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"Character" analysis

January 31, 2021

Bill asked, rhetorically, in a recent (1/17/2021) "Ask Bill" column, "Is Willie Randolph not a man of good character?" in the context of a larger discussion of "character" as a consideration in Hall of Fame voting, his larger point being that "The character clause is not an excuse to pick and choose your favorites from a list of qualified players."

Without going into my usual ill-tempered tirade against Willie Randolph’s character (you’re very welcome), it did occur to me that this might be an interesting experiment: on every HoF ballot, to ask voters to single out three candidates for "good character" and "poor character" marks.  Most candidates of course would fall into the middle category, which I would call the "How the hell would I know, and who am I to judge?" category. That’s as should be, and asking for three candidates in each extreme may be too many. But (in my imagination) if we had three mandatory good character and three mandatory bad character candidates named on every ballot, wouldn’t it be interesting if some sort of consensus emerged?

(By "mandatory," I’m suggesting that no ballot would be valid, and no valet would be ballad, without the six players being so designated. A long career designing quizzes and tests with questions that invariably draw some students’ complaints that I’m asking very unfaaaaaaiiiir questions has made me immune to folks not liking the way I design my examinations, but I persist because I’m looking to learn some valuable things from my subjects, things they are probably unwilling to reveal about their thinking without being under compulsion.)   

But what, exactly, might we learn from such an experiment?

Assuming we had a large enough pool of voters, I think we could eliminate cases of personal animosity. If one voter, for example, wrote down the name of a player who had one time spoken to him rudely, as an act of personal vengeance, that would mean just about nothing. "Pissed-off voter" I would say, and pay that vote no attention whatsoever. But how about if twelve people write that same player’s name as having been inconsiderate, foul-mouthed, mendacious, malicious, dishonest, or otherwise of poor personal character?

I would call that "evidence." Not "proof," which exists only in mathematics and alcohol, but a pretty solid indication of—something? Maybe it merely supports that someone suffered from a lousy personality, or that voters are a bunch of overly sensitive flakes of snow who lack a sense of humor and a spinal column.

What would interest me would be the bearing-out of my suspicion that some candidates would draw votes in both categories. To take a player whose character I’ve recently considered very closely, I think Dick Allen would draw "bad character" votes, for sure, but maybe a few "good character" votes as well. Heck, I might just cast my ballot in both categories for him—as my review of his biography explains in great detail, I think his surly, uncooperative, even selfish qualities make an important  political statement that might outweigh the negative view I had of Allen before I read this biography. "Ya wanna treat black players like dirt, and then claim it was all a big misunderstanding? Well, if I stand here and scream about what racist dicks you all are, maybe somebody will pay attention, even if it means I ain’t winning any personality trophies this week" might be a fair summation of Dick Allen’s stance towards MLB, and who’s to say that doesn’t reflect virtues in Allen’s character that rarely got acclaimed in the press?

The whole idea of "character" is inherently subjective and therefore weird, but on some level, we all agree that it exists. That it is not just about picking and choosing your favorites, agreed? We will disagree, and do, on who displays bad character and who displays good character, but it ain’t nothing. I would say that something similar to the thought experiment I propose here would be a first step in determining if there are cases so extreme that we can actually reach something approaching a consensus.

It might seem unfaaaaaiiiir that I make three choices in each category mandatory, and it is, but I’ll defend it. Say you’re a voter and only two names jump out at you in the "poor character" category.  I’m forcing you to pick on one undeserving candidate to complete your valid ballot. Maybe you pick someone because he gave an interview you found arrogant one time, or because he didn’t play the game "right" by your lights (took too much time between pitches, didn’t always run out groundballs, smoked a cigarette in the dugout, etc.), or maybe even because you’re a racist and he’s the wrong shade of skin color.

I say "Dudn’t matter." With a body of voters of any size at all, your vote will be a mosquito on the windshield of life. If no other voter picks the same poor-character player (and how long are the odds that one other voter will?), it just gets written as a "pissed-off voter" vote, and reduced to nothing in the tallying.

But if ten or twenty other voters pick the same one, well, doesn’t that mean something? Again, it’s evidence. I’m not calling for a Hall of Good Character (though I’ll take nominations). I’m just saying that I think it ought to be a factor. Maybe it’s a Max Factor. Maybe it’s Maybelline.

I think it’s a Minor Factor, and that’s what it should be. Babe Ruth should easily get into the HoF, even with a lot of character issues working against him, because he’s that good. Jackie Robinson doesn’t need his character working in his favor, because he’s got votes to burn. Cookie Rojas could win the good-character votes unanimously, and it wouldn’t help him get to Cooperstown—he’s somewhere on I-90, around Cleveland maybe, and he’s walking towards the Finger Lakes region on two broken legs.

But a genuine, solid-gold, notarized douchebag who’s on the bubble anyway? Ahh—that’s what the character clause is for.

Will there be politicking? You betcha. Voters may organize campaigns in favor of or against candidates but I think it will be very hard, outside of collusion, to rig the vote in this election. No one’s going to vote to besmirch or to canonize someone’s character because other people tell him to.

How might this work? I’m thinking you have, say, 100 HoF voters, so 300 positive characters, 300 negative. The first x number in each category equals 0. Let’s say that number is 10, so the 11th character vote raises (or lowers) the threshold for election by 1 percentage point. That is, if you have 11 "poor character" votes, you now need to reach 76% of the votes to get elected. If you have 31 "poor character" votes you now need 96% of the votes to get elected, which may be difficult.

But fair. And the other way is also fair: if you have 31 "good character" votes, you now need only 55% of the vote to get into the Hall of Fame without paying admission.

You might get some interesting results. I suspect that Bonds and Clemens would get over 90% of the vote but not get elected because they might draw enough "poor character" votes to require over 100% of the vote.

This new wrinkle on an old Shar-Pei, the Curt Schilling wrinkle, might not have any real-world results different from the current results, but it will put the character issue into high relief. I’m happier, personally, with a result that says "We collectively think that Schilling was a hell of a ballplayer, whose achievements call for election to the Hall of Fame, but we also, again collectively, have decided that he’s just too much of a creep and a social maladapt for people to praise and to socialize with, so: Sorry, Charlie."

You might not agree with me (a big Red Sox rooter, btw, and a fan of the man on the mound with the bloody sock) about Schilling, but I think this would be a big step in the direction of quantifying what the "character" issue actually means. If Schilling were to get in, over my objections, with a super-majority of the vote, meaning that some people voted him out on "character" but he was good enough to overcome those negative votes, I would have no kick coming. And if he were kept out, purely and explicitly on the basis on character, I might start to consider believing in the existence of a God.


COMMENTS (102 Comments, most recent shown first)

The word "character" should be removed. It was likely intended to protect the integrity of the game by keeping out players who threw games for money, blackmailed umpires, and so forth; unfortunately, it opens a door for self-righteous entryists who only care about punishing people who don't conform to whatever ideology they want to force on everyone.
11:15 PM Jun 8th
That clears it up. When you say "borderline," you mean there's no question in *your* mind that the guy is a Hall of Famer. When I say "borderline" I mean he's a legit candidate but it's up in the air whether he gets in. All good.
11:41 AM Feb 13th
@mikeclaw, this boils down to our differing definition of borderline. You are defining borderline based on the results of the BBWAA votes. I am saying a player being borderline or not has nothing to do with the BBWAA. It strictly has to do with the players themselves.
9:28 AM Feb 13th
Royal -
Final comment, and then I'll stop repeating myself.

1.) Yes, Cy Young is a red herring. He got 50 percent because at that point the voters had to choose from every player in the history of the sport and they could only choose five. So the question before them wasn't "Is Cy Young a Hall of Famer?" (obviously yes), but rather, "Is Cy Young one of the first five to induct?" That's a totally different question than the one the voters faced with Dawson and Sandberg and anyone in recent years. Fifty percent of the voters thought Cy Young was one of the five best players in baseball history. How is that the same as fifty percent thinking Dawson was one of the 10 best players on a 30-name ballot?

2.) Your explanation makes no sense to me. Your explanation is that there is no explanation - that the BBWAA voters just do nutty things. So you're saying the voters knew all along Dawson was a Hall of Famer but they just dicked around for nine years because they wanted to. I'm saying Dawson was a strong candidate but it took a long time for the consensus to develop that he truly belonged in Cooperstown. That he was on that borderline between "Yes" and "Not quite." I think what I think, and you think what you think. I'll state my opinion one last time: He was a guy whose candidacy could have gone either way, and the fact that he was one of the most respected guys in baseball didn't hurt.
9:06 PM Feb 12th
@mikeclaw, there was no red herring. I was using your stated definition of borderline:
“He had a few years when he got exactly 50 percent of the vote - isn't that the definition of a borderline case?”

By your definition, Sandberg, Mathews, Larkin, and yes, Cy Young are borderline cases. In my view, 50% of the BBWAA vote is not the definition of a borderline case.

