If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know who Jack Marshall is. Lawyer, Red Sox fan, professional ethicist anti-steroid crusader and — and I mean this in the nicest way possible, Jack — outrageous pain in the neck. Pain in the neck because he routinely disturbs perfectly comfortable conventional wisdom in which folks like me tend to swaddle ourselves. Things like “unless he’s killed a guy, a player’s character shouldn’t matter when it comes to the Hall of Fame.”
The problem for my conventional wisdom Snuggie and me, however, is that Jack is right about the character thing. At least about how it does, according to Hall of Fame voting rules, matter. We may disagree about how much it matters and in what way, but the words “integrity, sportsmanship, and character” are right there on the ballot and it’s therefore folly to ignore them.
To that end, Jack has started a project. Beginning with this article and continuing on into the upcoming THT Annual, he is exploring how to measure a player’s character, its interplay with baseball greatness, and its relevance to admission to the Hall of Fame. It’s a neat idea, and even neater is that Jack — who has been accused of preaching in ShysterBall comment threads from time to time — is asking for everyone’s input. I think it’s exactly the right way to go about it, and I think it’s a worthy and fertile subject for exploration and discussion.
As you might expect, I disagree with some of Jack’s arguments and assumptions. For example, Jack attempts to construct a temporal hierarchy regarding a player’s indiscretions which (very roughly) holds that stuff a player does during his career and especially during the season is worse for his character case than things that come in the offseason, before he’s a pro, or after he retires. I understand how that works practically speaking, but doesn’t such a hierarchy actually do less to measure a guy’s actual character than it does to measure the amount of bad publicity an active player gets as opposed to a retired one? I don’t think Jack is truly interested in analyzing bad press as opposed to bad ethics, so it may be wise to be careful in distinguishing between what indiscretions count and for how much with respect to a player’s legacy.
But that’s just a nit at the moment. I want to think about all of this more, and I think you should too. Feel free to comment here if you’d like, but Jack’s article has comments enabled, so that will be the best place to focus discussion. In the meantime, I plan to think more, and I definitely plan to read Jack’s next stab at this in the THT Annual.