Quantifying integrity, sportsmanship and character. Yep, it’s Jack Marshall time!

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.

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  1. Wooden U. Lykteneau said...

    Um, Craig – I believe it’s spelled n-a-r-c-i-s-s-i-s-t. But if you’re not sure—or even if you are—Jack will tell you.

  2. ElBonte said...

    My favorite part is the, admittedly rough, ordering of the possible transgressions:

    6. Extensive use of performance-enhancing drugs
    7. Attacks on fans or umpires.

    So doing something that may or may not have been against the rules and was probably legal to help yourself be better is arguably worse than attacking a fan or umpire.

  3. Jack Marshall said...

    Craig—-thanks for helping to publicize the inquiry. Your readership has exactly the range of viewpoints that are essential if this is going to be of any value at all.

    My temporal hierarchy is very much open to reinterpretation, so I appreciate your reservations. My assumption in the article(s) is that character as a human being generally and character as a “baseball player/public figure/ potential cultural hero/ role model/symbol of the game itself” are related but sometimes distinct. That is clearly true in other professions. Bill Clinton’s prevarication on the stand in Arkansas reflects worse on his presidential character than it does on his character generally. PR is part of the equation for baseball and all public enterprises; embarrassing one’s profession adds weight to the misconduct—-don’t you think? If Governor Sanford only flew off to a secret rendezvous with his South American firecracker after leaving office, would it be it as serious a matter to anyone but Mrs. Sanford? Doesn’t doing this while governor take the misconduct to a different level?
    But I take your point—-I’ll be thinking on it…

  4. Jack Marshall said...

    ElBonte: Yes. Arguably worse, in terms of long term consequences, sportsmanship, harm to the game. In societal terms, it’s obviously no contest. But we are comparing ongoing misconduct with one incident; something that may effect games, standings, statistics, jobs and records with an isolated bad act. I may yet come around to your point of view, but I think it’s far from the easy call you seem to think it is. And I think baseball’s attitude to the two offenses this far supports that assessment.

  5. MJ said...

    Honest question, and I don’t mean to pick on you Jack, but you are probably the only one who will respond after making the statement, but can you explain why PED use is so bad for baseball?

    I think we all assume that the majority of players were on greenies.  So why the acceptance of one over the vilification of the other?  As mentioned in the THT post, these players took the PEDs to get better at the game.  While I’m not saying we should applaud these players for doing so, isn’t this a far better action than a player who refuses to play when he’s not 100%.  Or how about someone who gives up when the season is winding down?

  6. Jack Marshall said...

    MJ: Because I don’t want to awaken the PED fans and apologists who lie in wait for me to re-open this argument, would you e-mail me off-list (
    )? I’ll send you some stuff I’ve written, and be happy to discuss it with you.

  7. Jack Marshall said...

    Now, Wooden, really…no need to suck up! I’ll suck up to YOU though—-I LOVE your nom de web; it’s exactly the kind of name I use in ethics hypos for lawyers, names like “Donna De Dedd” and “Sven Villeyesiuagen.” Could I please have your permission to use Wooden U. Lykteneau occasionally? I promise not to make him a rapist or a crackpot or anything.

  8. Wooden U. Lykteneau said...

    No, I’ve been using it too long. But I’ll let you use an alternate of my “other” alter-ego: Tso Du Nimh wink

  9. Greg Simons said...

    “In societal terms, it’s obviously no contest.”

    Jack, I’m not a PED apologist by any stretch, but there seems to be disconnect between the levels of societal scorn reporters tell us exists and what observations of fans demonstrate.

    For example, Manny was reviled and demonized by the mainstream media when his positive test was revealed.  Others at non-MSM outlets basically said, “Eh, no big deal.”  Soon after his suspension ended, Manny cracked a game-winning homer, and the fans went bonkers.

    I guess my point is, there doesn’t seem to be a consistent level of scorn about PED usage, not just regarding a single player like Manny, but also regarding the stature of the player.  Big names are chastised severely, no-names are forgotten; those that hide behind carefully-worded excuses get lambasted, those who admit their transgressions get off with a slap on the wrist.

