Measuring the character of baseball greats

In the middle of a key game, a bat flying out of a hitter’s hands seriously injures a child in the crowd. The home team’s star slugger leaps into the stands, scoops up the child, and carries him into the dugout for immediate medical attention. Most agree the player’s quick actions saved the child’s life. The slugger is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate upon his retirement. How much, if at all, should his dramatic rescue of the stricken child enhance his prospects for election?

Years after his retirement, one of baseball’s greatest relief pitchers falls on hard times and bad health. Reeling from clinical depression over the death of his son, and abusing medication, he robs a jewelry store. Should this sad incident diminish his reputation as a player?

One of baseball’s greatest pitchers, in a sudden fit of fear and anger, attacks an opposing player with a baseball bat during a game. Should this incident disqualify him for admission to the Hall of Fame?

A player recognized for his work ethics, willingness to play hurt and exemplary skills on the field amasses accomplishments that qualify him for serious Hall of Fame consideration. He is also widely regarded as a racist, and once lied to his team, the press and the public about the origins of a serious injury. To what extent, if any, should the latter factors influence the judgment of Hall of Fame voters?

How should we measure greatness in a baseball player? To follow the arguments within the increasingly statistic-obsessed baseball pundit world, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame determines a player’s historical greatness in a straightforward manner, defining it as apparent playing talent demonstrated over time, confirmed by the records and statistics of the game.

The Hall doesn’t exactly see it that way, however. It is clear from its voting criteria that great ballplayers, in Hall of Fame terms, are those arguably worthy of holding the status of hero, men who are credits not just to their teams, but also to the game, and perhaps even their country, their race, and their species.

“Voting shall be based upon the player’s record,” the Hall declares, and also “playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” So few words, so much vagueness, ambiguity and grist for debate! Presumably, the player’s record means accumulated career accomplishments, and “playing ability” means degree of superiority in talent and skill to other players. But what are the qualities of “integrity, sportsmanship and character” as they apply to a major league player?

There are some of you whose answer to this question is, “Who cares?” Some analysts regard all references to character as subjective and irrelevant, and cite the changing standards of our culture to bolster their argument that such things have nothing to do with baseball greatness. My answer is that these analysts should start their own Hall of Fame. This Hall of Fame, the one in Cooperstown, NY, believes that there is more to being a great ballplayer than an outstanding VORP, and I agree with the theory, if not always with how it has worked in practice. But that means there are key qualities of the Hall of Fame’s definition that can’t be quantified with a calculator.

They still have to be defined and measured somehow, and then weighed. Amazingly, despite the many protracted debates over the integrity, sportsmanship and character of individual players, there is little consensus about what is relevant and what isn’t, and the assumption appears to be that trying to move the argument beyond seat-of-the-pants opinion is futile.

Maybe it isn’t, though. Integrity, sportsmanship and character are concepts that have meaning, and determining their meaning within the world of Major League Baseball should be possible, if not especially easy. I’d like to start that process here, invite the thoughts of Hardball Times readers, and then move on to the task of weighting the factors and applying them various types of conduct, and ultimately to specific players and problems.

When Manny Ramirez was suspended for testing positive for banned substances earlier this season, several commentators, including Boston Globe sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy, former teammate Johnny Damon and Manny himself, employed what I regard as the worst of all rationalizations for misconduct, the “It’s not the worst thing in the world” argument, which seeks to minimize every wrongful act by comparing it to a worse one. Their version was the “it’s not like he killed someone” defense.

It caused me to wonder about the hierarchy of perceived bad conduct in baseball. Using banned substances is far, far less of an offense than murder in the real world, of course, but it would seem that baseball necessarily regards the two acts as less disparate in negative value. Could it even be possible that in the world of baseball, steroid use, or other misconduct, is worse than murder?

Determining this must begin with identifying the factors that determine how particular conduct relates to a player’s integrity, sportsmanship and character. They begin with the basics—when, and what.

When: Did the conduct occur before, during, or after the player’s career? If during his career, did it also occur during the baseball season? What were the cultural norms in the game and in society when the conduct occurred?