As to your question of why did it take 9 years for him to get in, the answer is obvious. The BBWAA, as a group, are often dense. Why did it take them more than one ballot to induct Mathews, Larkin, or Sandberg? Heck, even Yogi Berra didn’t get in on his first try. Minoso never mustered more than 21% and, among others, Grich, Whitaker, and Randolph were all one and done. Sometimes they simply swing and miss.

6:45 PM Feb 12th
Also, Royal … Larkin and Sandberg both got in on their third vote. Dawson on his ninth. I'm not trying to be argumentative here. I'm really not. Trying to make you understand my use of the word "borderline." You point out that based purely on the statistical record it would have been unprecedented to leave Dawson out. Add to that his reputation for good character, which is the dominant focus of the text on his Hall of Fame plaque. If he was a no-brainer Hall of Famer statistically, and he was one of the most respected players of his generation to boot, then why did it take him nine years - three times as long as Sandberg and Larkin - why did it take him nine years to get in? I would argue that while he was a strong candidate, the voters had to deliberate his merits. His candidacy could have gone either way, but eventually he won the day and went in. But he could have just as easily been Fred McGriff and been left out.

Again, I'm trying to understand why you object to this … the BBWAA voters considered him for nine years before putting him in. Doesn't that suggest to you that (a.) there was serious deliberating on his candidacy, and (b.) he was NOT comparable to guys like Sandberg and, obviously, Cy Young?
1:52 PM Feb 12th
Royal - The Cy Young comparison is ridiculous, and you know that. He was in the first class of candidates. They could only select five. The fact that he got 50 percent *only* means that there was deliberation on whether he was one of the top five candidates, not whether he was in fact a Hall of Famer. Bringing that into the discussion is just a red herring. Mathews is different, in that he was criminally underappreciated at the time. He retired as almost certainly the greatest third baseman in MLB history but because of antiquated notions we grew up hearing that Pie Traynor was the best ever, and they didn't really talk about Mathews in that discussion.

Parker is a much better comp to Dawson than Canseco. Using Bill James' Hall of Fame monitor and standards … Dawson scores a 118 on the monitor and 44 on the standards (likely HoF selection is 100 and 50). Parker scores 124 and 42. Those are borderline numbers - they're obviously strong candidates, but well short of the "no questions asked" guys who scored twice as high.

And gpups … for Kent, I would hope that the issue with Kent isn't "he was a jerk," but rather, "did his obnoxious nature have a negative impact on his teams?" I'd say the first one is irrelevant to the discussion, but the second one is worth considering. And I don't know the answer. He was/is a jerk, from what I can tell. He's a borderline guy too (122/51 on the monitor and standards), and the biggest thing against him I suspect is that his biggest selling point is big power numbers that were amassed when *everyone* was putting up big power numbers. If you just look at home runs and RBI he seems like an easy pick, but I think contemporary voters understand that he was not as good or as valuable as a Bobby Grich, for example. If Grich had played in the 1990s his numbers would look very different, and the same if Kent had played in the 1970s.

1:00 PM Feb 12th
Concerning borderline candidates, Jeff Kent is right on the cusp in regards to WAR/JAWS. With Career Win Shares, he is actually close to Sandberg (339, Sandberg 346) and has significantly more than Walker and Rolen (308 and 304, respectively). Yet his vote total has peaked this year at only 32.4%, his eighth year on the ballot.

Since he's on the edge for many, do you think voter's weigh in his prickly nature and sway that towards a "no" vote? If so, I think that's a real shame. It's not a personality contest.
12:07 PM Feb 12th
@mikeclaw, no. Getting 50% of the vote is not the definition of a borderline case. By your definition, Cy Young is a borderline case. He received 49% in his first vote and 41% in his 2nd. Barry Larkin also received 51% of the vote. He’s not a borderline HOFer. Sandberg got 49%...not a borderline HOFer. Eddie Mathews got 39% of the vote. He is not a borderline HOFer. What makes a player borderline or nothing to do with their vote totals. It has to do with the value of his career. The value of Andre Dawson’s career was not borderline.

Canseco’s career started a decade after Dawson’s. And despite his pharmaceutical advantages he put up a career that was still considerably less valuable than Andre Dawson. Dawson’s WAR total is 64.8 and Canseco’s is 42.4. Maybe you prefer Win Shares? Canseco 272, Dawson 340.

Lastly, I also remember Dawson signing with the Red Sox. But I obviously remember it differently. Bringing in a superstar at the end of their career as a “veteran influence in the clubhouse” or for whatever reason is very commonplace and has no bearing on their character. As I pointed out below, there are plenty of examples of players ranging from good to bad character where this is the case.
11:44 AM Feb 12th
Oh, also, to answer your question about Dawson and Parker … I think they are very comparable in terms of value. Parker got on base a bit more, Dawson hit more home runs (but fewer doubles). Parker's OPS+ was 121, Dawson's 119. Both of them were all-around five-tool stars when they were young and became more one-dimensional as they aged. Parker scores 26 points on black ink, having won a couple of batting titles among other things, while Dawson is at 11. But when you expand it to grey ink, Dawson is right there with Parker. They both won an MVP, but Dawson's was a bit of a fluke; over the course of their careers they both had a few seasons where they were among the top MVP vote-getters, but Parker did a bit better in the MVP voting over the course of his career. They were both very good outfielders with strong arms, and Dawson's range in center gives him an edge defensively. If Parker was a better, it was only by a matter of degree; they were very comparable players in terms of value. Parker won two World Series titles, one as the best player on his team and one as an aging full-time DH. I suppose that's a point in his favor over Dawson. Which of the two you think is better, I guess, depends on how you value CF versus RF, batting average, on-base. They were obviously comparable players. Parker is listed as No. 4 on Dawson's most comparable players.
11:42 AM Feb 12th
Lastly, no, Boston didn't sign Dawson because they were "looking for a name," and neither did Florida. In both cases, at the time of the signing, both clubs talked about bringing him in largely for the influence he would have on the clubhouse. I remember that very clearly - both of those teams, in signing him, made a big point of saying they wanted his veteran influence on their clubhouses. This wasn't some random signing of an aging power hitter to see what he had left. This wasn't something where if Dawson signed somewhere else, there was another slugger who could be Plan B. In both cases, the teams made a big deal out of saying they wanted him in the clubhouse for what he could pass along to the rest of the team. That was his rep. That's what is reflected on his Hall of Fame plaque. You're saying the voters didn't think of that at all in weighing his Hall of Fame case?
10:46 AM Feb 12th
Royal -
You just reject my points without considering them. If Dawson *wasn't* a borderline case, then why did he stay on the ballot for nine years. He had a few years when he got exactly 50 percent of the vote - isn't that the definition of a borderline case? Half the voters say yes and half say no? I think you are misunderstanding my definition of borderline - you think I'm saying that borderline guys fall short of that borderline. That's not it. A borderline case is a guy who is right on the line of going in or not going in. Jack Morris was a borderline case. Blyleven was. Rice was. Dawson obviously was a borderline case - he could have gone in or not gone in.

How can Canseco be unrelated? Their careers overlapped. Canseco was the better hitter, Dawson the better fielder. Canseco had the postseason cred, Dawson didn't. But they were polar opposites on character - one was not only a PED user but a guy who people in general did not like, and the other was absolutely renowned during his career for being a "character guy" and a "clubhouse guy." The character guy got in. The bad character guy didn't. How is this not relevant to the discussion of good and bad character in the Hall of Fame voting?
10:43 AM Feb 12th
@mikeclaw, Whether it took 9 tries or 3, he wasn’t a borderline case. As I mentioned, whether he had good character or not, there was no precedent for keeping him out. Prior to Dawson’s induction there had never been a player with 400+ HRs and 1,500+ RBIs kept out. I listed HRs because it was material to his induction and partially explains why the BBWAA voted him in but not the others.

I don’t see what Canseco has to with the price of tea in China. Canseco’s numbers are irrelevant as he is one of the users the BBWAA used the character clause to exclude. Plus, his career pales in comparison to Dawson. And by what measure was Dave Parker better than Dawson? If you want a better comparable to Hawk, try Billy Williams.

Lastly, a ton of star players sign with random clubs at the end of their career. The Red Sox were a last place team looking for a name and Dawson was coming off an ok year in Chicago. Miami even rolled the dice on Hawk. Milwuakee brought in Aaron, the Mets brought in Mays. Heck, even Oakland brought in Kingman. The Rays had Manny come over at the end. Even Cobb and Ruth made a final appearance in strange places. Being brought in as a seasoned, washed up superstar is not a statement of character, it’s just a very common theme across baseball history.
9:10 PM Feb 11th
Andre Dawson got into the Hall of Fame in his ninth year of eligibility. Clearly he *was* a borderline candidate. "Borderline candidate" is not in insult, just to be clear. He's on the borderline. He could go in or not. It's a close call. When a guy is elected in his ninth year of eligibility, he was a borderline candidate.

