Scoundrels Committee: A way to recognize shamed players in the Baseball Hall of Fame

7 01 2016


Ken Griffey Jr., of course, was an automatic Hall of Famer, elected Wednesday by the Baseball Writers Association of America in his first year of eligibility. (Mike Piazza also was elected; more on him later).

But two players who had even greater careers, Barry Bonds (44 percent of the vote) and Roger Clemens (45 percent) got nowhere near the 75-percent election threshold. Neither of them got even half of Griffey’s record 99.3  percent of the writers’ votes (three idiots left him off their ballots).

Bonds’ and Clemens’ fourth year being rejected by the baseball writers comes a few weeks after Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred upheld the suspension from baseball (and Hall of Fame consideration) of the all-time hit king, Pete Rose.

A fourth all-time great, who’s still playing but bound to face a similar unofficial ban from the Hall of Fame, Alex Rodriguez, paired with Rose in the Fox outfield studio during the World Series, a bizarre illustration of how tainted many of baseball’s greatest players have become.

Rather than tolerating this continuing failure to deal with disgraced players, I think the Baseball Hall of Fame needs to formally address the discouraging but growing number of great players known as much for shame as for glory.

Sure, Rose, Bonds and Clemens belong in the Hall of Fame and A-Rod will someday, too, based on achievements. But their disgrace was as profound, or nearly so, as their outstanding play. And they have plenty of company in Cooperstown’s official and de facto Hall of Shame: Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Rafael Palmeiro …

Rose and Jackson are barred officially from Cooperstown for gambling offenses. Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and Palmeiro are unofficially barred because of suspicion that they used performance-enhancing drugs. A-Rod certainly will join them once he retires and waits the five years everyone has to wait before getting on the Hall of Fame ballot.

The Baseball Hall of Fame needs a Scoundrels Committee to decide how to handle great players who have brought shame to themselves and the game.

Manfred hinted at such a need in his statement affirming Rose’s ban from baseball:

It is not part of my authority or responsibility here to make any determination concerning Mr. Rose’s eligibility as a candidate for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame …In my view, the considerations that should drive a decision on whether an individual should be allowed to work in Baseball are not the same as those that should drive a decision on Hall of Fame eligibility. … Any debate over Mr. Rose’s eligibility for the Hall of Fame is one that must take place in a different forum.

As various Veterans Committees have given second chances to players passed over by the Baseball Writers Association of America, and a Negro Leagues Committee gave Cooperstown honors to stars kept out of the “major” leagues by segregation, a special committee should consider how to handle shamed players.

How a Scoundrels Committee would work

I will address the players barred (officially or un) from the Hall of Fame shortly, but first some thoughts on how the committee might work:

I envision a committee that would decide which players had shamed the game, how long they would be barred from the Hall of Fame, whether they eventually would be honored and how their combination of achievement and misconduct would be noted in the Cooperstown museum.

I don’t know whether the committee would function as one unit or would have separate subcommittees to handle investigations, punishments and eventual elections.

The committee could decide matters case by case or could set up a framework that would be strictly enforced (or from which exceptions could be granted when situations warrant). For instance, if the committee decided that involvement in gambling brought a lifetime ban from the Hall of Fame, Jackson would be eligible for consideration now, but Rose would not be eligible until after his death. Or, if the committee decided gambling merited a 25-year wait after banishment, both would be eligible now.

Or maybe the committee would give varying levels of punishment for gambling offenses, perhaps something like this:

  • An eternal ban for throwing a game (which some of Jackson’s Black Sox teammates did) or betting against your own team.
  • A lifetime ban for accepting gamblers’ money but still playing hard, as every “Field of Dreams” fan knows Jackson did.
  • A 25-year ban for giving inside information to gamblers or betting for your own team (which tells the bookies when you have confidence and when you don’t, unless you bet every day, and might influence managing decisions or risks you’d take in a game).
  • A 15-year ban on betting only on games involving other teams.