Pre-career: In most cases, what a player did before he became a major leaguer is not held against him, though good conduct in this period may still raise opinions of his character somewhat. It is as if the player’s life begins when he puts on a big league uniform. Indeed, a pre-baseball life of serious misconduct can burnish a player’s reputation for character, because it casts baseball as the symbol of his redemption.

Former Detroit outfielder Ron LeFlore, for example, never reached the career accomplishments that would qualify him for the Hall of Fame, but it is inconceivable that his pre-baseball conviction for armed robbery would have been used to disqualify him. As for especially virtuous pre-career conduct, it may become part of the case for integrity and character, subject to being superseded by subsequent events.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Post-career: After a player’s career is over, his notable conduct, good or bad, will be linked to his baseball career, and to the institution of baseball. Perceived bad conduct can embarrass the player’s team and the sport. Thus the embarrassing revelations about Steve Garvey’s sexual indiscretions affect how posterity will regard his integrity and character. Orlando Cepeda’s post-career arrest, conviction and imprisonment for drug possession impeded his candidacy for the Hall of Fame for many years.

Players who remain in the game as coaches or managers, serve as teachers and role models for young players, perform special service to the game or its players (like Don Newcombe or Mark Belanger), or those, like U.S. Senator Jim Bunning, who have significant achievements in a different field, add to their reputations for character because they are “credits to the sport.”

During Career: Clearly, conduct that occurs during a player’s career is the most relevant to assessing his character as it relates to baseball, and will have the most impact on his reputation. Bad conduct may have direct negative consequences on the team’s performance and is likely to create more serious damage to public perception of the sport and its personnel than any pre- or post-career conduct.

The revelation of Wade Boggs’ extramarital affair with Margo Adams in 1989 helped to throw the 1988 Division-winning Red Sox season into disarray, and is still more remembered than Garvey’s indiscretions. A player’s exemplary conduct will also have more impact and perceived significance when it occurs during his career, when the public attention will be most intense.

There is also significant difference in perceived relevance to a player’s character according to the timing of the conduct within a player’s career. Off-season conduct will usually have less impact on assessments of a player’s character than conduct during the season, unless the conduct is extreme, while conduct actually occurring during a game, such as Rick Monday’s famous outfield rescue of the American flag from a would-be flag-burner, or Ty Cobb’s infamous attack on a legless heckler in the stands, may become a prominent part of the player’s public image for all time.

The “When” impact hierarchy, then, is During Career (during a game) first, During Career (during the season) next, and During Career (off-season) third. Post-Career conduct, good and bad, is well behind all of these, and Pre-Career conduct far behind both of them, with virtuous Pre-Career conduct likely to have more relevance to assessments of a player’s character than Pre-Career misconduct.

There is one additional aspect of timing that can be critical to an overall assessment of a player’s conduct and how it reflects on his character, and that is cultural context. It is only fair to judge Babe Ruth’s hedonistic lifestyle in the context of America in the 1920s and 1930s. Confirmed steroid-users who broke the rules after the Mitchell Report should be regarded even more severely than those who used PEDs when they were epidemic in baseball and ignored by the game’s leadership.

Applying cultural context is so subjective and difficult that one is tempted to forego the effort. To do so would be unjust, however. Time gives all of us, including baseball players, opportunities to learn from history and experience. It is wrong to be excessively harsh in our judgment of those who didn’t know they were wrong, when it may have taken us decades to learn what was right.

What: What was the conduct? Was it good or bad in absolute terms, in the context of baseball only, or some combination of the two?

In society, the worst crimes involve murder, because murder threatens to destroy society by throwing civilization into chaos and violence. In baseball, the worst conduct is conduct that threatens the game, rather than society. What threatens the game? As with all competitions, the greatest threat to baseball is a public perception that the game is a fraud—rigged, deceptive, and unworthy of trust and belief. Since 1919, as even the most casual baseball fan knows, gambling on baseball games has been pronounced an unforgivable sin, following close behind intentionally hurting one’s own team on the field and accepting bribes to do so.

