Baseball Hall of Fame Says “You’re Out!” to Flawed Superstars

What Can We Learn from the Hall’s Criteria for Greatness?      

1/25/22 – – The votes are in for this year’s class of inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Of most interest to crisis counselors and those who work to repair reputations are the nominees with unassailable records of performance who were denied plaques in Cooperstown because of character flaws — primarily use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) — that made them unworthy of the national pastime’s greatest honor.

Members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (they get to vote if they’ve covered baseball for at least 10 years) had some very accomplished players to consider. Of special note were four superstars who’ve been listed on ballots for the last 10 years. Hall of Fame rules say after 10 unsuccessful tries you’re out. While there are Hall committees that consider special circumstances after the tenth ballot, chances are slim to enter through the back door.

Turned away for the final time were Barry Bonds, who hit more home runs than anyone else in the history of the game, Sammy Sosa, who in 1998 along with juiced slugger Mark McGuire shattered the record for most single-season home runs, and Roger Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner. While each has denied willful wrongdoing, each is considered guilty of using PEDs during their careers.

Curt Schilling, a pitcher with one of the best postseason records of all time, is not suspected of any rules violations. His candidacy was rejected because of sins in retirement; making his right-wing political and at-times insensitive social opinions known during stints as an ESPN baseball analyst and social-media commentator. (I guess “cancel culture” is more powerful than a 98-mile-per-hour fastball.)

David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez, highly qualified newcomers on the ballot (players become eligible five years after retirement), experienced opposite fates. Ortiz got in on his first try, but Rodriguez didn’t have the votes (at least 75% of the voters must say “yes” to get you in the door). Both are suspected of using PEDs, but the case against Ortiz is murky. A-Rod, who was suspended an entire season for his infractions, has nine more years on the ballot. I wouldn’t count him out.

So, what can we learn from this interesting outcome?

In reviewing candidates for the Baseball Hall of Fame, voters consider a number of factors, including, “the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.” Those are excellent criteria for any organization to use in judging the success and value of its “players.” Who gets the fastest advancement and the biggest bonuses in your company? Do character, integrity and teamwork count? Clearly, they do for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

To have some fun and underscore the lessons from today’s announcement, I’ve put it all in verse, borrowing shamelessly from the wonderful baseball poem you probably read in school, “Casey at the Bat.”

Legacies at the Bat

The outlook isn’t brilliant for six superstars today:

A plaque in baseball’s Hall of Fame is only votes away.

But PEDs and right-wing tweets have brought them scorn and shame,

And kept the spotlight off the field, where winning was their game.

For Clemens, Bonds and Sammy Sosa, this tenth ballot’s one last chance

To join the ranks of Ruth and Mays and make it to the dance.

Curt Schilling shares the same sad fate, and knows the next thumbs down

Will end the game and block his way to enter Cooperstown. 

You’d think new names on this year’s list would make the cut with ease,

For juiced or not it’s hard to doubt an A-Rod or Ortiz.

While hits and strikes and long home runs may count among their feats,

Can we forgive the gifted star who breaks the rules and cheats?

And now the votes have been revealed, we know who gets the nod:

It’s no for Schilling, Bonds and Sosa, Clemens and A-Rod.

Ortiz is in, but for the rest the lesson is the same:

Winning’s not the only thing, it’s how you play the game.

Yes, hope abides for those who played with style and stealth reliance

On attributes like speed and strength, and too much modern science.

But voters won’t ignore the past, they told us with a shout,

There will be no Hall for fallen stars — their legacies have struck out.

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