The committee might also extend a ban for a player, such as Rose, who continues gambling, or reduce a ban for a player who does some sort of service to the game or community, such as speaking to players at spring training about how he became involved in gambling and how it hurts the game.

Keep in mind that Paul Hornung and Alex Karras both were suspended for a full year for gambling during their NFL playing careers, but weren’t barred from the Hall of Fame. (Hornung is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but I was surprised to see that Karras never made it.)

I can also see a range of penalties for use of performance-enhancing drugs:

  • Maybe the committee would impose a 10-year wait after retirement (as opposed to the normal five-year wait) for players judged to be minimal offenders: perhaps David Ortiz, who failed a single drug test, or Andy Pettitte, who readily admitted use of PED’s once when recovering from an injury. Maybe everyone named in the Mitchell Report gets at least the minimum sentence, with longer sentences for multiple offenses, failed drug tests and so on.
  • Maybe egregious cases such as A-Rod, Ryan Braun or Rafael Palmeiro would get a maximum sentence, such as 20 or 25 years. (At age 31, Braun is well short of Hall of Fame standards, but certainly could have a shot at reaching them. Palmeiro and A-Rod would be automatic selections based on performance alone.) A-Rod’s double offenses, Braun’s defamation of the person who collected his urine specimen and Palmeiro’s finger-pointing denial to Congress (shortly before failing a drug test) elevate them, at least in the public mind, beyond the average drug cheat.
  • I see gambling as a worse offense than cheating, and wouldn’t favor a lifetime ban for using drugs. But I wouldn’t argue if the committee applied one in extreme cases, perhaps if a player was convicted of drug-related crimes.

The committee might decide to respect court decisions, freeing Clemens and Bonds from punishment because they were cleared of drug-related perjury charges in court. Or it might enforce a lower standard of proof than the reasonable-doubt standard of criminal courts. The committee could decide to believe its eyes about the phenomenal physical growth of Bonds or decide to believe Pettitte’s initial testimony that Clemens told him about using PED’s, rather than his later testimony that he might have misunderstood. I could argue minimal penalty, no penalty or heavy penalty for either Bonds or Clemens, but I’d like to see a more formal baseball investigation and decision than the current unofficial ban based on suspicion.

Once a player has served his ban from Hall of Fame consideration, the Scoundrels Committee would decide whether he’s worthy of induction. Jason Giambi and Brady Anderson clearly fell short of Hall of Fame standards. Soon after becoming eligible, they would be dismissed as unworthy, simply on their merits. Pettitte would clearly be borderline, which might mean he never makes it or might mean he makes it after several years of consideration.

Perhaps the Scoundrels Committee would investigate players such as Jeff Bagwell or Mike Piazza, who faced some level of suspicion because their power numbers were achieved during the steroid era, though neither was named in the Mitchell Report. Piazza joined Griffey in winning election this year, his fourth year on the ballot. Bagwell, if his sixth year on the ballot, crept almost to the election threshold at 72 percent.

Maybe if an investigation officially cleared such players of drug use, they would get earlier fair consideration by the writers. But I wouldn’t count on it; as this blog has noted again and again, the writers’ choices are consistently inconsistent.

Other offenses

While gambling and drug cheats have been baseball’s biggest scandals, I suppose the Scoundrels Committee could address other matters of misconduct. I don’t favor any of these suggestions below, but the committee could consider:

  • Doctoring balls, corking bats or other types of cheating seen as less sinister than drugs, might carry shorter sentences. Maybe Sosa would get a couple more years added to his sentence for corking his bat.
  • Recreational drug use. Great players, primarily from the 1980s, who pissed away their talent on cocaine and other drugs, generally ended their careers falling short of Hall of Fame standards, despite their amazing talent. I see Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Dave Parker, Vida Blue, Willie Wilson and Keith Hernandez all falling short based on accomplishments, or borderline at best, but I wouldn’t object if a Scoundrels Committee wanted to formally address their cases and other players whose reputations are harmed but past or future use of recreational drugs.