Another type of conduct that threatens baseball itself is player violence directed at umpires, because such behavior undermines the authority of official arbiters that the game cannot function without. (In Philip Roth’s wonderful The Great American Novel, a star pitcher receives a lifetime ban for intentionally injuring an umpire with a well-placed fastball. I think that’s right.) These and other on-field transgressions reflect on a player’s sportsmanship as well as his character and integrity. Somewhere in the same group are steroid and other PED use, conduct that may involve a crime (as with bribery and assault) and involving on-field activity (a player’s steroid use might be harmless to the game if he never played), that affects the integrity of the game.

But what about murder? We can conclude that a player who intentionally killed a player, fan, teammate or umpire during a game would attain instant and lifetime infamy, placing that act at least on par with the game-threatening conduct mentioned above. Murder committed by a player or former player in his non-baseball activities, however, might be considered less serious (though very serious still), implicating his character but not his sportsmanship or integrity.

Assessing the impact of good conduct is also tricky, because being an admirable person does not make an individual a more talented baseball player. One principle I would advocate embracing right now is “The Anti-Dibble Rule.” This is named in honor of former gonzo-pitcher turned gonzo-radio pundit Rob Dibble, who last year went into an extended rant on his XM radio show when Ron Santo failed to be voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee. “I mean, it’s a joke!,” Dibble raged. “With everything this guy has put up with, with all his courage, losing his legs and everything, plus his record, and they don’t think he’s qualified?”

The Anti-Dibble Rule holds that while admirable conduct off the baseball field may be used as a measure of a player’s character and integrity, it can only enhance the measure of a player’s greatness to the extent that it counter-balances misconduct or negative conduct. It cannot push a borderline great player into a higher category. Thus the impressive charity work of Ted Williams for the Jimmy Fund and his Korean War heroism can only help offset incidents showing poor character and bad sportsmanship in his career, such as spitting at the stands and refusing to tip his cap.

The “what” of good and bad conduct reflecting on a player’s character must also, in individual cases, be tempered by the “how” and “why.” Four-time All-Star reliever Jeff Reardon’s robbery attempt seemed to be completely out of character, prompted by grief and emotional illness. That conduct should probably have no bearing on our assessment of his character at all.

Apparently Juan Marichal’s attack on catcher John Roseboro has been accepted as the result of a form of temporary insanity, because the incident did not significantly impede his acceptance into the Hall of Fame. If he had killed Roseboro, presumably it would have hurt his candidacy more, although in character terms, there is little difference between trying to kill someone and succeeding. (The legal penalties for attempted murder are virtually the same as for murder itself.)

Now I’ll propose some general principles for measuring a baseball player’s character in the assessment of his greatness, point out some difficulties, and suggest the next steps, hopefully with the enlightenment and participation of Hardball Times readers.

The principles

{exp:list_maker}In the case of the very greatest players, only misconduct that directly harmed the game of baseball or threatened to do so should disqualify the player for the Hall. (Complex cases: Ty Cobb, Cap Anson, Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens)
Conduct showing bad sportsmanship should be considered more damaging to the measurement of a player’s “greatness” than conduct implicating integrity or character generally. (Complex cases: Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Ty Cobb, Manny Ramirez)
Personality should not be included in the assessment of character, except in extreme cases where it arguably affects team performance positively or negatively. (Complex cases: Rogers Hornsby, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez)
Pre-career conduct is irrelevant, unless it serves to explain, confirm, or mitigate subsequent conduct.
Good conduct, even unusual conduct that occurs during a game, should never elevate a player whose playing career is not Hall of Fame-worthy to Hall status. It can appropriately be used to counter-balance negative conduct that might otherwise show inadequate integrity, sportsmanship and character. (Complex cases: Jim Rice, Jeff Kent, Buck O’Neill)
Admissions, apologies and expressed regret for misconduct do not, by themselves, erase the significance of misconduct for purposes of assessing character, but may be used, as with other good conduct, as counter-balancing factors.
The Dibble Principle (See above.) {/exp:list_maker}

The next step in this inquiry is to assign weights to the various varieties of conduct that are relevant to measurements of player greatness. Here is a incomplete list, in rough order of most important to least important.

