The Character Clause

The Hall of Fame induction ceremonies are officially three days away. The long awaited induction of the 'Crime Dog' Fred McGriff and Cincinnati Reds legend Scott Rolen are long overdue. However, there is a dark cloud of discrimination that hangs over the joyous proceedings. While Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen, 280th and 102nd in career bWAR, make their way into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown one can not help but glance at the names missing from those halls due to a singular issue. The character clause.

To understand the character clause as it pertains to Hall of Fame voting one must take a small history lesson. As many baseball fans know, the first Hall of Fame class was inducted in 1938 which included a who's who of MLB legends including Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, and Walter Johnson. However, the character clause was not yet a part of the Hall of Fame voting process. The clause was introduced in 1945 and states that members of the Hall of Fame "shall be chosen on the basis of playing ability, sportsmanship, character, their contribution to the teams on which they played and to baseball in general." This little phrase didn't apply to the first 27 members of the Hall of Fame inducted but has loomed large in recent years. I'm, of course, talking about the P.E.D or steroid era and the players that played in it.

The P.E.D. or Steroid Era occurred between 1994 - 2004. During this time, it was common for MLB players to use banned performance enhancing substances. This was due to the lack of testing at the MLB level which was not instituted until 2003, therefore resulting in the end of the widespread use. The Hall of Fame voters have taken to punishing anyone who may have been linked to steroids and its era due to the previously mentioned character clause. Or so they like to claim.

The punishing of MLB players who used steroids but otherwise had a remarkable and well respected career is discriminatory due to the fact that the rule doesn't apply to current members of the Hall of Fame or potential members of the Hall of Fame that have positive relationships with the voters. A few clear an obvious examples. Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb were both implicated in fixing games during their playing days. A crime that has kept MLB career hit leader Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame. Speaker and Cobb are also suspected members of the KKK, a racist and destructive hate group. It doesn't stop there. Cap Anson was well known for helping maintain the color barrier in baseball. He would constantly refuse to take the field if the opposing roster had any black players on it. Former Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis oversaw and maintained MLB's segregation policy for three decades. He died in 1944, three years later, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Orlando Cepeda served 10 months in prison for smuggling Marijuana in Puerto Rico and Paul Molitor confessed to abusing recreational drugs. This list doesn't even include members of the Hall of Fame that are suspected in using performance enhancing drugs. Mike Schmidt confessed to using amphetamines for an energy boost, David Ortiz tested positive for a banned substance in 2003, and Ivan 'Pudge' Rodriguez was listed in the now famous Jose Canseco book as a steroid user, lost 30 pounds prior to testing in 2003, and when he was asked about his possible P.E.D. use his response was "only God knows". Finally, the Commissioner of Baseball during the Steroid Era, Bud Selig, was inducted in 2017.

The issue with the character clause is clear. It discriminates heavily against a specific era of MLB players that have negative relationships with the media. These players include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire. The Hall of Fame and it's voters have a tendency to ignore the indiscretions of current Hall of Fame members or players that were fan favorites such as Ivan Rodriguez and David Ortiz. However, when it comes to players that were combative with the writers and/or media, they are all too happy to pull out the character clause to keep those players out of MLB's hallowed halls. It's an abuse of power and it needs to be recognized as such. As we induct and congratulate Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen we can't lose sight that the system is broken and needs to change.

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