Joe Morgan found the sweet spot again last week, just as he so often did as an integral part of the Big Red Machine back in the 1970s.
That, of course, was before steroids would run rampant in baseball a couple of decades later. PEDs and those who chose to use them were the subject of a letter Morgan penned and emailed to members of the Baseball Writers of Association of America who received their Hall of Fame ballots.
Morgan made an impassioned plea for those voters — I’ve been one for more than 30 years — to refrain from electing known steroid cheats to the revered halls of Cooperstown this year, or any year, for that matter.
Morgan’s letter was frank, pointed and timely. It also contained more than a subtle warning.
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“I don’t know how everyone feels,” Morgan wrote, “but I do know how many of the Hall of Famers feel. ... It’s gotten to the point where Hall of Famers are saying that if steroid users get in, they’ll no longer come to Cooperstown for induction ceremonies or other events.”
How to deal with the glut of former steroid users now appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot has long been a hot-button topic for baseball writers. Many younger, more forgiving baseball writers are willing to overlook the prolific use of PEDs in the game.
Jeff Passan, one of the country’s best young baseball columnists writing for yahoo.com, fired off his own passionate response to Morgan’s letter — which he implies was written at the behest of the Hall of Fame itself — and declared that he would not be filling out his Hall of Fame ballot this year or in the future because of it.
“I will not participate in this charade where the shepherds charged with telling the story of baseball want to avoid telling the ugly parts,” Passan wrote.
Passan’s arguments are familiar. The Baseball Hall of Fame is already home to cheats and other questionable characters, drug users, racists and the like. Passan sees the letter as the Hall’s back door way to apply pressure to voters, essentially letting us know how it would like for us to vote, especially since Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens notably made big jumps toward the 75 percent of the vote needed for election last year
I can only say that no one at the Hall of Fame has ever tried to influence my vote. As Morgan wrote, the fear for Hall of Famers now is that “silence is complicity.”
Passan is a gifted and thoughtful writer. It’s no surprise that he makes solid points. But Morgan’s argument falls into line with the way I’ve tried to deal with the steroid issue.
I can’t do anything about those who are already members of the Hall of Fame, whatever they may have done or however they may have behaved. Someone else, in a different time and culture, thought they belonged and voted them in. So be it.
Morgan cites the same criteria for disqualification that I’ve always tried to apply. If a player failed a drug test for PEDs, admitted to using steroids or was identified as a user in the Mitchell Report, I won’t vote for him.
I have one vote and absent any specific guidelines from the Hall on how to deal with steroid users, I can only apply Section 5 of the Rules for Election provided by the Hall, the very rule that Morgan also cites: “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.”
You simply can’t blatantly fail three of those qualifications (even if a plethora of others were doing the same thing) and be considered a Hall of Famer.
I take my vote seriously. I feel a duty and responsibility to Hall of Famers like Joe Morgan to do the right thing by them, honoring what they accomplished in playing the game the right way.
Jim Reeves is a former Star-Telegram sports columnist and for the second year in a row is a finalist for the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for Meritorious Contributions to Baseball Writing.