Bad Conduct (Indicating lack of integrity, bad sportsmanship, or bad character)

1. Throwing a game
2. Murder on the field
3. Attempted murder on the field
4. Accepting a bribe
5. Gambling on baseball
6. Extensive use of performance-enhancing drugs
7. Attacks on fans or umpires.
8. On-field impairment affecting performance
9. Major crimes during the season
10. Major crimes during the player’s career
11. Dishonest, uncivilized or other embarrassing personal conduct during a player’s career
12. On the field cheating, unrelated to drugs.
13. Unprofessional conduct on the field
14. Post-career serious crimes
15. Post career conduct involving dishonest, anti-social or offensive acts
16. General reputation for bad character
17. The expression of extreme or offensive views (racist, homophobic, misogynistic, anti-American, etc.)
18. Betrayal of the confidences of teammates in printed material and interviews

Good Conduct (Indicating integrity, sportsmanship or good character)

1. Team leadership
2. Unusual hustle, “playing the game right.”
3. Special acts of courage, heroism or integrity during a game
4. Charity and community service
5. Special acts of courage, heroism or integrity during a season
6. Special acts of courage, heroism or integrity during the off-season
7. Post-career charity and community service
8. Distinguished career in baseball post plying career
9. Outstanding military service
10. Distinguished career achievements after playing career
11. Military service generally
12. Special individual acts of heroism, generosity, charity or other exemplary conduct, post career.

This is just a beginning. With your help, it may be possible clarify and quantify the inherently foggy concept of character and its relevance to baseball “greatness,” and admission to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

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jared Williams
14 years ago

What about Jackie Robinson? I do not believe his on field performance to be hall worthy. But he is in there. If Ty Cobb had those numbers most people would not have even have consider him into the hall.

14 years ago

Jackie was the best player in the NL four or five years running (well, him or Stan Musial).  He is certainly deserving of the Hall even just based on on-field work.  His pioneering on the field makes him an inner-circle HOFer.

Jack Marshall
14 years ago

Jared: As I tried to suggest, this is the first part of a much more thorough inquiry. Jackie Robinson is a special case (every rule has special cases), a fascinating one, and one which will absolutely be explored in the article for the 2010 Hardball Times Annual. And I do apologize for not discussing Robinson here. His non-statistical character-related conduct is almost inextricable from his game achievements, and I will attempt to sort all that out.

I will say, without doing a careful analysis of his stats, that he would have been a viable Hall candidate even if he had been Irish, and, as Shawn says, a slam-dunk with the other factors.

14 years ago

I Know “Charlie Hustle” (Pete Rose)was not allowed even near the Baseball Hall of Fame,let alone,Be in it.And yes,I’ve seen all of these Pros hyped up on illegal substances,and I’ve seen many get into the Hall of Fame.If you look at the future one’s going into the Hall,you will see the number of people just waiting to get that call.It happen’s every year.Take a look back in time,and you will see who fessed up about taking Steriods. But,they still get to play.Barry Bonds(Retired,but still looking),Pedro Martinez,Carlos Beltran,Alex Rodriguez,Matt Holliday,Mark McGwire,The list goes on and on……….Still,their’s no stopping it.It all start’s when you put on that MLB uniform.Remember the book Jose Canseco came out with a book called “Juiced”? I Don’t have that book,and I don’t want it.He keep’s coming out with book’s,now,he’s on T.V. Like I really care.Guess it goe’s back to those day’s when him and Mark McGwire were the “Bash Brothers.” That was a long time ago. Give it up,Jose.You’ve been with a number of team’s in the past,but,that was then,this is now.He keep’s going through Girlfriend’s and then,hopefully,1 day,he will start thinking about Marriage.I know I am,and I’m only 29.But,I don’t think he will ever get married.If he doe’s,it will be a short one.Cause,he will either Divorce her,or she will break up with him after the Marriage.

14 years ago

William… .what are you talking about?  That post is a rambling mess.  When did Pedro, Beltran, and Holliday admit to using steroids?  And then you talk about Canseco should get married?  I’m not sure what you are getting at here.

