A Failure In Judgment

added 1/10/2013 by Joey Milillo

This is going to sound like I'm angry. I'm not angry. In fact, when I caught myself getting all worked up about it this morning, I took a moment to remind myself that nobody's livelihood is being destroyed; this isn't politics or the economy or religion, and that the outcome I feared may, in fact, be a good thing, because such egregious behavior may incite the kind of public reaction needed to make a change. All in all, I've managed to be very Zen about the whole thing, and I'm proud of myself, because that's mostly unlike me.

It is my opinion that the Hall of Fame voters are practicing a form of McCarthyism designed especially for the steroid era. McCarthyism, in its simplest, most literal sense, means the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, and by unfair, it means without proper regard for evidence. That the majority of Hall of Fame voters are journalists by their own description makes this accusation particularly damning (although part of the problem lies in giving these journalists the power to make the story, as opposed to merely reporting on it). It is, however, the most evident axiom of the situation, and it is, for me, a legitimate cause for dismay.

There are nine rules for selection of baseball players to the Hall of Fame, of which, the fifth rule is as follows:

5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

If you consider this phrase judiciously, it cannot be argued that the voter's choices are meant to be a moral judgment on a potential inductee as much as they are an assessment of his playing ability. The Baseball Hall of Fame is the only Hall of Fame in American professional sports which includes such criteria, and for better or for worse, this confers a degree of importance on the matter that sports like football and basketball lack. Being inducted into the Hall of Fame means more than just, "you were a tremendous athlete." It means that (at least while you played), you were a good human being.

Now, I would like to consider the case of Craig Biggio. For the sake of brevity, I’ll break down his consideration by each of the selection criteria:

Player's Record: For starters, Biggio's got one of the so-called "magic numbers" for Hall of Fame selection – 3,000 hits. Arguments that he hung around too long to get to achieve this number are valid and worthy of consideration, but Astros fans did not mind his continued presence on the field, and, if anything, it's the fault of the voters for standing so firmly by the 3,000 hits mark as a goal for induction. If you were declining, but within sight of a milestone that all but insured your induction to the Hall of Fame, and your fans and your organization want you to keep playing, wouldn’t you do it?

The rest of his numbers are solid, though marred slightly by his longevity, with the exception of his accrual totals, like home runs and hit by pitch count. In fact, his status as the modern-day leader in hit by pitch is a solid argument for his induction alone, as more than one person has achieved fame by virtue of curiosity. It shouldn't get him in, but it should count.

Playing Ability: Talk to Bill James about this. No player is excellent for their entire career. Biggio played 20 seasons, and he was great for at least 12, if not more of them. If you can maintain a decade of excellence, then your playing ability should not be called into question. Nor should your worst years be considered the most representative, any more so than your best years. It has to be considered as a whole.

Contributions to the team(s) on which the player played: Biggio gets an A+ on this. Along with Jeff Bagwell, no player has ever been more singularly important in the history of the franchise. Biggio and Bagwell are the Astros' Lou Gerhig and Babe Ruth. That does not make them Gehrig and Ruth to all of baseball, but on the team on which the player played, there's no argument. None.

Sportsmanship: Another area wherein Biggio was incredible. Craig Biggio changed positions three times in his career to accommodate the arrival of other players, often moving to positions that were difficult to master, for the good of the team. His reputation as one of the nicest men in the sport is corroborated by sources from all over baseball, the media, and the fans. He got along with everybody. He never spoke poorly of another player in the press. He was a true leader on and off the field, and a model for how a professional baseball player should conduct themselves in the public eye.

Integrity and Character: Biggio's integrity and character can best be summed up via the criteria for the Roberto Clemente Award, which he won in 2007: The Roberto Clemente Award "recognizes the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team."

Every Houston baseball fan knows about the Sunshine Kids because of Biggio. He went so far as to fight Major League Baseball on a rule that prevented him from wearing the charity's logo on his hat during Spring Training games. By virtue of his support and presence, the Sunshine Kids have raised millions of dollars for children with cancer, improving the lives of multitudes.

And now, a disclaimer in consideration of the Integrity and Character criteria: Craig Biggio played on the same team as Ken Caminiti, a confirmed steroid user, as well as other players who displayed suspicious, but unproven, statistical increases during the height of the steroid era in baseball, including Jeff Bagwell, Luis Gonzalez, and Steve Finley.

To which I counter: I have encountered situations, in the course of my work life and my academic studies, where colleagues have cheated in order to gain a competitive advantage. However, in such cases as these instances were prosecuted and proven, their punishment did not befall me or hinder my advancement in any way, because I was never investigated or prosecuted. To declare me guilty of another person's transgressions, no matter how close I was to the individual, would have been an improper regard for evidence.

The Baseball Hall of Fame is not based on the American justice system, and its current structure does not demand a complete renovation along those lines. But baseball is an American game. It deserves to be assessed on along American principles, which, at their best, rely upon the sound judgment of wise men and women, and not on the mercurial court of public opinion. I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if these principles were properly exercised, Craig Biggio would be allowed to celebrate his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame today.

Joey Milillo is a 32-year-old fan of baseball and the Houston Astros. He lives and works in Houston.