First name that leaps to mind is Jose Canseco, who has similar HR/RBI totals to Dawson. He was a better offensive player than the Hawk but nowhere near as good a defender. They both won MVPs. Canseco was on a team that won a World Series and had a brief "dynasty" period. Why did Dawson go in and Canseco not? Isn't it obvious? Dawson was a positive on the character issue, Canseco a negative. You only pointed out the home run numbers, but I would argue that Dave Parker was a better player than Dawson - but he had drug issues, and I would guess that might have been the difference between them. Dawson was a "good character" guy and Parker was a talented player who got derailed by dope.

I'm not suggesting Dawson got in as some kind of charity case because the voters liked him. He was a fine player who could've gone either way. Again, it took him nine years on the ballot to get in - clearly his case took some deliberatin'. His "good character" was discussed endlessly in the second half of his career. To hear the talk back in the day, the Red Sox brought him in more for what he brought to the clubhouse than what he brought on the field. It was discussed endlessly. To suggest that had no bearing on his Hall of Fame candidacy seems silly to me. The same writer who talked about his great leadership somehow decided that they couldn't factor that in when considering him for Cooperstown? Why would they do that?
4:40 PM Feb 11th
@mikeclaw, until Rose’s banishment I never gave the character clause much thought either. I know Joe Jackson was on a couple of ballots and never got any support because of the scandal. But when Rose was banned, it was decided the writers couldn’t be trusted so they changed the rules and permanently ineligible players would no longer be eligible for the Hall of Fame. At that moment, the character clause apparently was not enough. Frankly, why not just remove it from the criteria?

Fast forward to the Steroid Era and suddenly the character clause became a shield. The BBWAA began punting players with otherwise obvious HOF numbers to the Vets Committee. It is obvious players have been kept out specifically because of the character clause. Writer upon writer defended their omissions citing the character clause.

The BBWAA has been slow to adapt to modern stats. The five guys you mention, I also would have no problem with any of them getting in regardless of whether I support their individual candidacy. But I really don’t think character helped or hurt any of them. When you compare these five, Dawson’s peak may not be as high, but he maintained as high level longer than the others except Evans. But her hit more Homers and is the only one of the five to crack 1,500 RBIs. That’s why he got in.
Dawson 438
Murphy 398
Evans 385
Rice 382
Parker 339

Rice, had that nebulous “feared” reputation and also came realllll close to hitting .300 for his career.

My point is, Dawson is not a borderline Hall of Famer in the eyes of the BBWAA. Name any other player eligible before him with 400+ HRs AND 1,500 RBIs that wasn’t inducted. There was simply no precedent for keeping him out.

12:16 PM Feb 11th
Again, I've never thought of the character thing as "keeping someone out" or "putting someone in." It's something that you weigh as one part of a player's Hall of Fame case, and then you decide on the entirety of the case. You measure his peak, his durability, his postseason resume, his defensive value, his contributions or influence on the sport if there are any, and yeah, you ask yourself if there was anything in his character that helped or hurt his teams, or that reflected well or poorly on the sport as a whole. You look at all of those things and you come to your decision. But I've never thought of it as something as cut-and-dried as keeping him out or putting him in.

With Murphy, I think he's close. He was a slugger who won two MVPs, won Gold Gloves at a key defensive position and he stuck around long enough to hit 398 home runs before the power boom of the 1990s. I think that resume builds the foundation for a decent Hall of Fame case, and then you add in that he was probably the best liked guy in the sport during the 1980s, and I'm surprised he didn't get more support. Not necessarily surprised he didn't get it, but surprised he didn't get close. For crying out loud, I think Dave Concepcion got more support.

To me, I always looked at Rice, Murphy, Dawson and Parker as having very similar Hall of Fame cases - similar enough that I would have a hard time ranking them 1-2-3-4. It would be hard for me to put one in without putting the others in, and I wouldn't want to put all four in, so I would probably have left all four off my ballot - but every one of them is a legit candidate. And, of course, Dewey Evans as well.

11:39 AM Feb 11th
Marc Schneider
This is a good discussion and I have sort of modified my position. If someone is a real asshole, it's ok to keep him out. But I think bad character could be a disqualification but good character should not get one in. I was a Braves fan and I liked Dale Murphy and he was a good guy, but, in my mind, not a Hall of Famer. He had 5 or 6 real good years and the rest so-so at best. At his best, he was a HOF-quality player, but I think length is an important attribute.

I just don't know where to draw the line. You can say, keep domestic abusers out, but what about someone like Morris, who did not abuse anyone physically, but was apparently a complete asshole to women. I don't like Schilling but I don't think he did enough to keep him out of the Hall. But he was and is a prick. I just don't know.

I was reading an article in the New Yorker about Flannery O'Connor, a great writer who was apparently a virulent racist. There's no Hall of Fame for writers, but do you ignore the character issue in favor of her writing? I think you do-or, at least separate the two- and, to some extent, that's my thought on the HOF for baseball. But, there is a line. O'Connor said a lot of nasty things in her personal writings, but apparently did nothing publicly that was racist. That's different than beating your partner or saying things like Morris did or denying racist comments or supporting the rioters at the Capitol. But, still, what Schilling did was just speech, however egregious. Like others here, I would vote for him but hold my nose.
9:48 AM Feb 11th
We agree to disagree. I absolutely believe it was the perception of character that elevated Dawson into the shrine. In fact, I think it would be crazy to think that it played no role - again, over the second half of his career we heard far more about Dawson's character and his impact in the clubhouse than we did about his skills on the field. It was a constant discussion. To think that reputation played no role at all in his election makes no sense to me. Other guys hit 400 home runs and didn't get in. Other guys won MVPs and Gold Gloves and didn't get in. Dave Parker won an MVP and he won Gold Gloves and had stats similar to Dawson's, but Hawk was a clubhouse guy and Parker had drug issues. In terms of their on-field production they were awfully similar.

Murphy's problem is the sudden dropoff. He was a great player for many years, but he hit a wall - a much more sudden decline, rather than the gradual one that most outstanding players have. Murphy played on bad teams and in a park that helped his power numbers. I don't know if they held that against him. You're right, though, I always expected him to get more support than he did.

The BBWAA does not write the plaque copy, but I do think it is at least partially reflective of the guy's candidacy. It is written at the time of the player's election and induction, and I think it is a reflection of how that guy was viewed by peers, fans and voters. And I think it's telling that Dawson's plaque leads off with the character stuff before it gets to his stats and his honors.
2:00 PM Feb 9th
See, Murphy is an excellent example. To me he’s an obvious HOFer who has perhaps the strongest character of any modern player. Yet he was kept out because he missed milestones and fell off a cliff at the end of his career. The BBWAA kept him out and clearly ignored his character.

While it’s nice what the plaque says, those aren’t written by the BBWAA. Many plaques have nebulous statements on them designed to honor the player with romantic prose...Jim Bunning’s starts with, “Maintained dedication...” Gary Carter’s starts with, “An exuberant on-field general...”. Frank Chance, “Famous leader...”. Mickey Cocherane, “Fiery catcher...” and so on.

I think the BBWAA simply looked at Hawk and saw he hit more than 400 homeruns, saw Murphy didn’t and made their decision independent of character.
1:06 PM Feb 9th
FWIW, I just looked at the plaques for Dawson and Perez. Dawson's plaque starts out by describing his "leadership by example, poise, work ethic and determination." That's mentioned before his home runs, his Gold Gloves, his MVP. I think that clearly was a big part of his candidacy. Perez's plaque refers early on to his "composure under pressure" and then later describes his "subtle leadership" of the Big Red Machine.

Again, these are two guys who had solid Hall of Fame resumes, but no better than other guys who got left out or who got passed over by the BBWAA and later put in by the vets. But their character reputations seem to have helped them out.

Again, I don't know that any of the voters specifically say "Hmm, not sure about him, but you know, the 'character' thing … yeah, I think so." I don't think it works like that. But the so-called character clause tells voters to factor in if they believe a player had a positive or negative influence on his team or on the game, not measured in stats, and I think these are two guys who had that reputation and who got in while similar players were left out.

Hodges, in particular, remains a mystery to me. Clearly he should be close for all the reasons cited, and then the Amazin' Ones in '69, you'd think that would push him over the line. I don't get it with him.
12:39 PM Feb 9th
Steve - Hodges and Dale Murphy are the two guys who I have always wondered about. I don't know that the BBWAA voters use the character thing consistently - in fact, we KNOW they don't use it consistently - but I believe they do consider it in many cases. Hodges and Murphy are two guys who seem to have pretty decent HoF resumes on the face of it, and lots and lots of character cred, but didn't get in. Likewise, there are guys with what you would think to be negative character cred who do get in. There's nothing consistent about how it is applied, but I do believe it is applied both ways.
11:59 AM Feb 9th
Hawk was an obvious Hall of Famer? I think he was a very similar player, as a Hall of Fame candidate, to contemporaries like Jim Rice, Dave Parker, Dale Murphy, Dwight Evans … Rice, who also won an MVP award, took a long time to get in. Murphy won two MVPs, and Parker won one and was considered to be one of the very best players in baseball in his prime. Evans was probably the best player of any of them and never did get in.

