Making sense of the HOF character clause

The so-called character clause is at the heart of the debate over what to do with the Hall of Fame candidates who have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

The criterion sent to the voters annually (including this week):

    Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.

It is apparent from the voting that a majority of the writers who have cast ballots for the Hall of Fame in recent years have applied that wording literally in determining what to do with Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and even Jeff Bagwell. Presumably, this is what they will do in assessing the candidacies of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and others this year.

Brad Horn, the Hall of Fame's senior director of communications, recently explored the origin of that wording. Later today, the Hall will post his written piece on its website:

    Character, Sportsmanship, Integrity Long Included in Formal Rules for Election

    From the first formalization of rules for Hall of Fame election proposed in 1944 and adopted in 1945, the National Baseball Hall of Fame has always called for "sportsmanship" and "character" as part of the necessary criteria needed to earn a spot in Cooperstown.

    In August 1944, a Hall of Fame memo outlined the informal policy that had existed for Hall of Fame voting from its origins in 1936. Paul S. Kerr, then treasurer for the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame, stated that Alexander Cleland, instrumental in the voting process since the Hall's first election in 1936, listed general rules that "those worthy of Hall of Fame election should be selected from the ranks for ability, character and their general contribution to baseball in all respects."

    While the necessary 75 percent of all ballots cast has been required for election from the beginning, so too appears the inclusion of character as a determinant for the Hall of Fame.

    With the formal adoption of rules for 1945, as proposed in bylaws for the National Baseball Hall of Fame Committee in December 1944, the Committee authorized the BBWAA to "hold elections for the purpose of electing members to the Baseball Hall of Fame." The rules, which at the time called for elections once ever three years starting in 1945 and then later amended to elections every year starting in 1946, outlined the qualifications eligible candidates needed to have for consideration, having completed their active careers as players, even if they were still connected with baseball.

    "They shall be chosen on the basis of playing ability, sportsmanship, character, their contribution to the teams on which they played and to baseball in general."

    Though slight modifications have transpired in the nearly 70 years since, the model for Hall of Fame election has always remained one defined by character and sportsmanship.