    It’s very tough, at least at this point, to rank PED usage in the list of transgressions.  Which I suppose is the purpose of your exercise, so I’m very curious what the results will be.  Personally, I’d put it behind attacking a fan or ump.

  10. dill dobro said...

    murder or attempted murder, and violence against fans or umpires/officials has to be the worst offenses.

    throwing of games is bad, indeed, it violates the spirit of the games.  but…murder or attempted murder of other players, and violence against fans or officials not only violates the spirit of the game, it also violates the accepted spirit of civilization.

    one’s bad.  the others are uber duber bad.

    i read the comments knuckleball made regarding your placement of ped usage…he’s right.  no one thinks twice about the years and years (which according to The Bad Guys Won, continued into the eighties, at least) of team sponsored and supplied amphetemines.  if you read the mitchell report closely, it’s pretty obvious that at the very least, most front offices turned a blind, accepting eye to the fact that some/many players had turned to ped usage.  some players were bad guys and ped users…but good guys who may or may not have been ped users…were good guys.  the mere fact of usage itself, while not openly condoned, was apparantly acceptable.  in that case, since management sets the tone for what is and isn’t acceptable among the employees.  we’re in the middle of discovery…more information is sure to come out, and i think it’s likely that ken caminiti and jose canseco will be found to be pretty accurate:  because of lax management, ped usage was much more widespread than anyone really wants to come out and own up to, generally.

    when that becomes clear…peds will be looked at like the amphetemine era.  regrettable, but not the end of the world, and the terrible betrayal so many people seem to think of it as, today.

    after all…ped users were trying to be better at what they did.  they weren’t playing to lose.

  11. Jack Marshall said...

    Greg: I guess I don’t rank the public’s scorn as very much of a factors in weighting misconduct. A lot of the public liked Dillinger, Cpaone and Jesse James. Mots of the public, understandable, regard such controversies as PEDs as an annoyance—-they just wish they’d go away. Hell, I wish they’d go away.

    The National Hall of Fame insists that we deal with the issue, though. And the distinctions in treatment by the media and the fans have been inconsistent at best. For example, I don’t think admitting PED use when you’ve been credibly caught, a la Pettite or ARod, mitigates the PED use at all. But lying becomes a distinct integrity and honesty violation when a player denies use and is unbelievable, as with Clemens.

    One of the issues I hope to look at is mitigation: all PED use is not alike. How long, for what, and to what result? The situations and conduct of Bonds, Sosa, Manny, Clemens, Raffy, McGwire, Giambi and Sheffield are all distinguishable, if we want to make distinctions.

    Dill: I’m not convinced yet. If you are right, then Marichal shouldn’t be in the Hall, because after looking at the photos, I’m convinced that he was momentarily trying to kill Roseboro. I still think that when you add up the impact and consequences, PED use is far, far more damaging to the game. I’m not even sure about the “bad guy” factor. Marichal, everyone says, was a good guy who just lost it (recognizing that good guys who just lose it still get life in prison); a guy like Manny, who just blatantly ignores the whole uproar about PEDs and the game and cheats anyway, is a scofflaw.

    But, you know, if we draw the line of acceptable conduct for a Hall of Famer above both of them, it doesn’t matter much which you think is worse.

  12. Adam W. said...

    Jack: “[T]he distinctions in treatment by the media and the fans have been inconsistent at best.”

    You say this like it’s not also true of the other, more important criteria for Hall voting (i.e. on-field performance). Jim Rice is in, but Dick Allen isn’t; Bruce Sutter is in, but Bert Blyleven isn’t.

  13. Jack Marshall said...

    Adam: I’m not aware that I said it “like” anything—-I just was pointing out that nothing substantive can be taken from the fact that the public either scorns or doesn’t scorn particular conduct. I’m not looking at the playing performance criteria: plenty of people here can do a better job at that than I can. (But Dick Allen is a borderline Hall candidate whose character issues haven’t done him any good…thanks for bringing him up.)