Four of them are between 2700-3000 Runs+RBI, and the one who is short of that won two MVPS. They were all Gold Glovers except for Rice, all MVPs except for Evans.

In OPS+ Rice (128) and Evans (127) are ahead of the pack, with Murph and Parker (both 121) a nudge ahead of Dawson (119).

When these guys were playing there was mystique about Rice as a feared hitter and a mystique about Dawson as a "character guy" in the clubhouse. Murphy was renowned as a nice guy, but I don't remember the discussion of his effect on the clubhouse the way they talked about Dawson. It was weird, because Dawson was given great credit for his leadership in Chicago, but the team didn't actually improve during his six years there. They won between 76-78 games in five of his six seasons. People talked about the transformative impact he had on the clubhouse, but it didn't translate in the W-L records. I'm not pointing this out as a negative against him, just saying that in the second half of his career nobody could talk about the guy without gushing about his character and his impact on the clubhouse. I think that was absolutely was pushed him ahead of Parker and Murphy and Evans. And that's just his contemporaries. There are a lot of outfielders as good as Dawson - borderline Hall of Famers - who haven't gotten in.

None of this is to say Dawson wasn't HoF caliber. It's to say that he is the type of player who seems to have a 50/50 shot, and he didn't have a postseason resume to elevate him, but something moved him ahead of the pack. I think it was the character reputation.

10:55 AM Feb 9th
@mikeclaw, interesting. I seem to remember the argument for Perez centering around his being an “RBI” guy. I may be wrong, but at the time of his retirement no player with 1,500+ RBI had ever been kept out of the Hall.

Hawk was a pretty obvious HOFer too. Deserved or not, he won an MVP for a last place team and had the 3rd most HRs of any CF at the time of his retirement (#5 or 6 among RFs if you’d rather count him there). And of course he had that killer arm and all those Gold Gloves.

As for Puckett, he was a slam dunk HOFer. Best player at an important position on two World Champs coupled with being an All-Star in 10 of his 12 seasons screams HOFer. His character had nothing to do with his selection.

Of the three you mention, maybe Perez had a character component that put him over the edge. His character certainly isn’t in question. I just remember it differently.

11:41 PM Feb 8th
Steven Goldleaf
My problem there, mikeclaw, is the closeness of the parallel between Tony Perez and Gil Hodges (Bill has explicitly drawn a remarkably tight parallel between the Boys of Summer and the Big Red Machine, in which the part of Hodges was played by Tony Perez.) Hodges had character oozing out of his earbrows, to paraphrase Casey Stengel, at least as much as Perez, and probably much more, in my judgment. Their numbers, as I recall, are very close as well. So what gives there?
5:17 PM Feb 8th
Royal -
I would suggest the BBWAA *has* used it in that positive way, but they don't make a point of saying so. Kirby Puckett's career was cut short by a very sudden health issue, and I don't know that he would have gotten in (or gotten in first ballot) if he wasn't viewed as a very good "character guy." That's one example that leaps to mind. Tony Perez was a borderline candidate who got the votes in part because he was seen as one of the emotional leaders of a great team - that's character, right? Those are two that leap to mind, and I'm sure there are others. I don't recall anyone saying "I was going back and forth on him, but the character thing really put him over the top for me," but I do still think it was part of the equation. As good as Perez was, the stars of that team were Bench, Rose and Morgan. I don't think Perez gets in if there wasn't the sense or the narrative that he was one of the clubhouse leaders on the Big Red Machine. Oh, hell, how about Hawk Dawson? Fine player, but there are several contemporary outfielders with similar resumes who got left out. But Dawson was always considered a "character" guy. I don't think Dawson gets into the HoF if the voters aren't considering character, do you?
1:01 PM Feb 8th
Awesome write-up Steven. Having been the one who posed the Hey Bill Character question, I was trying to point out the BBWAA uses the character clause only to keep players out. I am unaware of any example where the BBWAA has employed the character clause as a tiebreaker to enshrine someone.

If we are going to claim character is an important criteria to consider, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that a player with really borderline HOF numbers and amazing character should be pushed over the proverbial edge?

9:26 PM Feb 6th
For what it's worth, if I'd known that about Jack Morris, I wouldn't have been for him for the Hall of Fame, and I'm against it now.
I argued strongly for him because I believed a lot in his candidacy.
That's enough to undo it for me.
7:36 PM Feb 5th
Jackie Robinson, absofuckinlutely! Same for Larry Doby. The unbelievable courage they showed to integrate the sport has to be recognized and accounted for- as it is on their plaques. You know what is not on Jackie’s plaque, how he founded the Freedom National Bank or his other numerous tremendous off the field accomplishments, because they don’t relate directly to baseball.

Waiting to hear from Maris specific basketball cases where character played directly into account for their Hall of Fame credentials. Bill Bradley’s public service, Parish’s marijuana possession, Jason Kidd’s DUI and domestic abuse, Kobe’s rape case? The latter two obviously very serious, yet both were first ballot. Is the NBA completely insensitive to these issues? Or are they only accounting for the player’s basketball record as the purpose clearly states.

3:33 PM Feb 5th
Mike Claw ... setting aside the ugly insults you refer to in the first post, it's not true Schilling was beloved by all his teammates. I know writers who covered Schilling during his Phillies tenure and they'll tell you that while his talent was greatly respected, he was regarded by at least some of the players as insufferable. A friend used the word "blowhard."

That's neither here nor there for the point of the voting debate (which I personally go back and forth on), just an effort to clarify,
2:17 PM Feb 5th
Addendum: Jack Morris was a major asshole to female reporters as well. He told one of them in the locker room that he didn't talk to women while he was naked unless he was on top of them. And yet, the character issue was consistently reported as a positive in his case, you know, because he was so tough in ways that somehow didn't show up in the stats.
3:27 AM Feb 5th
The Reggie Jackson story makes zero sense. He received 93.6 percent of the vote - an easy selection, but far from unanimous, and surely even with Reggie's tremendous ego he didn't truly believe that he would be a unanimous pick when Aaron and Mays and Mantle and all of the others fell short of 100 percent. I'm sure more than one voter left him off the ballot for being a prick, but the idea that this one voter looked him in the eye and said "I'll keep you from being unanimous," and the idea that he would have been hurt by this ... that makes no sense.
3:23 AM Feb 5th
Steven Goldleaf
Another side we're not paying so much attention to: there are those, like Jackie Robinson, who score extra votes for excellent character. There should be as many good character votes as bad.
11:39 PM Feb 4th
My favorite example of the character clause in action:
Lisa Saxon was one the first women to be a regular baseball beat writer, covering the California Angels for several years. Most of that time she suffered horrendous and constant abuse from Reggie Jackson. So when HOF time came she didn’t vote for him, knowing full well that he was a lock anyway—just to deny him the unanimous vote he craved.
And she told him so to his face

7:39 PM Feb 4th
Funny thing, it wasn't until just now that I went all the way back to the first comment on this essay - a bizarre post about how Schilling was beloved by all of his teammates and how sportswriters in general (and BBWAA voters in particular) are the most vile of human beings. Egad, glad I didn't respond to that one (35 years as a reporter, 10+ in sports, longtime official scorer). Something tells me it wouldn't have stayed as civil.
3:31 PM Feb 4th
I have nothing to offer on character, but the thought that there's a parallel universe where DiMaggio was required to be introduced as "The Greatest Living Asshole" has me laughing my ass off.
11:15 AM Feb 4th
Steven Goldleaf
Mike--Never get the idea that I'm anything other than pleased when any article stimulates discussion. This is some sharp, subtle conversation.
6:55 AM Feb 4th
FYI, the ChiSox were not charged with throwing the World Series. That was not a crime at the time. They were charging with conspiracy to defraud, which is harder to prove. The confessions disappeared before the trial, then later reappeared.
8:54 PM Feb 3rd
Yes, but Landis was dealing with events that took place on the field, that took place in the context of baseball. Not an off-the-field transgression.

No easy answer, and I suppose that's my point - no easy answer regardless of who has to make the call.

We shake hands and thank Steve for being patient with us.
5:08 PM Feb 3rd
Not an easy situation, but maybe the NFL folks would pull a Landis where he banned the ChiSox players even though they were found not guilty in court.

Regardless, I would still rather have a Board of Trustees make that single determination, versus the voters weighing out morality vs. performance for election.
4:23 PM Feb 3rd
So again, I'm curious … Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman are killed before OJ becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame. Everyone knows he killed them, but he is acquitted in a court trial, though he is found liable - but not "guilty" - in a civil case.

