The Hall of Fame and Morality

Jonathan Mahler, in the course of an incoherent article about baseball, makes this observation:

This year, not a single contemporary player was voted into the Hall of Fame because so many eligible players were suspected of steroid use. Never mind that Cooperstown has its share of racists, wife beaters and even a drug dealer. (To say nothing of the spitballers.)

Those few sentences typify the confusion rampant in Mahler’s offering. The use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs calls into question the legitimacy of the users’ accomplishments on the field. Racism, wife-beating, and drug-dealing — deplorable as they are — do not cast a shadow on the perpetrators’ performance as baseball players. As for the spitball, it was legal in baseball until 1920, and when it was outlawed its avowed practitioners were allowed to continue using it. (Some modern pitchers have been accused of using it from time to time, but I can’t think of one who used it so much that his career is considered a sham.)

Election to the Hall of Fame isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a moral judgment. If it were, I suspect that the Hall of Fame would be a rather empty place, especially if serial adultery and alcohol abuse were grounds for disqualification.

At the risk of being called a moral agnostic, which I am not, I say this: Election to the Hall of Fame (as a player) should reflect the integrity and excellence of on-field performance. Period.

I do have strong views about the proper qualifications for election to the Hall of Fame (as a player). You can read them here, here, and here. I’ve also analyzed the statistical evidence for indications of the use of performance-enhancing drugs by a few notable players: Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire (both guilty) and Roger Clemens (unproved).