14 years ago

I think William’s post leaves a lot to the imagination. Actually it doesn’t take much imagination to guess at what is going on there…

Jack Marshall
14 years ago

Knuck: I may end up agreeing with you about murder. Still, in the context of a game, nothing violates the game’s principles more completely than throwing it (even the murderer may still be trying to win!) Murder is a greater offense in society; a murdering player will be more harshly punished outside the game. Both transgressions, I think (at this point) would put a player on baseball’s black list.

PED’s: the fact that lots of players did something doesn’t necessarily mitigate the offense. It depends on whether the culture of the game really had accepted the conduct (as many claim)or whether we are talking about a substantial rogue sub-culture. The fact that the conduct spread may even make the conduct of the more prominent PED users worse.

But you may be right here as well. Thanks for the input. Keep thinking…

14 years ago

Zev Chafets has an interesting take on this in his book Cooperstown Confidential: Heroes, Rogues, and the Inside Story of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Click on the url link for the amazon link to this book.

14 years ago

I definitely see your point about separating pure transgressions of the game from those with greater societal consequences. However, murder, attempted murder, and maliciously attacking fans or umpires do impact the standing of baseball in our society.  If at all common, they would lead to the marginalization of baseball as a major sporting and commercial enterprise.

By your logic about pursuing victory, you should rate on-field impairment leading to poor performance as worse than PEDs.  The roided-up players are playing to win.  Taking the field while intentionally impaired is more akin to throwing the game.

14 years ago

Very interesting piece, Jack.

I’m not sure how much I can add, though. I will follow the discussion with interest.

Jack Marshall
14 years ago

Knuck—-that’s a great point, and worth exploring. Of course, mere impairment itself doesn’t necessarily mean that the player won’t perform well. There are lots of stories about players playing well despite being intoxicated, not to mention with injuries, illness, or other impairments. In law, it isn’t being drunk that constitutes an ethical violation for a lawyer; it’s not doing your job because you are drunk.

The questions may boil down to: 1) is cheating to succeed better than cheating to fail 2) Is negligently incapacitating oneself as bad sportsmanship as unfairly enhancing oneself?

I don’t think the answers are clearcut at all.

Jack Marshall
14 years ago

Adam: No, I agree that any strict numerical quantification of conduct would lack the statistical integrity to make the kind of adjustment you describe. But I do think that various kinds of conduct, good and bad, relating to character can be weighted so they can be compared to each other, and assist conclusions regarding the weight they should be given in relation to a careers of various degrees of greatness. Other professions have to do this: there’s a character component for admission to the bar, for example. Matters relating to integrity and honesty are weighted more than others, because of what lawyers do. A different standard, broader but not as unforgiving, is applied in deciding when a lawyer should lose his or her license. Some transgressions are absolute. Some will get a shady lawyer kicked out, but an otherwise impeccable lawyer a mere suspension or warning. Some, like adultery, are likely to be treated as not relevant to professional character. There are comparative standards, though, and they don’t require numbers.

At very least, I think we can reduce the frequency of “Yeah, Barry Bonds may have used steroids, but Ty Cobb was a racist” arguments.

Yes, the guy Cobb beat up was actually missing BOTH hands. I’ll fix that. I should have checked—-my mind apparently retrieved Cobb’s famously unapologetic comment “I don’t care if he’s got no feet!”

But can we agree that beating up a handless fan in the stands is, for the purpose of the inquiry, roughly equivalent to beating up one with no legs?

Jack Marshall
14 years ago

RcBuss: Thanks for reminding me of the book. I don’t agree with Chafets’ views on baseball ethics—-for example,I think attributing Bud Selig’s unenthusiastic response to Bonds breaking the home run record to racial insensitivity is bonkers, frankly—-but his book is germane to this topic for sure, and I need to dig it out.

14 years ago

It pains me to make any argument kind to PED users, because I think they have done great damage to the game. 

From a purely competitive in-game standpoint, the extent that you demonize PED use must be correlated with their prevalence. If 99% of the players were users, the behavior would be “part of the game”.  One could even make a twisted assertion that the non-using 1% were not giving their teams the best chance to win the game.