    [And I apologize to all for my dyslexia impression in the previous post.]

  14. Bob Tufts said...

    It’s not theology or bad ethics. I would like transparency in the voting and writers to explain their ballot. I don’t want a plagiarist or cheat (Mitch Albom) deciding someone’s fate due to their warped view of morality.

    You mention the Veteran’s Committee – what would you do the the people who voted in Bowie Kuhn despite the fact that he allowed the theft and sale of HOF memoriablia while Commissioner (per Bill James “Politics of Glory”) and fleeing to Flordia to avoid a $ 5 million judgement against his law firm?

    Ethics aren’t a bottom up (player) issue only – they are also a top down (management) issue. And they have to cover all parties involved…players, owners and HOF officials

    I say vote them all in – and place the transgressions on the plaque. The HOF’s mission statement is for education – this permanent mark will be part of the mission.

    PS – what do you do with past users or anyone whose use was discovered (as Mantle’s name came up in Chafetz’ book for possible steroid use)?

  15. Jack Marshall said...

    As I noted with Jefferson (as well as historical icons like Clarence Darrow, Frederick Douglass, Jack Kennedy, William O.Douglas and many, many others), many excellent judges of right and wrong a lead ethically flawed lives.

    Transparency, I’m all for. Bowie was a terrible choice on his merits as Commissioner—-I wouldn’t need the character issues to ding him.

    I have no particular problem with your model for a Hall of Fame—-it’s just not the one we have. The one we have makes integrity, sportsmanship and character a requirement. Don’t argue with me about it. I like having the character component, I admit, but I didn’t put it there.

    I place Chefetz’s Mantle steroid story along with Peter Gammons’ Ted Williams corked bat story (and the alleged Danny Kaye-Laurence Olivier romance, for that matter!). Unsubstantiated rumor or the output of one dubious source. It would be unfair to even consider such tales, absent more.

  16. Bob Tufts said...

    If we impose/create a character component/Truth Commission, who is on it, how are they selected and how is the HOF bound by the decision?

  17. Jack Marshall said...

    Bob? There is no “truth commission” solution for character, because “true character” can only be surmised, using what people do and how they do it, evaluated using certain basic ethical standards. It is a fallible enterprise at best, and reasonable people can and will disagree. To the extent some consensus arises, it can be applied to the Hall of Fame’s standards.

  18. Bob Tufts said...

    Jack – For fairness of voting and for your apporach to work you will want voters to approach each and every candidate with complete and similar information. I would want to know each and every reason that the writer decided to vote for or against a player, just to make sure there were no personal biases involved in their decisions.

    Let’s start with point on which I think we can agree – those players on the ineligible list are currently not allowed to be voted on and this should stand. MLB can use this to deal with violations of law and its own internal rules. Then, anyone convicted of a crime (felony, not misdemeaor) should be placed on the ineligible list by the HOF.

    Having been tarred with the cocaine brush after I left KC and baseball in 1983 (to the detriment of my attempt to play in 1984 and in my job interviews on Wall Street in 1985 and 1986), I’m sensitive to what people define as character, truth or ethical by what they read in the papers or tell each other.

  19. Jack Marshall said...

    Oh, Jeez,Bob…do you really believe that? That only the virtuous citizen can decide that someone is too corrupt to be their Senator? That only a perfect role model can fairly decide that an individual isn’t trustworthy enough to teach her child? This line of argument is just an indirect way of denying standards of any kind. Imperfect people have every right to insist on standards that they personally haven’t met or can’t meet. Thomas Jefferson was a pretty despicable guy, but his judgment about others was excellent. Running a good Hall of Fame and voting for its members do not necessarily require the same character traits that inductees should have. The writers weren’t great baseball players, either, and I trust their judgment a lot more than the Veterans Committee.

    This is the classic “cast the first stone” argument. I believe that it’s both bad theology and bad ethics.

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