If your argument is the “character clause,” then actually abide by it.
During Roger Clemens’ 2008 defamation suit against infamous personal trainer Brian McNamee, the defense brought up as evidence an affair that Clemens had maintained for a decade, with the now-deceased country music singer Mindy McCready starting when she was 15 years-old.
McCready backpedaled in a report to the Associated Press, that she was actually 16 and that any intercourse began “several years after” their first encounter. It’s unclear what any of that really means and what really happened, but that doesn’t particularly matter, mostly because the act of “grooming” is something anyone aware of sexual misconduct should notice.
Just recently the phenomenon of the Surviving R. Kelly rightfully opened peoples’ eyes to the act of grooming, albeit in the most extreme possible form; still, the poison fruit still comes from the same tree. In a similar spectrum to Clemens is that of Drake, whose friendship with Millie Bobby Brown, an actual 14 year-old at the time, discussing “boys,” the video that emerged of him kissing an (announced) underage girl at a show, in addition to his theorized relationship with 18 year-old Bella Harris, also evidence the straight line from teenage “friendship” to something sexual.
The reason why voters don’t care about Clemens is one-part pre-#MeToo, but the other is the demographic. Lindsey Adler of The Athletic made the astute point that only 2-3% of the Hall of Fame voting body are women, and that’s in 2019. Removing actual harm that’s actually done to people is easy when you’re a body of people unaffected by it; that is, PEDs being the exception for them because it infringed on their holy right to get the product they wanted. It makes sense then that Adler describes domestic violence the “actual third rail of candidacy,” and not performance-enhancing drugs.
You can’t exclude Barry Bonds from this, either. In past years Bonds was a symbol for the sabermetric community, for an important reason. He was the “Well, actually, steroids are great because of him!” symbol. Fun fact accounts were rife, and people liked to do fun exercises putting his park factors at Coors Field or whatever. Yet that doesn’t really matter and we know it. The perceived “war” between stats and non-stats is over; the electorate has been purged of the grumps and new writers are pouring in, and the public ballots have held voters to account.
So what people should be concerned with is the type of person we elect to the highest pedestal in the game. Bonds’ wife, infamously, testified during their divorce hearing that he was “…a big man who loved me one minute and the next minute was beating me up.” Andruw Jones, a newer champion of the sabermetric folks, was arrested in 2012 after allegedly “put[ting] his hands around her neck, saying, ‘I want to kill you, I want to [expletive] kill you.’”. Curt Schilling infamously (in addition to his many awful statements that I couldn’t sum up in three posts) responded to a meme about hanging journalists with “so much awesome here.”
If the original invocation of the “character clause” was essentially the cheater escape hatch, I hereby nominate the character clause as the asshole escape hatch. There’s no reason to elect bad people to positions of stature and honor, no less people who get a speech to tell their heroic story as well as a plaque that will no doubt exclude anything bad about them.
You could say that “bad people are in anyway,” but I can easily say “well then isn’t that enough?” After visiting Cooperstown a few months back for the first time in decades I found nothing worse than seeing a Negro Leagues exhibit next to that of a plaque honoring Cap Anson; we have plenty of blatant contradictions right in front of us in the Hall, and I don’t think we need anymore.
The instinct to get in the sabermetrically-correct choices into the Hall makes sense; we want to feel like our opinions are vindicated and that people we loved watching were actually as good as we thought they were. But sports aren’t actually our identity and peoples’ safety and livelihood matter infinitely more, and just because these people turn out to be unsavory characters doesn’t erase the enjoyment you had, nor does it take away anything from the Hall; Pete Rose still gets an exhibit despite never getting a plaque.
If there’s anything to be learned over the past few years, it’s that there will always be better people (sports, movies, music, etc.) to actually admire; as much as it appears cynical to toss out the bad eggs, it’s just because there are normal, dignified baseball players who deserve our admiration, and even more so deserve our praise when they get the call. The anti-anti-PEDs and pro-statistics candidates will still be there down the road, that’s for sure.