Here are my thoughts on some of baseball’s scoundrels and whether they belong in the Hall of Fame.

Pete Rose


Ah, Pete Rose. A friend recently included an aside in a newspaper column that was mostly about journalism, noting that Rose belonged in the Hall of Fame. I differed with him good-naturedly on the Rose point, while mostly praising the column, on Facebook. I was interested by how many journalist friends sided with him on the question of Rose. I’m quite confident that these same journalists would be comfortable with — and probably enforce, if they are in a position to hire — journalism’s unofficial but mostly consistent lifetime ban for journalists who are publicly caught plagiarizing, fabricating or doctoring photo content. Some offenses are so grave and so directly related to integrity that the professional sentence is and should be a lifetime ban.

I’m completely comfortable with that, in journalism and in baseball. Pete Rose accepted that penalty, rather than formally fighting the position of the Dowd Report. He did informally fight it for years before admitting that its central conclusion — that he bet on baseball — was true.

Hey, a 26-year ban is pretty harsh, too, but Manfred detailed how shameful Rose’s behavior was and is, and why his ban must continue. Whether the Hall of Fame decides to do something different, he doesn’t belong in baseball. Hell, he bailed on that embarrassing Fox outfield studio gig because he needed to go sign autographs at a casino.

I think that integrity is worth a lifetime ban, and I don’t think Rose has done anything to deserve an exception. His records are legit, even if he was overrated. (He has the most hits ever, but he’s not really the greatest anything: lead-off hitter, switch hitter, contact hitter. He just played a long time, with a lot of great players, and swung the bat a lot and got a lot of hits.) But he dishonored the game, and I see no reason for the game to honor him. At least not during his life.

Ron Santo was a borderline Hall of Famer. I wouldn’t have been outraged if he had never made it to Cooperstown, and I can think of easily half a dozen Yankees with better cases for enshrinement. But I was outraged that Santo was kept out of the Hall of Fame for decades, then admitted to Cooperstown the year after he died. If he was a Hall of Famer, he belonged in the Hall of Fame, and they should have voted him in while he was alive to enjoy it. He was an exuberant man. No one would have enjoyed it more.

I view Rose differently. He accepted and deserved a lifetime ban. He knew that was the punishment every time he placed a bet. If Manfred or some other commissioner or a Hall of Fame Scoundrels Committee wants to cave to the fans who still love Pete Rose and disagree about how important integrity is to baseball, I think they should cave the year after Rose dies. Santo deserved his moment on the green in Cooperstown. Rose doesn’t.

Shoeless Joe Jackson


I loved Field of Dreams. But let’s be honest: Jackson shamed the game even more profoundly and deliberately than Rose. Colluding with gamblers endangers the very integrity of the game, and I don’t minimize his offense. I’m fine with Jackson getting to play ball in an Iowa cornfield (I’ve played there myself), but I think Jackson probably doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame.

But he’s been dead 64 years. If a Scoundrels Committee decided to allow posthumous election of players with great careers who were involved with gamblers, I would not complain. Jackson’s offense was not as grave as his teammates who actually threw games.

Bonds and Clemens


On performance alone, setting aside enhancement suspicions, Clemens and Bonds would be automatic Hall of Famers.

They are among the best ever for their full careers (Bonds the only seven-time MVP and Clemens the only seven-time Cy Young winner). And both were multiple winners playing at a Hall of Fame level before they appeared to start enhancing their performance. Once they served their sentences, the Scoundrels Committee probably would and should elect them.

A-Rod probably falls in the same category, whenever he becomes eligible.

Did drugs make the difference?

The Scoundrels Committee might need to decide whether players such as McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield might face a second layer of punishment: After they serve a punishment and become eligible, are they elected based on their achievements? Or does the committee speculate whether they would have reached Hall of Fame achievements without chemical enhancement? These players would be automatic choices based just on their stats, but you could argue in all cases that they wouldn’t have reached Hall of Fame level, or would have just been borderline, without enhancement. I’d be OK with speculative choices if the committee is consistent in its speculation.

