Should off the field activities keep a player out of the Hall of Fame?
The Hall of Fame usually brings to mind athletes who have accomplished feats of skill far beyond those of the average player. It’s assumed that all an athlete has to do is achieve superior results, and they’re automatically in. What most people don’t know, however, is that each player must pass a scrutiny of tests to prove that they are made of the “right stuff”. What I will try to find out through researching this topic is whether off the field activities should influence a player entering the Hall, even if it’s obvious that their on field performance makes them more than deserving. Since my topic is so broad I have decided to concentrate my discussion just on Major League Baseball.
To ensure that all players have an equally fair chance to be eligible for entrance to the Hall of Fame, Major League Baseball (MLB) has put forth a set of guidelines . 1) A player must have been active at some time during a period beginning 20 years before and ending 5 years prior to election. 2) A player shall have ceased to be an active player at least five years prior to election, but may still be connected with baseball. 3) Any player on Baseball’s ineligible list shall not be eligible. If a player hopes to become a candidate, he must fit these requirements.
The people who decide the fate of eligible players are members of Baseball’s Writer’s Association of America (BWAA). These sports writers must be active members for at least 10 years in order to vote in this process. To ensure they all vote on the same basis, MLB has given them a list of criteria in which to analyze the players . 1) Player’s record 2) Playing ability 3) Integrity 4) Sportsmanship 5) Character 6) Contributions to the team(s) on which they played. Even though the guidelines are clearly stated, it leaves room for individual writers to decide the importance each element plays taking into account a player’s legacy. Considering the list of characters that are members of the Hall, it’s quite obvious that not all the parameters are examined fully.
Ty Cobb, former all time hits leader, played for the Detroit Tigers and was despised by both teammates and opponents. Opposing teams hated playing him, as he loved to intimidate the players. When base running he would intentionally hit men guarding base, and was infamous for using his spikes as a weapon when sliding. Teammates hated him because he could care less about their feelings; all he wanted was for them to play as hard as he was.
Cobb was an extremely high strung man who used violence and fighting as ways to defend his honor, his wife, or anything that was important to him . He was unable to take a joke or laugh at himself, and anyone who crossed that line ended up with a beating. This occurred in 1912 at a game in New York’s Hilltop Park, where a heckler rode Cobb too hard. Cobb charged twelve rows into the stands and beat him to a pulp. Unfortunately, this type of incident was not rare with Cobb, as he had dealt with many civil suits filed against him as well as warrants for his arrest. As if that was not enough, he was also a self-admitted racist who enjoyed telling “niggers” how he felt about them. Ultimately it was in these situations where most of his violent expressions took place. Towards the end of his life, Cobb even admitted to killing a man. Despite all of these circumstances, Cobb was elected to the first class of the Hall of Fame. If the B.W.A.A writers had closely followed the parameters given them in judging players, Cobb would have failed in three out the six categories (Integrity, Sportsmanship, & Character). They chose to focus on how he played the game and what he accomplished, despite of the number of arrests, suspensions, and lawsuits he had.
MLB prefers that their players refrain from gambling of any kind, especially if it involves illegal betting. Rogers Hornsby, manager/player for St Louis, had a strong fondness for visiting the track and betting on the ponies . Hornsby also had a reputation of playing mental games with the umpires, using name-calling and giving them physical shots whenever he had the chance . The B.W.A.A. overlooked all his suspensions and fines too, deciding his career stats overshadowed his negatives. Hornsby and Cobb had one thing in common; they both had the chance for their numbers to be judged by the B.W.A.A. This is, however, not the case for two of MLB’s greatest players; Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose. They both had their fates decided by the Commissioners of baseball of their time.
Shoeless Joe Jackson was the best player on the Chicago Black Sox team, and his swing was so superb that greats like TY Cobb and Babe Ruth did their best to copy it. Jackson’s lifetime batting average of .356 still stands as the 3rd best in the history of MLB, but his numbers became irrelevant after the scandal of the 1919 World Series.
During that series many of Jackson’s teammates had taken bribes to throw the series, but Jackson repeatedly rejected these offers. Many of those gamblers who offered the bribes, admitted in court that Jackson had turned down as much as $30 -thousand dollars in cash . If courtroom testimony isn’t enough to convince people of his innocence, then his performance during the series should. Jackson had a batting average of .357, had 12 hits and pounded the only home run in the series. His on-field performance was also extraordinary, as he was the only player to have no errors for the series . What had doomed Jackson was his eagerness to testify on his own behalf.
Team owner Charles Comiskey told him that he had to sign some documents before he could testify on his own behalf, but didn’t tell him what he was signing. What Jackson had actually signed, however, was a full confession to throwing the series and taking bribes. When the court asked if anyone told Jackson what the document has said, Comiskey’s staff admitted they didn’t. A signed confession in that matter would not stand up in any court in America today. The first Commissioner of Baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, was brought in after this incident, and was determined to clean the tarnished image of the sport. His first duty was banning all eight players involved in the Black Sox scandal, which had included Jackson. Even though Jackson had proven himself to be not guilty twice in court, Landis ignored him instead relying on the sworn confession Comiskey had Jackson sign . He stated that he had broken Major League rule #21 which states: Any player who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible. Since Jackson was deemed permanently ineligible, the B.W.A.A. couldn’t even consider him for entrance to the Hall. History has shown that Landis’s actions were too far sweeping and simply unfair. Jackson was proven innocent and should in the Hall of Fame, because he has proven to fit every category the B.W.A.A. look for.
“Charley Hustle, ” a.k.a. Pete Rose is another example of how a commissioner’s stubbornness and power can keep a great player out of the hall of Fame. Rose was man who had shattered the all time hits mark set by the great Ty Cobb, and finished his career with 4,256 hits. When he retired everyone assumed that he would’ve easily earned a spot in the Hall, but all that changed in
February of 1989. That’s when allegations surfaced that Rose had a gambling problem, and that he had bet on baseball.
The allegations came from two felons, Paul Janzen & Ron Peters, who had been serving time for tax evasion from selling steroids . MLB decide to investigate the claims and found tons of evidence that he was a problem gambler, as Rose admitted to betting on pro and college basketball and NFL games. He would not, however, admit to betting on baseball. To put the situation behind him Rose decided to settle the situation by signing an agreement with then Commissioner Bart Giammati . What Rose apparently didn’t understand was that he admitted to breaking rule 21, and that made him permanently ineligible just like Jackson. The settlement stated, “that nothing in the agreement shall deprive Rose of applying for reinstatement. ” This gave Rose the impression that he would absolutely be readmitted and could then take his place among baseball’s greats. Rose still denies that he bet on baseball, and tells reporters to look at the agreement that he signed. It states, “that nothing in the agreement shall be deemed as an admission or denial that he bet on baseball.” This topic is very timely, in the fact that this week Rose is holding discussions with MLB to discuss options of his admittance back into baseball. If popularity polls will play any role in this discussion, Rose is a shoe in as 75% feel that he deserves to be in the Hall.
I think that the Hall of Fame was intended to be an arena to showcase the greatest baseball players in history, but MLB and the B.W.A.A. don’t see it that way. You can be the best player in history, but if you don’t fit their criteria (gambler), you aren’t invited. Players can be violent, racists, drug users, homophobes, and virtually anything imaginable but if you gamble that’s seen as unforgivable. They should allow both Rose and Jackson to stand in the Hall. If they feel it’s necessary to inform visitors of their sins, then they should do that with all the members of the hall. If they made character judgments of all the players off the field, then that would tarnish the image of baseball. MLB should just let on field statistics be the judge.