PEDs are unsportsmanlike because their use forces others to endanger their health and break the law to hope to compete on the same level. PEDs marginalize baseball’s place in society due to bad publicity, legal troubles, and the dangerous example set for our nation’s youth. Their use affects the purity of the competition itself only marginally in that not everyone has access to the most effective drugs and test-evasion technology. 

The larger point is that separating detrimental behavior into on-field and off-field components is largely unneeded.  There are a handful of baseball “death penalty” offenses on your list, many of which are only hypothetical.  They include both conduct that destroys the integrity of the competition and that society deems beyond the pale in general.

PEDs might be on the borderline of this list right now, but I believe they will become less and less important as we come to realize just how many professional athletes across all sports use them.

After those offenses, there are a series of things that indicate a player is either a good or bad person. Weighing these is in the eye of the beholder.  I look down upon a player making bigoted public statements much more harshly than having him take the field so hung-over that he plays poorly, yet these are switched on your list.  Reasonable minds can disagree – the hung-over player damages the purity of the competition.  The racist embarrasses himself, his organization, and the sport to the ticket-buying public. Neither is good for the game. 

In general, the better a player performs, the more of these sorts of offenses they can get away with, both on and off the field. I agree that good behavior should not be able to push someone well beyond their on-field accomplishments.

Finally, the Ted Williams example points to another important point – we are seeing these acts of citizenship through the prism of the media.  Our knowledge of these good and bad acts are heavily impacted by the size of the player’s media market and their willingness to provide endless interviews and quotes to reporters looking for a story.

Jack Marshall
14 years ago

Knuck: Well said. Thanks. (Make sure you send me your real name, so I can give you an acknowledgement in the final article.)

I strongly disagree with your proposed equation, that the more prevalent misconduct is, the closer it comes to being acceptable. “Everybody does it” is the hoariest and least persuasive of all rationalizations. “Everybody” was supporting genocide in Nazi Germany—-that didn’t make it right. Grossly overpaying corporate executives is standards practice, but it is wrong, and my sense is that most of those getting the salaries, bonuses and stock options know it’s wrong. If everybody is cheating, cheating is still wrong, unless the extent of it represents a genuine industry consensus that it isn’t cheating. Your 99% figure (which, I am confident, is high by quite a bit), MIGHT indicate cultural acceptance, except for the fact that 1) PED use was also largely illegal, and 2) it was kept secret from the fans and media, adding elements of fraud and misrepresentation.

14 years ago

Thanks Jack – will contact you directly on that.

I completely agree that even 100% of MLB players using PEDs would not make it right.  There would be an improvement in the level of between-the-lines-competition (at least in the short term), but the cost to the game and the health of young players everywhere would be catastrophic.

It is a very interesting question though, because I would wager that PED usage among the HOF-worthy players in the last 15 years is substantial (perhaps >50%?).  I think our outrage will fade over the benefit of time, much like the widespread use of amphetamines is largely ignored.

14 years ago

Who is being described in your first and last examples?

Ed D.
14 years ago

Jack, here are a few additions to your lists, though perhaps these are “how DO we measure …” rather than “how SHOULD we measure …”.


1. general standoffishness/antagonism toward media (and therefore, indirectly, toward fans).
2. outspoken or demonstrated selfishness or self-promotion (I’d somehow lump “whining” in with this); this can be real or perceived—example of perceived being a player who leaves a small market club offering a reasonable contract for a bigger market club offering a few $MM more.
3. occasional sluggish or sloppy (not to be confused with impaired) play—dogging it on basepaths, unwilling to sacrifice body on defense, etc.; and for today’s players, having those moments captured permanently in HD video.

4. Daily accessibility to fans/media—signing autographs for kids, giving interviews, etc.
5. This last one may be insensitive, but it could be argued that dying or maiming oneself in an act of charity or tough on-field play should be separate from your #s 3-5-6-12 and placed even higher on the list (think Clemente).

Perhaps you have already captured all of these as part of other buckets, but maybe they deserve separate lines.  Your call, obviously!

Jack Marshall
14 years ago

Ed—exactly what I’m looking for. Thoughts: #1 under “Bad” is the stuff I was alluding to when I suggested that personality shouldn’t be equated with character. #2…greed, disloyalty: these are character issues. I need to include them. #3 Absolutely. I should have had this in there with precision. I included it under “unprofessional conduct,” but am persuaded that it needs its own category.