McGwire got 12 percent of the vote this year, his 10th on the ballot, and will no longer be considered by the writers (the term on the writers’ ballot has been reduced from 15 years to 10). Sheffield also got 12 percent of the vote his second year on the ballot and Sosa got 7 percent in his fourth year. Palmeiro was on the ballot four years, dropping below the 5 percent threshold to stay on the ballot in 2014. Ramirez will be on the ballot for the first time next year.

Ivan Rodriguez, who also will be on the ballot next year for the first time, might make the Hall of Fame based on his longevity and defense, even if the speculative approach heavily discounted his offensive achievements (which would be fair).

Minor cases

Is there such a thing as a minor case of drug-cheating? Should players such as Ortiz or Pettitte, both of whom were much admired before and after their drug use became known, get a lesser punishment? I could see a Scoundrels Committee deciding various levels of punishment depending on the details of the offense. I think Ortiz would have a better chance of election than Pettitte, but both face second levels of prejudice: the Hall of Fame voters’ demonstrated and consistent biases against designated hitters and Yankees.

Plaques should note shame

Anyway, the Scoundrels Committee would decide penalties and who gets banned from the normal Hall of Fame ballot. Then, after you’ve served your term, the Scoundrels Committee decides whether your on-the-field achievements merited Hall of Fame selection.

And the plaque in Cooperstown should note both the player’s achievements and how he shamed the game.

Personal note

My year-end post on my journalism blog, The Buttry Diary, discussed how medical treatment the past year affected all of my blogs, including Hated Yankees.

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8 responses

7 01 2016
My health affected all my blogs this year | The Buttry Diary

[…] of drafts from those sleepless nights that are likely to publish in January. Jan. 7 update: My post suggesting a Scoundrels Committee for the Baseball Hall of Fame was published […]

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9 01 2016
Tim Raines and Lee Smith: One more shot on writers’ Hall of Fame ballot | Hated Yankees

[…] those guys aren’t even getting 50 percent of the writers’ vote (see my suggestion for a Scoundrels Committee to deal with Hall of Fame recognition for players involved in gambling and drug […]

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10 01 2016
Yankees have more borderline Hall of Fame contenders than any other team | Hated Yankees

[…] because of gambling or drug scandals: Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens. I dealt with them in last week’s post suggesting a Scoundrels Committee to decide how to deal with the great players who are tainted by scandal. I will, though, address […]

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4 04 2016
The 5 best first basemen in Yankee history | Hated Yankees

[…] Add certain Hall of Famer Albert Pujols and Mark McGwire, who had Hall of Fame numbers but is being kept out of Cooperstown because he used performance-enhancing drugs. Each team also had some pretty good first basemen in the Skowron-Martinez range who won’t […]

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7 04 2016
The 5 best third basemen in Yankee history | Hated Yankees

[…] by drug use would get the nod. But I wouldn’t totally discount a player based on PED use. So Roger Clemens ranked 16th among Yankee […]

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19 07 2016
Do we have a Yankees team with no future Hall of Famers? | Hated Yankees

[…] rather than the writers’ vote. I doubt if the Hall of Fame will adopt my suggestion for a Scoundrels Committee to consider drug cheats and gamblers, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a committee decide […]

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25 07 2016
Baseball Hall of Fame changes its absurd (and racist) ‘Era Committees’ | Hated Yankees

[…] that the writers continue to reject players under strong suspicion. This may become a de facto Scoundrels Committee (though Pete Rose wouldn’t fall in the era and they would never use that name for it), […]

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12 08 2016
Alex Rodriguez: The most disappointing great Yankee ever | Hated Yankees

[…] Scoundrels Committee: A way to recognize shamed players in the Baseball Hall of Fame […]

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