You're the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Do you put him on the ballot, since he is one of the greatest players ever and has not been convicted of any crime? (Let's say the whole Las Vegas memorabilia raid hasn't happened yet.) Do you put him on the ballot? If not, how do you explain when his lawyers - or reporters, for that matter - ask you what criteria you used in banning him? You can't say, "Well, but we all know he did it." You can't really say, "Yes, he was found not guilty, but the whole trial was so unseemly that it still has an air of scandal to it," can you? How would you explain it?
3:22 PM Feb 3rd
Same for football:

The Hall of Fame's bylaws stipulate that only a player's on-field achievements in football are considered as the criteria for enshrinement.

Thanks again MClaw.
3:12 PM Feb 3rd
Well, so I think we reached the end of this chat. Respectfully, which is great. You're satisfied with it. I'm not. That's fine.

My last thoughts: I'm not sure why you're OK with the Hall making moral character judgments but not the voters. I think if the Hall puts a borderline "character" case on the ballot - let's say Vizquel - plenty of the voters will still be thinking about the domestic violence charges when they make their picks, so they are still considering character. I just don't see all these voters shrugging and saying, "OK, well 'character' is the Hall's business, not mine, so if they put him on the ballot I will not consider at all what I think about his off-field issues or how they reflected on the sport." I just don't see it.

But hey, we're two people - inspired by Mr. Goldleaf - who had a reasonable discussion, not trying to change each other's minds, but just putting out two different perspectives. As it should be.
3:02 PM Feb 3rd
PG: The basketball voters would still be free to use whatever factors they wished to vote or not vote for someone.
2:34 PM Feb 3rd
You're right, it doesn't solve the overall problem. But it does solve the writer's/voter's dilemma in weighing out morality vs performance when it comes to their actual vote.

I think we are making this way more difficult than it needs to be and I know Maris thinks it's "strange", but the Basketball Hall of Fame is following this very process:

"should it be determined by the Board of Trustees that a Finalist has damaged the integrity of the game of basketball, he/she shall be deemed not worthy of Enshrinement and removed from consideration"

"The purpose of the Honors Committee is to review carefully the selected Finalist’s basketball record before casting a vote in favor of or against Enshrining the Finalist in the BHOF."

If it's good enough for professional basketball, why isn't it good enough for baseball?

1:34 PM Feb 3rd
So, pgups … OJ is not on the ballot during his murder trial. What about after his acquittal? He was found not guilty of murder. Does the Hall of Fame keep him off the ballot anyway because we assume he was guilty? If so, doesn't that set a sticky precedent? If not, if he is placed on the ballot after his acquittal, don't the writers pretty much have to induct him? He was as good a player as the sport ever saw and was never accused of cheating. If he is on the ballot and the voters are not allowed to consider off-the-field transgressions, he's pretty much got to go in, unless the Hall vetoes him because they don't believe the acquittal. Is that better than the current system?

Again, you say "obvious immoral cases." Who decides what is obvious? There are players in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown who were affiliated with the KKK back in its populist days. A modern-day racist … you know, Schilling has said things that could easily be perceived as racist. John Rocker, of course. But they weren't the heads of the KKK. Domestic abuse is the best example. What is "obviously immoral?" Anyone charged with domestic abuse? Anyone convicted of domestic abuse? What if the player pleads to a lesser offense? Do you base the "obvious" judgment on what he was accused of, or what he pleaded to? If a player had one incident in which he shoved his wife during a drunken argument, do you ban him along with the guy who beat his wife senseless? Or are there varying degrees of domestic abuse? If so, who draws the line? My whole point is, you haven't solved the problem - you've just shifted it from the voters to the Hall.
1:14 PM Feb 3rd
What exactly does anyone object to about letting human beings decide, with their human judgment, case by case, using whatever they feel is relevant within the broad meaning of "character," the degree to which something of it may be a factor in whether or not a particular great honor is appropriate....

I think it comes down to these things; to me it does:

-- Trusting human judgment
-- Wanting human judgment to be a key thing in Hall of Fame selection
-- Recognizing that different cases may have different proportions of relevance of the various considerations
-- Being comfortable with such difference, which some seem not to be
-- Being comfortable with things not being hard-and-fast and not lending themselves to straight objective determination.

In fact, we could say that about a lot in sabermetrics, couldn't we...
And I do. :-)
1:07 PM Feb 3rd
Yes, I’ve stated from the beginning that the BBWAA voters should make a distinction between “on the field” character items like leadership and cheating (PEDs) and “off the field”. The issue with Bonds and Clemens is PEDs (cheating, on the field) and the writer’s can make that determination. For cannibalism, “OJs”, head of the KKK, the Hall committee can determine if they should be on the ballot or not. The result will be the absolute obvious immoral cases will be left off the ballot. And in my opinion, that’s OK, only the obvious immoral cases should be left off for consideration. Schilling’s off the field “issues” are not an obvious case, so he’s still on the ballot and he should be judged on his baseball career, not his politics.

Specifically for OJ, if he was a candidate while he was being tried for murder, I'm sure he would not be on the ballot for induction into a Hall of Fame.
11:37 AM Feb 3rd
Oh, I just saw the "yes, exactly."

OK, so all you're doing is shifting the onus to the Hall. Now the Hall administration has to decide who gets left out for character issues. Now the Hall, rather than the voters, has to judge the moral character of Bonds or Clemens or Schilling or whoever. If guys like John Wetteland or Chad Curtis were a bit better, the Hall would have to decide. Vizquel's domestic violence accusation. Instead of the voters weighing it and making tough calls, now the Hall of Fame is doing that, telling the voters who they can consider. How does that solve the problem?

And again, everyone says, "Well in an OJ situation, they would just leave him off the ballot." So I would ask you to define the OJ Situation that would merit removal. Remembering, of course, that OJ was acquitted. How should the Hall define what is bad enough to get dropped from the ballot?
11:20 AM Feb 3rd
So did I accurately express your position? Just trying to figure out what it is we're debating here.​
11:17 AM Feb 3rd
Yes, exactly.

Hustle, leadership, cheating all are a part of baseball excellence.
11:01 AM Feb 3rd
I honestly can't keep up with what it is that you are saying then. I could've sworn that you have been saying that either you or the writers or both wish that we could stop with the character judgments and only vote on what they did as players.

So if I have this right, you're saying that "character" should count, but only as it relates to the playing field. Anything *off* the field, the voters should disregard. And the Hall administration should be in charge of deciding whether an off-the-field transgression is sufficient to remove him from the ballot and take it out of the voters' hands.

Is that an accurate representation of what it is that you're proposing?
10:53 AM Feb 3rd
MikeClaw, I don't think the player character clause should be eliminated. Munson's clubhouse leadership, Pedey's hustle, the way Yadi handles a staff, should all be taken into account. Robbie Alomar was a first ballot HOFer but he got dinged for the spitting incident abnd had to wait until his second year on the ballot (a character issue). When it comes to PEDs, that falls in line with cheating which is a baseball issue. Whether it was considered cheating, even though there wasn't testing, and was the cheating egregious enough to keep them out of Cooperstown, are all baseball questions that the BBWAA voters are equipped to handle.
10:36 AM Feb 3rd
Steven Goldleaf
Strikes me as an unusually vapid statement. You can't over-anything anything without a massive fuckup. That's kinda what "Over-anythinging" means, that it's done to excess. What you mean, I think, is "more of anything than I personally care for."
10:18 AM Feb 3rd
To me, what this discussion shows (yes, shows) is what so many other kinds of discussions here show, although few others may see it that way:

You can't get best answers without allowing a huge dose of human judgment. Attempts to over-metricize almost anything will leave more holes than it can be worth.
10:08 AM Feb 3rd
Dave - But again the question is, where is that line and who draws it. An O.J. Simpson situation? So is the rule that murderers are left off the ballot? Of course, he was acquitted, so I guess the line is suspected murderers or people charged with murder, or who lose a civil judgement. Is that the line? Then a serial wife beater gets in. Or a guy who gets caught having sex with underage girls. Is that where we draw the line? If so, how bad does the abuse have to be? If you're going to have that line - "an OJ Simpson situation" - then someone has to make the call, and at some point people will object.

Gpups - If the voters only want to recognize baseball excellence, Clemens and Bonds and McGwire would be in. Right? Are you suggesting that the only reason they haven't voted in Clemens and Bonds, unanimously or close to it, is that they see the word "character" and they grudgingly feel that they have to respect it? Are you suggesting that if the ballot didn't include that word, the voters would happily be voting for Clemens and Bonds based solely on baseball excellence, but 40 percent of them just can't do that because the Hall forces them to consider character? I don't think that's the case. I think a lot of voters feel strongly that those guys don't belong, and if they truly believe that, then they ARE making moral judgments and they AREN'T focusing solely on baseball excellence.
5:43 AM Feb 3rd
Of course, if baseball had an O.J. Simpson situation, they would merely have to declare him permanently ineligible to be part of MLB, which of course would do the trick of keeping him off the ballot.