“Good”: Your #1 got lumped under “community service.” I need to break it out. #2 is fascinating: I took Clemente as a combo of my #3 and 4, but maybe I need another category.

[ED—-and anyone else who makes a substantive contribution here—-please send me your real name at
, so I can acknowledge you in the article.]

14 years ago

Murder or attempted murder on the field are far worse than throwing a game.  Murder implies premeditated intent to kill well beyond a beanball war or out of control bench clearing brawl I can recall.

Attacks on fans or umpires should be higher.  Were these incidents to occur more frequently, they would be more detrimental to the game than gambling.

Extensive use of PEDs will prove to be too high on your list, simply because of the large number of players guilty of this offense.  Are steroids and HGH worse than amphetamines in this context?  Are any of these offenses worse than attacking fans or committing major crimes during the season or career?

Adam W
14 years ago

“The next step in this inquiry is to assign weights to the various varieties of conduct that are relevant to measurements of player greatness.”

Are you actually proposing that Hall voters institute a hedonistic calculus to weight against on-field performance?

“Dick Allen has a career OPS+ of 156, but his dolor-adjusted OPS+ is only 113. Therefore, he is not a worthy candidate for induction into the Hall of Fame.”

Also, the man Ty Cobb attacked wasn’t legless – he was missing a hand.

Bruce Markusen
14 years ago

Jack, one suggestion. I wouldn’t refer to it as the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Rather, it’s the National Baseball Hall of Fame. MLB donates a small amount of money to the Hall of Fame each year, but is not the official governing body of the Hall.

David P. Stokes
14 years ago

I have some problems with the ideas that Ed D. listed as BAD #1 and GOOD #4.  For BAD #1, I don’t think a player should be penalized for being a bit standoffish—personally, I’m pretty reserved around people I don’t know well, so I don’t see it as a bad thing, and also I don’t have a whole lot of respect for a considerable part of the modern media, so I have some sympathy for players who don’t get along well with the media.  Rudemess or violence against members of the media I’d call a negative, but not standoffishness. 

As for GOOD #4, while I understand the sentiment, Roberto Clemente would be just as admirable if his plane had arrived safetly.

Jack Marshall
14 years ago

Ed: Ah! The inherent ambiguity of the word “do”! The objective is to come up with one—-since there currently isn’t EVEN one—-fair,coherent way of measuring the character, integrity,and sportsmanship qualities that the Hall of Fame directs are part of baseball greatness. How it is currently done is “whatever the voters feel like.” And they still will do that, but hopefully we can give some tools to those who don’t want to fly by the seat of their pants. I don’t know that I will ever get to “should,” because, especially in something as subjective as this, even I wouldn’t presume to say whatever comes out “should” be used, except in the sense that using some logical measures for analysis is better than using none at all.

I took your list as it was intended: factors that are or have been used in past character arguments.

Jack Marshall
14 years ago

DK: #1 and #4 were inspired by: #1,Jim Rice; #4, Jeff Kent.

Steve C
14 years ago

Should also look for Shyster’s favorite reason for a late scratch for a game, flu like symptoms / dehydration (read too hungover to play baseball).

Jack Marshall
14 years ago

Re: Ted’s conduct. Ted was provoked, no question, by vicious Boston reporting. He was also booed at Fenway, which he took as a personal affront. None of that would justify spitting at the stands or his snubbing the fans, and other acting-out episodes when he was young. Williams grew up, and showed great character in many ways. But had he not been a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, I think his rudeness and on-field misconduct would have delayed his entrance to the Hall. As it was, he didn’t get voted in unanimously, which is pretty incredible when you think about it. (Even Bill James,the first time he did an All-Time ranking, used Williams’ personality as justification for ranking Musial ahead of him. James thought better of it in hs later edition.)

Jack Marshall
14 years ago

Steve: But that’s in the rumor/suspicion category, without more. Ballplayers do get the flu. I have a hard time believing that in this day and age, when some players are collecting tens of thousands of dollars per game, that any GM or manager would tolerate many hangovers.

