Chicago Tribune (Sunday)
Character count: A tough Hall call
Concerns go beyond PEDs in latest votes for Cooperstown
Like many baseball writers, C. Trent Rosecrans viewed the Hall of Fame vote as a labor of love. The ballot would arrive around the end of November, and it would keep him occupied for much of December. He’d write down his research on players in a notebook and feel butterflies when putting his ballot in the mail.
Then it was time for his most recent vote, and the whole process felt quite different.
“That ballot sat out unopened until after Christmas, because I knew what was in it,” Rosecrans said. “And it wasn’t something I enjoyed.”
The results of the 2021 vote will be announced Tuesday, and Rosecrans wasn’t alone in finding the task particularly agonizing this time around. With Curt Schilling’s candidacy now front and center — and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens still on the ballot as well — voters have had to consider how much a player’s off-field behavior should affect his Hall of Fame chances.
For years, suspicions of performance-enhancing drug use have played a significant role in the voting. Now, some writers are reassessing other concerns about some of the game’s biggest stars — from Schilling’s incendiary social media presence to domestic violence allegations against Bonds and others.
Ken Rosenthal, Rosecrans’ colleague with The Athletic, began a recent column this way: “I hate my Hall of Fame ballot. It might be my last.”
The top returning vote-getter on this year’s ballot is Schilling, who a year ago came within 20 votes of being elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. His support now seems to have stalled.
As of early Saturday, Schilling had 75.3% approval on ballots tallied at Ryan Thibodaux’s tracker, but that pace probably isn’t good enough. A player needs 75% for induction — and in the past, Schilling has fared worse on private, unreleased ballots that aren’t part of Thibodaux’s tracker.
Schilling has turned off voters with his post-career behavior. ESPN suspended him from the Little League World Series a few years ago over a tweet in which he compared Muslim extremists to Nazi-era Germans. He was later fired by the network for Facebook comments about transgender people. On Jan. 6, the day of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, he said the following in a message on his Twitter account:
“You cowards sat on your hands, did nothing while liberal trash looted rioted and burned for air Jordan’s and big screens, sit back .... and watch folks start a confrontation for (expletive) that matters like rights, democracy and the end of govt corruption.”
That tweet was a few days after Hall of Fame ballots were due, but Rosecrans had already decided not to support Schilling — even though he’d voted for him in the past.
“It would have been much easier for me to stick where I was and to check that box, like I have every other time I’ve voted, but I just don’t know if I would have been true to myself,” said Rosecrans, the BBWAA’s president. “Had I done that, I may have felt better where I put it on that day. I don’t know if I would have felt better on January 6th.”
Bonds and Clemens are polling just behind Schilling on Thibodaux’s tracker, but their candidacies now face scrutiny that goes beyond longstanding suspicion of PED use. Multiple players on this year’s ballot have been accused of domestic violence, and Bonds is one of them. In 1995, his ex-wife testified during divorce proceedings that he beat and kicked her. In 2008, the New York Daily News reported that Clemens had a decade-long relationship with country singer Mindy McCready that began when she was 15. Clemens apologized for unspecified mistakes in his personal life and denied having an affair with a 15-year-old. McCready told “Inside Edition” she met Clemens when she was 16 and the relationship didn’t turn sexual until years later.
So it remains up to the voters to decide how they’ll weigh off-field issues when evaluating. The Hall instructs voters to take into account “the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Clearly, there’s room to consider a player’s off-field conduct.