9:02 PM Feb 2nd
That’s not exactly what I was trying to get at.

What I’m saying is, the BBWAA come out as a united front and state that they are here to evaluate baseball excellence and that’s it. Many voters are already addressing the ballot with this approach. This way every voter is on the same page and the writers do not have to delve into the nuances of a particular domestic violence case and whether it was wrongly accused etc. The voters will not have to feel bad voting for a Schilling even though they don’t agree with his politics and rhethoric because they established and stated their voting criteria and made it well known. The moral judgment will not fall into their hands and we can all finally talk about baseball.

Then The Hall board will do what? Absolutely nothing, of course. But when an extreme case like an “OJ”, like a cannibal, like a convicted domestic abuser or rapist, a certified member of the KKK, etc etc etc, I have full faith that whomever is responsible for the ballot will not include that said individual.

This way the moral judgment falls indirectly into The Hall’s hands and not into the writer’s. The result will be the absolute obvious cases and in my opinion, only the obvious immoral cases should be left out. Baseball is our refuge. We are not here to pass judgments on moral character, we are here to pass judgment if the guy could actually ball or not.

8:13 PM Feb 2nd
Mikeclaw might not regard this as a good thing :-) but I'm with everything he has said, and give it a big +1.
8:04 PM Feb 2nd
Steven Goldleaf
Not a hijack at all, pgups6. I do agree with mikeclaw's point, though, about shifting the decision from the voters to the Hall. That's even worse--imagine if someone you like gets booted off the ballot despite inner-circle HoF credentials because of some character issue that you think is a positive, speaking out for Trump, say, if you think Trump is a credit to his race, or against Trump, if you think he's barely a member of the human race. How does the Hall keeping your candidate off the ballot make it any more acceptable?
7:16 PM Feb 2nd
I love the civil discourse.

You say that if there's an OJ situation, then you don't put him on the ballot. So you're switching the moral judgement from the voters to the Hall, and I'm not sure how that's any better. You still have to draw the line regarding what behavior is acceptable or unacceptable, and there is still no good way to draw that line. Is it murder? Then you're enshrining domestic abusers. Is it domestic abuse? Then you're equating a guy who pushed his wife during a drunken argument with a guy who put his wife in the hospital with broken bones. Who makes that call? Someone has to, and it creates problems. You can't act like they don't exist.

So I repeat the last bit from my previous post: Either you consider those things or you don't. Either the Hall makes the call or the individual voters do. No matter what you decide on either of those questions, there will be times when it gets sticky. No getting around that.
6:14 PM Feb 2nd
Apologies for the hijack Steven, and appreciate the civil discourse MClaw.
5:23 PM Feb 2nd
Steven Goldleaf
I don't mind the hijack (Hi, Jack!) but there's no reason this conversation can't take place on Reader Posts. I won't participate there, but if you have anything more to add, please feel free. I think it's a very intricate and worthy subject.
4:52 PM Feb 2nd
MikeClaw, I completely understand where you’re coming from and what you’re saying. It’s just that this character issue has taken on a life of it’s own where there’s a proposal here to determine who’s a consensus good guy vs bad guy (in jest of course, I think : ). So many writers have voiced their displeasure about being the moral gatekeepers for The Hall, and honestly I don’t blame them, their expertise is the game itself, not morality. I think MLB and The Hall needs to do a better job conveying that The Hall is about baseball excellence, and the writers should just focus on the game and not have fifteen paragraph articles about a conservative radio talk show. If there’s an "OJ" or a cannibal, simply don’t put him on the ballot. Otherwise just evaluate the player's contributions to the game.
4:47 PM Feb 2nd
Pgups - I'm ready to wrap this up, at least my side of it, lest we further hijack Goldleaf's fine essay here. :)

The first and the 11th guys don't have anything to do with each other. They're not in competition. You make your decision on each individual candidate.

You say you don't want to send the message that being a good enough player outweighs domestic violence. But if you tell the voters, as you seem to be proposing, that they cannot consider off-the-field transgressions, then that is *exactly* the message you are sending: "We will enshrine guys who are good ballplayers, and we give no consideration to whether they beat their wives (or sexually abused children, or killed people in DUI wrecks, or espoused white supremacist views or whatever)."

Either you consider those things or you don't. Either the Hall makes the call or the individual voters do. No matter what you decide on either of those questions, there will be times when it gets sticky. No getting around that.
4:36 PM Feb 2nd
Because of the ten-man limit, the two do have something to do with each other. If you’re voting for the 1st guy, you’re saying baseball performance outweighs domestic violence, which is not a great message.

And it’s not the conversation we have to have, we can focus the conversation on actual baseball. Many writers are already doing just that, they are completely ignoring the off field issues and evaluating whoever is on the ballot just based on their baseball career.

4:29 PM Feb 2nd
So you ask " if the 1st guy on your list beat his wife, and your 11th guy saved kids from a burning building- does the 11th guy replace the first guy? Or did the 11th not do enough to replace him, because the first guy was such a phenomenal player it doesn't matter he beat his wife? Is this the conversation we really want to have?"

The two have nothing to do with each other. You make your decision on the first guy, and you make your decision on the 11th guy. If the first guy on your list is an all-time elite star you probably vote for him, and if the 11th guy on your list is a borderline call then the act of heroism is a point in his favor. I believe there were many reports of DiMaggio hitting Marilyn. There are lots of reports of DiMaggio acting like a self-important jackass. I would still vote for him. When I weigh everything, I believe he belongs. Each voter decides how that weighs out, but again, it's not a matter of saying "If a player did this or that, you can't put him in." You just consider everything and make your call.

Finally, you say "Is this the conversation we want to have?" Don't we have to have it? Unless you tell voters, "You are not allowed to consider off-the-field behavior in any way," then it's part of the discussion.
4:08 PM Feb 2nd
With all due respect, pgups, I think you're creating a bigger problem. By "sharing the responsibility," do you mean the HoF admin decides whether a player's off-field baggage is enough to take him off the ballot? I think that's far worse than letting the voters decide on their own.

You say you don't think the voters should ignore the off-field stuff … well how is that different from me saying that I believe it's right to tell them to consider it if they believe it had an impact on the sport?

Schilling is a difficult case. You're right. But there is no way to set this up that will eliminate all difficult cases. He's very tricky because while he is clearly a strong candidate he is not a "no questions asked" guy like a Maddux or a Big Unit. And while his off-field stuff is ugly, it's also of the variety (non-violent, nothing illegal) that is damnably hard to reasonably measure. So he's a tough case. I don't think the answer is to ignore the stuff. I don't think voters could ignore it if they tried. There will always be tricky cases.

Again, I would probably vote for Schilling, but I wouldn't feel great about it. I would not vote for Vizquel if he was a perfect gentleman, because I don't think he's all that close to being a Hall of Famer, but if he was a borderline case in my mind I would take a pass on him at least until the questions of domestic abuse are addressed. If you elect him this year, with the charges pending, and then he gets convicted, or he confesses, what do you do? Take it away? That's a Pandora's box. Induct him and have him speak? What if he's in prison? I think it makes all the sense in the world, if I was a voter and I think he's close, to hold off on Vizquel until we know what's going on. Am I wrong?

4:03 PM Feb 2nd
MikeClaw, if the 1st guy on your list beat his wife, and your 11th guy saved kids from a burning building- does the 11th guy replace the first guy? Or did the 11th not do enough to replace him, because the first guy was such a phenomenal player it doesn't matter he beat his wife? Is this the conversation we really want to have?
4:01 PM Feb 2nd
We would hope The Hall Board would have the good sense to not even put the cannibal on the ballot.

I’m not saying ignore character issues, I’m saying share the responsibility.

MikeClaw, it's easy in your mind, but the writers are obviously struggling big time evaluating these character issues to the point where they don’t even want to vote anymore, that's not what we want. I read a Schilling Hall article that had 15 paragraphs about his off the field stuff. FIFTEEN, including how his video game company went bankrupt. That's the criteria?! I want to read about bloody sock. Let MLB and The Hall decide if a person is too crappy to be in their hallowed halls, and let BBWAA do their job and evaluate their actual career.
3:49 PM Feb 2nd
Steven Goldleaf
So a guy is revealed to be The Man From The Train, and a cannibal besides, and you want the BBWAA to say, "Not our call--his WAR is outta sight!"?
3:23 PM Feb 2nd
It's pretty simple in my mind. If a player is credibly charged with domestic abuse, I believe the voter should be allowed to take that into consideration, just as the voter should be allowed to take into consideration if a player saved children from a burning building. You look at the player's body of work, his contributions to the sport, and sure, you ask yourself if he in any way brought a positive or negative spotlight to the sport. And you decide how it balances out. If you've got nine names on your list and you're weighing two relatively equal candidates for the 10th spot - one of them saved kids from a burning building and the other was charged with beating his wife, it's OK by me if that's how you determine which one gets your 10th spot. Fine by me.