Jack Marshall
14 years ago

David: I’m inclined to agree with you on both counts. They are both good examples, however, of the kinds of conduct that have been used to argue for or against players for the Hall in the recent past, and they need to be covered in the discussion, I think.

Ed D.
14 years ago

David, I have the same problems with ALL of my own comments above, but that’s why I prefaced them with the “DO” vs. “SHOULD” comparison.  I personally stood up and cheered loudly from behind the 3rd base dugout when media antagonist extraordinaire Barry Bonds hit #752 and #753 at Wrigley a few years ago, neighborly booing be damned, just because it felt good/right/natural (to me) to cheer the accomplishment of an all-time great so close to a milestone not knowing if or when I’d ever get that chance again.

Jack, this is probably a good thing for you to clarify in your essay, though—are you exploring the question “how DO we measure greatness?” or “how SHOULD we measure greatness?”  If you are not clear, then it could cause some unnecessary confusion or dissatisfaction with the final piece.

Bob Stone
14 years ago

You’re too hard on teddy ballgame. I lived in Boston in those days. He was the target of press savagery like I’ve never seen before or since. I think the name of the worst perpetrator was Dave Egan of the Boston Record. While Ted was being a good citizen (and having his career cut in half by his valiant military service)the press was on him every day, most often for taking bases on balls. What would Bill James have said about that!

14 years ago

When I visited the Hall of Fame and stood in the room with all busts of the players, I was struck by how many kids had wide open eyes and worship for the players. Right then I understood that the Hall was not just admitting players with good statistics, but players that set examples for our children to emulate.

I know that using sports figures as heros is not a good thing, but there is nothing wrong with highlighting sports figures that set a good example rather than a bad one.

So for me, personal interety and character will not get some one into the HOF w/o the numbers BUT it should keep a person out even if he has the numbers.

james kronnagel
14 years ago

a fine article but golly counter balancing the jimmy fund work and forty nine combat missions with spitting at the stands and not tipping his cap?i think two tours of duty earned a better judgement in regards to ted williams.but hey maybe it’s just me.

Jack Marshall
14 years ago

James: Serious baseball and sportsmanship misconduct, vs. conduct having nothing to do with baseball at all, however superb. I get where you’re coming from: my Dad, a WWII hero, worshipped Ted, and TW’s one of my favorite figures, sports or otherwise. If this was a US History Hall of Fame, I’d agree…there is no balance. But it’s baseball, and I think that has to change the weights a great deal.

james kronnagej
8 years ago
Reply to  Jack Marshall

the plaques right there in right field.impressive statistics during the prime of his career:two wars.forty nine missions.where i come from thats trumps.but hey i’m just a guy who saw him play.i’d be willing to listen to the argument that spitting and throwing the bat are greater sins as an example his character than risking his life for his country but not that long.trump is two wars,forty nine missiions,and being shot down.make your case off trump not pansey stuff

14 years ago

One problematic difference is that baseball performance is observable and recorded but “character”, especially off-the-field, is not there for all to evaluate.

For example: Jim Rice’s gruffness? Never saw it myself and only heard about it through the filter of sports writers with their own axes to grind. I did meet Barry Bonds once and found him to be aloof and chauvinistic, but not the enormous jerk Jeff Kent and the press made him out to be. However, it’s also pretty well known he cheats on his wife (who lives in Beverly Hills while Barry’s in SF). But, it’s not “out there” like the Margo Adams story. And I’d be dollar-to-donuts that – shudder – other players cheat on their wives. So, it seems Wade Boggs’ sin isn’t his character, but that he got caught.

With baseball, a HR is a HR. In real life, a crime may be committed but not witnessed, not charged, didn’t result in a conviction and so on.
That’s the great thing about sports – everything’s right there in front of you.
Life isn’t like that, so it seems wrong-headed to measure it the same way.

David P. Stokes
14 years ago

I think that Marc has a good point, and we need to keep in mind that we don’t know as much about a player’s character as we know about his performance on the field, but on the other hand, the fact that we don’t know everything isn’t an excuse to ignore what we do know.