Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: My Job as Hall of Fame Executioner

Scratchbomb hands over the reins to nationally syndicated sports columnist Skitch Hanson, as we’ve done many times before. You may know Skitch as the author of the highly popular syndicated column “Up The Middle.” You may have read his best-selling book I Wish They All Could Be David Eckstein. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show Mouth-Talkers! You can follow Skitch on Twitter here. Without further ado, here’s Skitch.

bagwell.jpgI always hate the very end of the year. It’s so bleak and depressing. You have to put away the Christmas decorations and box up all the
packages your presents came in. The ground is covered with huge banks of dirty snow. The guy who usually plows your driveway can’t do it anymore, because he ran off to Cancun with your wife.

But one thing brightens my day during this season: Hall of Fame voting. It is truly an honor and a privilege to decide who will be enshrined in the hallowed halls of Coopersville. To know that those immortal plaques that hang upon the wall hang there because of you. It’s an amazing thing to behold. At least it will be when I actually get to visit. I tried to go once, got off at the wrong exit, and accidentally spent three days in York, Pennsylvania. Had a great time, but my editor was not pleased by my 5000-word column on the majesty and grandeur of the Weightlifting Hall of Fame.

There’s some truly deserving candidates on this year’s ballot. I think Roberto Alomar is a shoo-in, and I have no problem voting for him now that he’s had a year of eligibility to think about what he did.

I’m hoping this is the year Jack Morris finally gets in, since he was inarguably the greatest pitcher of the 1980s. Of all of his accomplishments, perhaps his biggest is keeping his greatness confined within one decade, rather than straddling several like Bert Blyleven did, which makes it much easier for me recognize said greatness.

Speaking of Blyleven, I always struggle about whether I should vote for him or not. He did have some fantastic years with the Twins and some other teams (can’t remember which ones, exactly). But according to the BBWAA rules, we can only vote for him or Morris. A bit unfair, perhaps, but rules are rules. If I vote for both, they take away my $10-per-flight per diem, and I can’t be caught off guard if I get on a place without complimentary Nutter Butters.

Morris and Alomar are the only people I feel comfortable voting for. We are now at the point where these Hall of Fame ballots include so-called players whose careers flourished in the infamous Steroid Era, which will forever be known as the most sinister, unspeakably dark time in baseball history. Sure, there were decades when black people couldn’t play the game and players were little more than chattel to the owners. But all those things happened many, many years ago, which automatically makes them not as awful as the era of performance enhancement.

So I can’t vote for anyone I suspect of having done steroids. Who do I suspect? I can’t tell you. Why do I suspect them? I’m not sure. What exactly did they do? The answer to that is murky. Where was I when I began to suspect them? Probably at a Perkins, since that’s where I do most of my serious thinking.

Call me old fashioned, but I think the Hall should only welcome in the purest players. And by “pure,” I mean completely unsullied by accusations of PED use. I realize that’s difficult, because nearly every player who ran on a major league field in the 1990s and 2000s has been accused at one time or another, even if in only the most cursory way.

For instance, I once heard Buster Olney say in the press booth, “Hey, I heard Jim Edmonds did steroids…ha ha, just kidding!” Kidding or not, I have to take every accusation seriously, and that’s why you will never see me vote for Edmonds for the Hall. In fact, if I see him walking down the street, I will cross to the opposite side and spit while I do so.

That’s how seriously I take this. I’m sure Buster would agree, if he were still speaking to me. (We’ve been on the outs since we roomed together during the All Star Game one year. He didn’t appreciate giving up his bed to accommodate my vintage white noise machine.)

Certainly, some players are more guilty than others. I’ll never forgive Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa for putting on a phony home run show back in 1998. Back then, we were so much more innocent. At the time, I was a mere 20-year newspaper veteran! Mark and Sammy’s longball contest made me feel like a kid again.

When I found out it was all a scam, that made me feel like a kid again, too, but more like the time Tommy Flanagan down the street stole my GI Joe doll, wiped himself with it, and shoved it under my nose. Some wrongs you can never erase from your memory. Some smells, too.

And don’t get me started on Rafael Palmeiro. That fraud lied in front of Congress about taking steroids, and he still wants us all to believe that he never did them. I can’t believe he would think we’re all so gullible, just because we in the press didn’t catch on to him for several decades.

Now, I’m not completely doctrinaire in my opinions. You won’t find a bigger Andy Pettitte fan than me, except perhaps for his mom, and Yankee fans, and Astros fans, too, I guess. But after all those people, there’s me.

I’m fully aware that Andy Pettitte initially lied about steroid use, then said he only used them to recover from injury. Normally, I think there’s no excuse that can pardon steroid use, and yet I believe and forgive him. The deciding factors for me were the fact that he finally came clean after nearly a decade of lying, and he also won several World Series, which I believe proves his character is above reproach.

I admit I had a long internal debate about whether I should vote for Jeff Bagwell. I did my usual Internal Debate ritual, where I lock myself in my study, with only a notepad and seven boxes of Mallomars. I make sure my study does not have any reference materials or internet access, because I don’t want stats or detailed facts to interfere with my arguments. Then I make a quick list of pros and cons. In Bagwell’s case, here’s what I came up with.

Amazing offensive production for an extended period of time

Vague, undocumented whispers of PED use
The goatee

Because of this, Bagwell did not get my vote. The case against him as a steroid user is far from airtight. In fact, I can’t remember any serious evidence against him, really, just little rumors here and there. But the fact of the matter is, someone somewhere sort-of and perhaps not entirely seriously accused him. It may be vague and completely unfair, but it’s enough for me. Well, that and the goatee.

I’m aware that Bagwell has denied using steroids many times. But I’m also pretty sure that’s exactly what someone who used steroids would say. I won’t believe him until he says he used them. And then I’ll be forced to never vote for him, because he did steroids.

Are flimsy accusations enough to convict someone of cheating? Certainly not in a court of law. But in the court of Hall of Fame, all players are guilty until proven innocent..Because if you think about it, putting someone into the Hall of Fame is like giving them a death sentence. If you are not absolutely sure they are deserving of such a fate, you can not in good conscience vote for it. And in my book, only the purest of pure deserve 50,000 volts of bronze.