I'm not asking anyone to make moral judgements of someone's character. Did his actions represent baseball positively or negatively? Each voter can decide the answer to that question and can decide how much it influences the voter's decision. That's honestly pretty simple to me. It's not anything cut-and-dried, not a points system. If you think he did something that cast a positive light on the sport, or a negative light, you can take that into consideration. That's all. I certainly don't think voters should be instructed that they can't take into consideration if a player was charged with a violent crime because it happened off the field. To me, it's just a matter of telling voters that they can factor into their decision if they believe the player had a positive or negative impact on the sport. For 95 percent of players, it's neither. For most of the other 5 percent, it's a minor factor in the ultimate decision. If you get an OJ Simpson situation, or a Chad Curtis situation, then it's a bigger factor. If you tell voters specifically that they *can't* consider off-the-field stuff, then you run into OJ or Chad Curtis (if he was a better ballplayer). So yeah, fine by me. No slippery slope at all, since you're saying it's up to each voter to make that call on his or her own.
3:22 PM Feb 2nd
That's a very slippery slope. Omar Vizquel and Andruw Jones have both been accused of domestic violence. Do you want baseball writers to determine if that's better or worse for the game compared to Schilling's rhetoric. Do we really want them to dig into the weeds on these issues when it comes to evaluating a player's baseball career. I would much rather have them discuss Schilling's K/BB ratio, Vizquel's outs made with his glove versus his bat, and if Andruw's Jones defense was truly twice as good as Mays as his dWAR reflects.
2:34 PM Feb 2nd
That's not what I'm saying. I also think voters should consider whether a player's actions, on or off the field, reflect in a good or bad way on baseball. I think that's fair, and for 90 percent of the players under consideration the answer would be neither good or bad. But if a player who is famous for community service or who was a great "ambassador for the sport" off the field, I'm fine with a voter taking that into consideration. And if a player's actions off the field shed a negative light onto the sport, voters can take that into consideration too - that doesn't just mean violent crimes. A player, or former player, who goes out of his way to make inflammatory or hateful comments is bringing negative attention to the sport. John Rocker, for example. And, yeah, Schilling. It's not about "conservative politics," like some people try to claim. Nobody holds it against him that he campaigned for Bush and for McCain, or that he's anti-abortion. But he has called black players liars and suggested that they fabricated accounts of racial epithets being shouted from the stands. He voiced hurtful skepticism of school shootings. He made jokes about lynching journalists. And of course, he voiced support for a deadly riot attempting to overturn an election. That's a pattern of behavior, and if voters want to consider that, I'm OK with it. Not to disqualify him from consideration, but to be part of the total package you consider when deciding whether to vote for him. If voters take that into consideration because they believe his pattern of behavior reflects badly on the sport, I'm OK with that. (Myself, I probably would have held my nose and voted for him, but yes, I would have taken all of that stuff into consideration.)
2:07 PM Feb 2nd
Re: mikeclaw

Exactly, I don't think we need to remove the word "character". We just need to clarify that it refers to hustle, guts, clubhouse leadership, cheating, and other ball field attributes; and it doesn't refer to someone's radio show content.
1:56 PM Feb 2nd
If you eliminate the character portion, it looks bad. It looks as though you are saying "Never mind, we don't care about character," even if in fact you are saying, "Character is too hard to measure, so we're deleting this phrase."

Honestly, the problem is the word itself. When you tell voters to consider "character," it becomes a moral judgement, and I don't think that's what was intended. It's not whether he was a good or a bad person, but rather, whether there was something unmeasurable about this guy - something you don't see at - that helped or hurt his team, or helped or hurt the sport as a whole.

So yeah, if we could remove the word "character" and replace it with "overall impact or influence on the player's team or on the sport of baseball," I think that would be preferable. Because it removes the connotation of moral judgement.

1:39 PM Feb 2nd
+1 to miikeclaw

Minus-infinity to the idea of trying to quantify "character"
1:28 PM Feb 2nd
Kenesaw Mountain Landis and other commissioners were voted in by the BBWAA? or by a separate committee?​
1:10 PM Feb 2nd
Steven Goldleaf
Kenesaw Mountain Landis was a player?
1:01 PM Feb 2nd
The voting criteria does specify "the player" and not "the person" so it can be interpreted as specifically the individual’s baseball career. Instead of waiting for guidance, the BBWAA should take matters into their own hands and make a statement that they are evaluating specifically the player's baseball career and nothing else. If The Hall does not want to potentially enshrine an individual that committed domestic violence, do not put him on the ballot.
12:34 PM Feb 2nd
Steven Goldleaf
"to me, it's very simple - if there is something beyond playing ability that you believe had a good or bad impact on the team or the sport, you can take that into consideration."

which is why I ask the question I imply in the article: is there a better way to quantify that impact?

We're mixing up two unlike quantities here: on the field skills, and off the field behavior. For historical purposes, I'd like it if our great-grandchildren will some day have a better answer when they ask our grandchildren, "Hey, Pop, what's the deal with this Curt Schilling dude? His numbers look pretty good to me, but no HoF. What gives?"
12:02 PM Feb 2nd
I have always read the "character clause" pretty simply - I believe it tells voters that if they believe a candidate had a positive or negative impact on his teams, or reflected especially well or especially poorly on the sport, that they can take this into consideration. That's it. Period. That's what it means to me.

I see too many people who want to make it a disqualifier - as though it means "If a person has scandal attached to his name in some way, you shouldn't vote for him." How else to interpret when people say, "Well, if Ty Cobb is in the Hall of Fame, you can't hold 'character' against anyone else?" And, yeah, I hear people say that a lot.

The instruction is phrased vaguely and has never been clarified. I take this to mean that the HOF administration wants each voter to interpret it. I'm fine with that. But to me, it's very simple - if there is something beyond playing ability that you believe had a good or bad impact on the team or the sport, you can take that into consideration.
11:30 AM Feb 2nd
Steven Goldleaf
So am I hearing a groundswell to eliminate the "character" part of the HoF standards? If so, because there may well be (and probably is), some lingering after-effect of having one for so long, I'd say we need to make the elimination explicit, and include a clause saying that "Under no circumstances, shall the candidate's private beliefs, public expression of those beliefs, acts off the field of play, religious views, politics, convictions in a court of law, or any other considerations touching upon his or her character play the smallest part in consideration of his or her eligibility for election to the Hall of Fame."
10:35 AM Feb 2nd
Hi Maris, how you doin. Many writers have expressed their concern about being the moral gate keepers for The Hall and some have considered giving up their vote because of it. Most fans, including myself have zero interest hearing the writer's political views or where they draw the line on the morality slippery slope, and how that's incorporated into their Hall vote. I would much rather hear and talk about actual baseball.
8:27 AM Feb 2nd
Interesting that some of the material here argues what the character issue must or must not be, or what kinds of distinctions need to be made.


At least to me.

I haven't seen such fear of human judgment since our last discussion about the scourge of the subjectivity in MVP voting. :-)
2:23 AM Feb 2nd
Thanks Steven for bringing this up. Unfortunately with social media and today’s world of knowing everything about everybody, the "character clause" has taken on a life of it’s own and needs to be addressed.

I think the first thing we need to do is make a distinction between “off the field” character and "on the field". The "off the field" issues like domestic violence, political rhetoric, DUIs, etc. should all be handled by MLB and The Hall Board. If someone’s off the field issues are so egregious, don’t put them on the ballot. For instance, take an extreme case like OJ, if an "OJ type" was up for election during his trial, I highly doubt he would be on the ballot. But The Hall Board will never specifically define these terms because they don't want to make themselves subjects of this moral quandary.

As for players on the ballot, the BBWAA should ONLY take into account "on the field" character. For guys like Pedroia and Yadi, their candidacy should score extra points for being known influential leaders in the clubhouse. And then the writers also have to take cheating into account, and if the cheating was egregious enough to make a difference in their vote. PEDs is an on the field issue and it's more than fair to ask the writer's to make a judgment. What the voters should not be doing is weighing the significance of DUIs or determining Schilling's political influence, that is not their so-called expertise.

Anyways, that's my 2 cents, thanks.

8:38 PM Feb 1st
Look, as far's Hall of Famers and character issues--Mr Manush was not exactly a boyscout. From what I can tell, he was a brawling, bad tempered, Red Neck guy who Hank Greenberg called Anti-Semetic. The profiling of his background would throw in racist, but-I never heard that about him, and that's not something you Call somebody unless you know for sure they were. Check out guys like him-Dixie Walker for example or Enos Slaughter, yeah they were, why wouldn't Manush be too? You tell me.

