You've heard all the arguments and they run the gamut, with the extreme ends of the spectrum occupied by "never voting for anyone with the slightest whiff of IPED stench" to "excluding the IPED question entirely from the voting calculus."
While I certainly have my opinion, it's hard to definitively state that one person's argument is better or more valid than another. Is there a right answer to this question? Probably not. But, while a correct course of action may prove elusive, there remains an incorrect course of action. The clear-cut incorrect course of action is to abstain from voting. To decide that the question is simply too difficult. To submit a blank ballot in protest or to not submit a ballot at all. In short, to abdicate your responsibilities.
To quote the great Walter Sobchak: "Nihilists! F*ck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos." Or, if you prefer something more classic, you can go with Dante: "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, preserve their neutrality."
Now, we aren't talking about Nihilists and the IPED issue doesn't rise to the level of a "great moral crisis" requiring a trip to the hottest places, but the underlying point remains: form an opinion, take a stand, do SOMETHING even if it's wrong.
All that said, today John Fay, unfortunately, announced that he's punting on the IPEDs/Hall of Fame issue. Here's what he had to say:
I simply can’t do it. I put off mailing in my 2013 Hall of Fame ballot until today’s deadline.
It will not be sent.
I’d rather abstain than play judge and jury this year. The two most deserving players statistically of the 37 on the ballot are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Bonds was the best hitter I’ve seen. Clemens was the most dominant pitcher.
Both should be absolute locks to be first-ballot inductees.
But Bonds and Clemens also top of the list of players linked to performance-enhancing drugs. I believe both players used PEDs. From the BBWAA Rules for Election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame:
“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.”
I’m one of the eligible voters as a 10-year member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. I feel woefully unqualified to judge the “integrity, sportsmanship and character” of players in the steroid era.
I’ve read a lot of columns from fellow voters. Some vow to never to vote for anyone with PED taint on their record. I didn’t vote Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire on those grounds in the past.
At some point last night, I made up my mind that I would vote Bonds and Clemens on basis that they would have been Hall of Famers if they used PEDs or not.
There’s also the argument that steroids in 1990s and 2000s were like the amphetamines in 1970s and 80s. Everybody used them, so just vote based on the stats.
But this morning, I was too torn to pull the lever.
My gut feeling is that I’m done as a voter. Maybe time will give me clarity on the issue, but, right now, I’d rather not vote than send in a ballot I don’t fully believe in.
Now, I certainly understand the difficulties faced, and frustrations felt, by baseball writers. They are being given greater responsibility and less guidance than at any time in recent memory. Add in the fact that, whatever their vote, some faction of the internet will criticize it. The ability of social media to stampede public opinion with the digital equivalent of torches (tweets) and pitchforks (blog posts) is disconcerting. Anyone willing to stand up and voice their opinion voluntarily incurs the risk of a stampede. None of this excuses a writer's refusal to voice an opinion. To cast their vote and make an argument. It's a challenging job, but it's a job that must be done and the eligible writers are among the privileged few who get to do it.
This is another step in furtherance of an emerging and disturbing trend. In today's society, more and more (and I'm looking at you Washington, D.C.), the "do-nothing" option is being taken. Somehow, it's being argued that refusing to carry out the job you agreed to perform is a valid and viable option. People whose job it is to make decisions on the tough issues are refusing. People whose professional responsibilities require them to act are choosing inaction.
I like and respect John Fay, but maybe the most important thing he wrote he saved for last. Maybe he's done as a voter. I give him credit for the seriousness with which he considered the matter. It would, after all, have been easy to fill in a few random bubbles and drop it in the mail. The fact that he didn't reflects the seriousness with which he attempted to perform his task. Even so, if you punt away your responsibilities, then it's time to move on and let someone else wrestle with the issues. These issues, in all their complicated glory, remain even if people refuse to address them.
Major League Baseball has taken serious strides to eliminate IPEDs from the sport, but it will never be able to remove the IPED stain from its history. The best Major League Baseball could hope to do is effectively consign the IPED problem to the dustbin of history. Unfortunately, even that wouldn't grant a reprieve to baseball writers, as the Hall of Fame is the embodiment of history. And, now, it falls to the Hall of Fame voters to wrestle with the consequences of this history, advance the discussion, and work towards some type of resolution. Abdicating voting responsibility is the only course of action that fails to satisfy all of these goals.
This situation reminds me of a clip from the new movie Zero Dark Thirty, containing the following (paraphrased) quote: "Look around the room. There's no other agency in another building or on another floor that's going to get the job done. We're it. There's no one else."
Obviously, MLB Hall of Fame balloting falls well short of the life and death struggle depicted in Zero Dark Thirty, but the issue similarly falls to baseball writers to resolve.
There's no one else.