Monday, November 27, 2006

An open letter to Buster Olney... and all the HoF voters who read this

In today's blog, Buster Olney touches on a subject that will likely get increasing coverage in the week's ahead... how should HoF voters deal with the steroid era?

You can read his full post behind the Insider wall, and I will quote a couple of sections, but there are a couple of things that make Olney's argument worth exploring - his conclusion in light of his earlier 'apologies' to the baseball world for his part in the non-reporting of the steroid era, but also his reasoning, as I think it will be the reasoning that each voter that ignores the steroid element of the steroid era will lean on.

From today's post:
I have a Hall of Fame vote, and as I've written here many times before, I will vote for the best players of the era, regardless of what is believed about whether or how or when they've used steroids.

To repeat, here's my quandary: If I don't vote for McGwire or Bonds or the other guys who have been in the middle of the public discussion over steroid use, then what do I do about the candidacy of other many great stars from the era who I believe -- but can't prove -- also used steroids?
So given this very principled stance - essentially going with the innocent until proven guilty* standard of justice - how can we help Buster ease his conscience and convince him not to vote for suspected steroid users?

(* Although this is undermined by his real position of, I don't care if you are guilty, I don't know who else is guilty, so I can't hold you to a different standard... this is just insane logic - the analogy would seem to be, I know that you were involved in a plot to commit a crime, but because we don't know who the other plotters were, I won't punish you... seriously?)

I would ease Buster's conscience by saying... rely on that other stalwart of our justice systems - reasonable doubt. Just don't vote for people that you have a reasonable suspicion were steroid users - it is that simple!

Players do not have a right to be in the HoF - it is an earned privilege. When you vote for someone for the HoF, every element of it is subjective - there is no scorecard that determines qualification, rather voters weigh the elements that are important to them within the historical context, and decide their votes that way. You are allowed to decide that the 583 home runs outweigh the .263 batting average, you are allowed to decide that the career 3.31 ERA doesn't make up for only 287 wins... I mean you (and I don't mean you specifically, I mean HoF voters generally) are wrong on that last one but... and that is the important bit... you are allowed to decide whatever you want.

'Reasonable' is a subjective standard - what is reasonable to me, that, for example, the Yankees should be disbanded for the good of the sport, may not seem reasonable to all - to me, reasonable is exactly the standard that you will use for all other parts of your HoF consideration, why should it not apply to steroid use?

You have the privilege of anonymity that means you never have to reveal your votes if you don't want to, or alternatively - you could go public. You could make up for the 5+ year period where you were silent, absolutely silent about steroid use, and say that you have reasonable doubts about a player's performance that mean you are unable to vote for a specific player. If you are worried about the legal implications there will be language that can be used - but again you could simply say nothing...

When the real steroid 'scandal' broke, when Congress decided there were votes in haranguing baseball players, Buster came out and said sorry - as a baseball writer, I let the baseball public down by not drawing attention to what appeared obvious to our eyes - and personally, I gave you credit for at least retrospectively taking your share of the responsibility for the steroid era, limited though that might be.

Yet now, you want to back track from that and vote the best performers of that era, regardless of your own suspicions about the way in which that performance was generated, into the HoF? So you stayed silent while you knew / suspected players of steroid abuse, and now you want to compound that error of judgment by voting players into the HoF, regardless of your views on whether or not they used steroids, to protect your conscience...

Frank Robinson shouldn't have to make his views, and no doubt the widely held views of many HoF's, public to try and influence the voting process - it is not Frank Robinson's job to protect the integrity of the HoF - that is your job as a HoF voter.

Having failed once, it is time to make sure you get it right this time round.

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