. His conclusion wasn’t surprising: there’s no chance Barry Bonds (and Roger Clemens) get into the Hall of Fame.

Yesterday, with his vote total climbing just 2.7% from 2018 and only three years remaining on the ballot, Bonds’ odds are very long indeed. It’s not an outlandish situation, and even as Kenny mentioned in his post yesterday about how frustrating the voters can be, it feels even more frustrating because it’s not outlandish or surprising but it is extremely inconsistent.

A number said they stumble when considering Rule 5 of the Hall’s voting standards, the so-called character clause. “Every year I stop at the sentence that includes ‘integrity, sportsmanship [and] character’ and my decision on Bonds and Clemens and other players, Sammy Sosa being another, is made for me,” Steve Simmons, a longtime columnist, wrote in an email.

Now before we launch into the matter of Curt Schilling or Andruw Jones or even Bonds again for his history of abuse, let’s take a look at the full “character clause”:

5. Voting: 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.

There’s no specificity to that — it can be about what they demonstrated on or off the field. Voters seem to have drawn the line at what players did that affected what they did on the field during the time that they played. So, Andruw Jones’ history of domestic violence would seemingly fall outside a writers’ view of his baseball career. Same with Curt Schilling and his Nazi memorabilia. Barry Bonds isn’t bad because he abused his ex-wife, he’s bad because he bulked up and hit a lot of home runs. Roger Clemens preyed on a teenager, but he made hitters look bad, which is worse for the purposes of the Hall of Fame.

The definition of “character” given to me in childhood was “Character is what you do when nobody’s watching”. It’s hard to imagine players using performance-enhancing drugs as doing something that “nobody’s watching”, but if baseball writers are using some version of that definition and are talking about “what you put into your body when it’s just you and your trainer alone in a bathroom”, that’s an absurdly narrow use of the word itself.

Did Bonds show a lack of integrity by doing what a bunch of other players were doing? Probably. Did he lack sportsmanship because he was unfair and selfish in his treatment of teammates and opponents? The “sportsmanship” part of the clause seems highly subjective if only because baseball is selfish to a large degree by its own design. But! Let’s assume that making pitchers look bad by hitting home runs and making players look bad by being way better than the rest of ‘em and being unapologetic about it — even having two lockers and a recliner in the clubhouse — is a lack of sportsmanship. I will agree that Barry Bonds lacks character.

There’s no question that his record, ability, and contributions to his team are off the charts positive, so his case is at worse mixed.

What’s my point?

Oh yeah. Curt Schilling’s vote total jumped 9% from 2018 because a lot of voters have decided to simply focus on what he accomplished on the field. He’s shown since he retired that he has no character, though, and it’s impossible for someone to have character and then lose it when the stakes of their lives are lower. Curt Schilling never had character, but he’s going to be a Hall of Famer very soon.