Add into it the obvious boozehound habits of Manush--he's a drinking buddy of Paul Waner--and you may have a drunk too. I don't know. Henry Emmett looked 70 when he was 54 and living like that will age you badly. So, as far's character goes with Manush--he's no saint, and if he's 'better' than Schilling as a person--you tell me. I donno. And the same would go for dozens of others inducted.
7:39 PM Feb 1st
Marc Schneider

You are right, of course, and i went too far. (Although your point about all laws being vague might be correct, but the Supreme Court does overturn laws for being overly vague.) But when I say ignore it, I really meant that I would use it only for people that have done egregious things that brought harm to other people. This would obviously include criminal acts, but other things as well. I wouldn't have voted for, say, Dixie Walker (assuming he was good enough to deserve consideration) given his role in trying to keep Jackie Robinson out of baseball. Personally, I wouldn't not vote for the PED users because I think they were great players regardless, but, on a conceptual level, it makes more sense because what they did arguably harmed the game.

Aside from that, however, it's hard for me to say so-and-so deserves not to be in the Hall because of character issues. As Fireball said, there are plenty of nasty people in the Hall. I think Pete Rose should be in as a player (although I think banning him from baseball was correct). As I said before, as much as I dislike Schilling's politics and his twitter posts, none of that occurred when he was playing, none was illegal, and, while you can argue that his tweets caused harm, they weren't aimed at hurting particular people. And, let's face it, this issue has really only come up because of the PED users and, now, Schilling.
4:40 PM Feb 1st
My concept of "character" in this context:

anything about the person that one thinks makes him not worthy of being in the Hall of Fame

Yes, it's circular or tautological, kind of like (how's this for an example) if you ask what a human cell is made of (or animal cell, doesn't matter), the answer is "cytoplasm," which means "cell stuff." :-)

And yes, it's just a personal concept of it -- i.e. mine.

But, I would suggest, that's what it has come to mean in this context, and how it has been taken.
It's only when people try to get microscopic about it that we get into any confusion about it.

I think there's no actual confusion or unclarity about it, or at least not much.
The way it is commonly taken, and therefore what it means, is "anything about the person that one thinks makes him not worthy of being in the Hall of Fame."

Call if fuzzy, call it unfair, try to call it illegal (which it isn't, as Marc noted) -- I think it's no problem, and that it's good and desirable.
3:29 PM Feb 1st
What about your character?
3:00 PM Feb 1st
Fireball Wenz
In for a Curt Schilling, in for an Ezra Pound?

To me, the HOF is so full of racists, Klansmen (moistly anti-Catholics), wife-beaters, steroid users, anti-Semites, horndogs, blowhards and general misanthropes that I can't get my head around the "character" clause.

On a personal level, I can't stand Curt Schilling. He and "Dr." Gorka were the first two people to block me on Twitter.

But look, I listen to a lost of musicians who did some really bad things - Chuck Berry, James Brown, Miles Davis, Pete Townshend, etc. To me, the bottom line is I can separate the art of the athletics from the person. That's what I choose to do with Curt Schilling. Great ballplayer, seemingly a guy very generous with his time and money to worthy charities - and a horrible businessman, complete dunce as a political thinker, a gullible, loud, obnoxious public persona without a whit of self-awareness. He's a deserving baseball Hall oif Famer a a pitcher and a first-ballot Moron Hall of Famer as a thinker.

2:12 PM Feb 1st
Former Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson defined it this way in an interview from a few years back:

[i]"Every voter has to determine what character means for them. It's meant to be a guide. It is meant to ask: "Did this player respect the game? Did this player respect the uniform? Are you proud of this person in terms of how they conducted themselves with respect to the game?""[/i]

Later on, when asked "Does the character clause, in your opinion, only apply to players’ respective playing careers or should the character clause extend to anything in their lives, even outside of baseball and after they played?", he replied with the broadest of nets:

[i]The voters can define it as they wish.[i]
2:02 PM Feb 1st
marisfan61: You are right, of course. I realized that as soon as I'd typed the words. Then I decided to hit "Send" anyway. I'm not sure why; I guess I wanted to see if maybe the idea was workable somehow.
1:57 PM Feb 1st
Steven Goldleaf
Paying attention to the wording of a statute, or to the instructions of a private institution, certainly is a principle, Marc, and they're pretty closely related. If HoF voters were told, for example, to consider only batting average in their considerations (which was not completely OOTQ in 1936) and later voters chose wisely to ignore those instructions, they might be completely correct in their choosing, but they would be blatantly ignoring very clear instructions, and I would argue the same as I'm arguing here: the instructions are silly, and need to be revised, or else we need to be following them. Your argument about "vagueness" could be applied to most laws, as written, and is a specious one, far as I can tell.
1:12 PM Feb 1st
Marc Schneider

But it's not a principle of law. Election to the Hall of Fame is an honor bestowed by a private institution. And, realistically, I suspect juries pick and choose what parts of the law they focus on. in this case, the standard is so nebulous that, if it were a legal issue, it would probably be ruled impermissibly vague. What is meant by character? Do you have to have committed a crime to run afoul of that language? I don't really see how having individuals interpret the character language as they want is any better than simply ignoring it, because 100 people will have 100 different definitions of what constitutes "character." Does Mickey Mantle, a confirmed womanizer and alcoholic have better character than someone whose politics you don't like? I don't know.

1:03 PM Feb 1st
If they did, nobody in the world would qualify.
12:20 PM Feb 1st
"Character" is subjective. "Honesty" is not. Maybe they should just change the character clause to the honesty clause.
11:14 AM Feb 1st
Steven Goldleaf
Bullshit though it be, ridiculous as it is, the language of the instructions is pretty clear. Your response is 'Ignore the friggin' language"? As a principle of law, that seems pretty dangerous to me. That seems an open admission to having standards no better than "Hey, it's just a popularity contest, pure and simple. Vote for whoever you want in the Hall, for whatever reason, or lack of reason." I'd sooner change the language, or find a way to make sense of what we have.
10:49 AM Feb 1st
I agree with Noted_Sage Marc. I think Schil should be in the Hall despite being a horse's ass end. His politics are garbage but so are those of people we don't think twice about already in. Character clause is one of those things-it's gotta be so far outta the box---Man From Train hit .354 for a decade or something--that keeps them out. You know.
10:36 AM Feb 1st
Marc Schneider
I think the character issue is ridiculous. I think Schillng is a douchebag-or at least his public personna. I don't want to spend any time with people like him. I don't give a damn what his teammates thought of him; lots of people probably thought Himmler was a hell of a guy. (No, I'm not comparing Schilling to Himmler, but the point is being a personable person that people like doesn't make you a good person.) Everything Schilling has said in the last few years makes him someone I don't like.

But I would vote for Schilling for the HOF. He was a great pitcher; he hasn't really broken any laws and, as The Rifleman said, voting against him is really a vote against his politics and his Twitter presence. To me, that's not enough to keep him out. There are probably lots of guys in the Hall who are nasty people.

I say the same for the PED users, although I think it's more reasonable to keep someone out if you think that steroids impacted their performance enough that they don't deserve it. That, at least, is related to the game.

So, if I were voting, I would hold my nose, vote for Schilling, and go have drink.
10:11 AM Feb 1st
Steven Goldleaf
Glad to have stimulated such spirited discussion. Does the character clause in the HoF instructions mean something? Anything? Or does it mean what you want it to mean? Is it an excuse to vote your prejudices? Can it be made more quantifiable? Can it be made clearer? Should it be? Most interesting to my mind, is there a line we can agree, in theory, shouldn't be crossed? Can we agree that, say, advocating genocide is a flaw in character? Or maybe a felony conviction? Cross-dressing? Pedophilia? Scientology? Coprophagia? Anti-Catholicism? Eating hot dogs with ketchup? Logical positivism? Or are we okay leaving it as it is, for individual voters to define and act upon as they see fit? Does anyone want the character clause stricken from the instructions?
5:14 AM Feb 1st
The character issue is not bullshit. :-)

But, to me this article to put it, misguided? ....from the start.

IMO you're taking the fact of the "character" thing being included in the guidelines and running with it in way wrong ways, because you're taking it in a mistaken way.

What I mean:
To me the "character" thing is a thing to be particularly thought of only in instances when we feel it should be thought of.

It's not a thing to make ourselves think for the heck of it.

12:52 AM Feb 1st
The character issue is pure bullshit. The biggest asshole in the Hall of Fame has been and forever will be Joe DiMaggio. Schilling was adored by his teammates, of all colors and backgrounds. Who gives a shit about his politics. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than the BBWAA. Pretentious fucktards of a dying industry desperately holding onto their last shred of self-perceived relevance. Maybe they can learn to be solar panel engineers too in a few years. Peace.
11:45 PM Jan 31st
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