Countless times as I worked on a story about a player during my career as a baseball writer, I would ask teammates, opponents, managers, coaches and front-office executives a very open-ended question before getting down to specifics: What makes the guy such a valuable part of the team?
The answers varied, but there often was one common response describing the great ones.
“He played the right way.”
That’s it. Five words that speak a volume.
Playing the right way means more than defining a player by the number of strikeouts he records, home runs he hits or WAR he achieves. It also describes his value as a teammate, as an ambassador of a game that always will be greater than anyone who plays it, as someone who plays with a spirit of fairness, character, integrity and sportsmanship.
It’s so important that the National Baseball Hall of Fame includes that in its rules for voters in the annual election. Rule 5: “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.”
Call me old-fashioned, but I like to follow the rules.
That’s why my 2020 Hall of Fame ballot again does not have checkmarks next to the names of anyone who has tested positive or admitted to using performance-enhancing substances, or whose character is so stained by suspicion that it has cast a dark cloud over their careers and the game as well.
Sorry, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. Unless that integrity/character/sportsmanship clause disappears from the voting rules, I withhold my vote.
I voted for eight players on my 2020 ballot: Todd Helton, Derek Jeter, Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, Omar Vizquel, Billy Wagner and Larry Walker. All great players who deserve to be mentioned among the elite of the game. Jeter probably will be a unanimous pick, and deservedly so. Walker, held back so long because of the belief that the part of his career in Colorado inflated his offensive numbers, also could make it. And deservedly so as well.
They would be outstanding additions to the Hall. They were among the greatest on the field who, as many would say, played the right way.