Chipping away at Cooperstown’s “character clause”

Until recently, I was adamantly opposed to allowing Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and other proven steroid “cheaters” to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

My opposition was based on the way these players shredded the baseball record book.

Before steroids, team and league records were only sporadically approached and were rarely reached or exceeded because, through the eras, players remained about the same size with about the same skills. They improved, but incrementally.

The “great” players among the “good” players were the future Hall of Famers.

Along came steroids and suddenly, after undergoing major physical changes, very good  or even great, players became great home run hitters. In Clemens’ case, a pitcher in his mid-30s, who appeared to have reached the end of a great career, became dominant again in his late 30s and early 40s.

That doesn’t happen without help.




Rules for getting into the Hall include what is often called the “character clause.” 

“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.

The “character clause” kept these superstars out of the Hall of Fame despite statistics that dwarf those of most of the Hall’s members.

What makes the exclusion of the “steroid cheaters” problematic is that the Hall, from the beginning, has admitted some pretty terrible people. For example, look at Cap Anson.

Anson starred for the 19th century Chicago National League team, then called the White Stockings, and had a long-lasting impact on Major League Baseball.

“An 1883 exhibition game in Toledo, Ohio, between the local team and the White Stockings nearly ended before it began when Anson angrily refused to take the field against Toledo’s African-American catcher, Moses Fleetwood Walker. Faced with the loss of gate receipts, Anson relented after a loud protest, but his bellicose attitude made Anson, wittingly or not, the acknowledged leader of the segregation forces already at work in the game. Other players and managers followed Anson’s lead, and similar incidents occurred with regularity for the rest of the decade…

Moses Fleetwood Walker was the first black major leaguer. Anson’s protest made him the last until Jackie Robinson, whom baseball in the past 20 years turned into a cause for celebration with little castigation of its role in Robinson getting an opportunity to play baseball only as a racial guinea pig.

If character mattered, Cap Anson wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer. Yet, he was admitted in 1939. This always made the position against steroid users in the Hall harder to defend.

In addition, recent Hall inductees included players rumored to have used performance-enhancing drugs.

Time heals, I suppose. On-the-field accomplishments certainly prove Bonds, Clemens and McGwire were great players and I’m no longer sure they failed the Hall’s “character” test.

Not if Chipper Jones is about to be welcomed with open arms.

Jones, the former Atlanta Braves third baseman, unquestionably, had a stellar career.

Jones is a slam-dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer. A career .303/.401/.529 hitter, he is one of just seven players in Major League history to finish his career with a .300 average, .400 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage over 10,000 or more plate appearances. The other six (Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth and Frank Thomas) are all in the Hall of Fame. 

Here’s the thing: Could a person of good character have issued this tweet?


As it turned out, there was plenty of outrage, all of it directed at Chipper Jones for repeating the malicious lie about the Sandy Hook Massacre. Jones deleted the tweet and “apologized.”

He needed to research to find out what happened at Sandy Hook? Really?

Only a heartless idiot, a person of no moral character, would have believed and spread the obscene lie that Sandy Hook was a hoax. His apology is worthless and probably related directly to the impending Hall of Fame voting.

The first-ballot acceptance of Chipper Jones into the very exclusive club will prove once and forever that character doesn’t matter.

I have never accepted Barry Bonds as “Major League Baseball’s Home Run King.” That probably will never change, certainly not as long as Hank Aaron is alive.

However, there is no reason to block these great players, who also happen to be cheaters, from The Hall. The “character clause” is meaningless when someone capable of posting such a hateful message to the world is easily accepted into the “Hallowed Hall.”

So, come on in, Barry, Roger and Mark. All is (mostly) forgiven.

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McBarronBlog Bonus:

Founded in 2013 in memory of Ana Grace Márquez-Greene, The Ana Grace Project was born as a response to the tragedy that took her life in Sandy Hook, CT on 12/14/12. The Ana Grace Project is dedicated to promoting love, community and connection for every child and family through three lead initiatives: partner schools, professional development, and music & arts. Learn more

One thought on “Chipping away at Cooperstown’s “character clause”

  1. There are different kinds of character flaws. I would not be so quick to equate a tweet that has no impact on the game, with the decision to bulk up with steroids…or doctor a baseball…or bat. Sammy stays out, for me. McGuire and Bonds, too. I’m sure there are some old time Hall of Famers who hold equally appalling opinions on one topic or another, that you just don’t happen to know about.


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