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Why Monte Poole voted for Bonds, Schilling on HOF ballot

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Giants' Barry Bonds

Monday is the day after the night when dozens of former major league players do not sleep. Can’t sleep knowing they’re approaching the moment they’ve dreamed about for years, maybe decades, after retiring and measuring their accomplishments.

The Baseball Hall of Fame will announce its 2021 inductees at 3:00 Monday afternoon.

I’m announcing mine here and now, understanding that some will react as if personally offended by choices with which they do not agree. This particular ballot was replete with debatable subjects.

It disgusts me to say I voted for Curt Schilling, one of America’s truly repellent individuals. And, unlike some of my fellow voters, I made no attempt to amend my ballot after learning he supported the cretins participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt at the Capitol building. The attack on America, by Americans, was hateful and pitiful and deadly and should in no way be excused.

When I wrote the check mark next to Schilling’s name, I knew of our social, political and philosophical differences. I knew he skewed toward bigotry and intolerance. I knew he’d probably snarl at the presence of me and my darker brothers and sisters. I knew enough to realize we would not agree on what constitutes class, tolerance and decency.

I also knew this despicable man was one of the greatest pitchers of the last 50 years.

I voted on his baseball career, not his sociopolitical ideology. If that were an essential component of the criteria, I’d rage against dozens of players already in the Hall, including all those whose careers existed in the age of apartheid and exclusion.

 

It won’t bother me at all if Schilling is not voted in, but I have no regrets.

I also have no regrets about voting for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, though both used their status as a bully baton and neither is popular in most baseball circles.

I never spent time with Clemens, but I know his pitching résumé and know of evidence indicating usage of performance-enhancing substances. As long as Clemens’ statistics are considered valid -- and the lords of the game say they are -- he’s worthy of the Hall. Wouldn’t bother me if he entered with an asterisk or did not get in at all.

Now Bonds, I’m well-acquainted with. Spent considerable time around him during his time with the Giants.

Sat in an Oakland hospital room with Barry one day as he visited a terminally ill boy, after which we stood in the parking lot talking topics beyond baseball. Sat with him numerous times in the clubhouse at Candlestick Park and also at what was then Pacific Bell Park. He was by turns charming and cranky, and it didn’t take long to read his mood.

He was the best hitter I’ve ever seen. There’s plenty of evidence that he, like Clemens, leaned into performance enhancers in violation of MLB policy. His muscle mass seemed to quadruple over a matter of months. His bat speed, always remarkable, increased to the point his swing was a blur. Dabbling in manufactured sources of magic, Bonds went from bona fide superstar to cartoon character.

But nobody stopped him. Nobody checked him. Then-commissioner Bud Selig was aware of the rumors before they were supported through investigations. The Giants, including Barry’s teammates, had more than suspicions. Other players were convinced that Bonds was among those who were cheating the game.

He was. He did.

But the Hall of Fame, to me, is about the history of a sport. It’s about those who stood out and hit or pitched or ran or threw or caught -- or all of the above -- their way into the record books, often on the first page of a chapter.

Enshrinement is as much a characterization of the game as it is a reward for the individual. As long as MLB considers Bonds its all-time home run leader, with 762, then he belongs in the Hall -- asterisk, no asterisk or a scarlet “C.”

There was one more player who earned a check mark. Omar Vizquel.

Yeah, the brilliant shortstop who is recently became the subject of an MLB investigation over charges of domestic abuse.

His wife of six years, Blanca, filed for divorce last fall, alleging that Vizquel’s abuse made her life a nightmare. The Athletic released details in a lengthy investigative report shortly after my ballot was completed and mailed. He denies the allegations, but there is credibility to them.

 

As a baseball player, Vizquel is worthy of the Hall of Fame. A good hitter and spectacular fielder at one of the most demanding positions on the field. If he is a woman-beater, which ranks high among humanity’s most inexcusable sins, he’d have company in Cooperstown.

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The Hall might like to believe character is a factor, but a scan of plaques proves otherwise. There is no shortage of racists, misogynists, liars, cheaters and various other miscreants.

That doesn’t justify voting for Vizquel or Bonds or Clemens or Schilling. It merely reflects the precedent. The Hall of Fame always has been about athletic achievement, the value of a baseball career, not impeccable character or righteousness.

To be clear, I don’t condone the behavior or alleged behavior of any of the four men I checked off. For all my faults -- we all have them -- I believe I have the ability to avoid letting emotions subvert logic. I’m a firm believer in turning to reason in moments of conflict or debate.

There is a considerable possibility that no one on the 2021 ballot will receive the 75 percent vote required for induction. If so, I will not dance, And I certainly won’t weep.

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