It might have been the best game Jim Palmer ever threw: 11 scoreless innings on a summer afternoon in Baltimore in 1977, with nine strikeouts and no walks. Palmer didn’t win it, as the Orioles never scored. Gaylord Perry, the sliding ace for the Texas Rangers, was dominant.

“I go out to get the ball and there are two big fingerprints right on the smooth spot of the ball, that’s how you throw a spitter,” Palmer said. “So I go to the referee and say, ‘I guess we don’t have to book him, his fingerprints are already on the ball. He just laughs, and they’ve laughed all these years.

“But Gaylord threw all those innings, he was durable, he was wonderful. Are we going to keep him out of the Hall of Fame when he’s won 300 games? »

Perry passed on his third try, in 1991, with 77.2% of the vote by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Perry was a notorious cheater – he even wrote a book called ‘Me and the Spitter’ – but he passed the test of “integrity, sportsmanship and character” that Hall asks voters to consider.

These guidelines do not change and will continue to complicate the voting process for years to come, even after Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa fell off writers’ ballots after Tuesday’s vote, their 10th appearance on the ballot without crossing 75 percent. election threshold. Only David Ortiz (77.9%) passed this time.

Bonds, Clemens and Sosa were all strongly linked to performance-enhancing drugs. Ortiz had his own connection (a positive test in a 2003 poll, before he shot to stardom), but just enough writers passed him to elect him with 11 votes to spare. Alex Rodriguez – who had a better career than Ortiz but served a one-year doping ban in 2014 – missed the election by 161 votes.

Still, Rodriguez, with 34.3%, had plenty of support to remain a viable candidate for the next ballot, which will include Carlos Beltrán, a newcomer with a different background. Beltrán had an exemplary career until the very end, when he participated in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scheme in 2017. The players had been granted immunity for cooperating with commissioner Rob Manfred’s investigation, but Beltrán was then retired and Manfred cited him by name. .

Now voters must judge whether nine-time All-Star outfielder Beltrán meets the character clause standards for a plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y. The scandal has already cost him his job as Mets manager, who promptly fired Beltrán in January 2020, just 11 weeks after hiring him.

“I lost that job to Carlos Beltrán, and I had no problem with that,” said Eduardo Pérez, analyst for ESPN and SiriusXM who played 13 seasons in the majors. “It’s the greatest respect I have for this man. Seeing him with my eyes, he’s a first-round Hall of Famer, like it or not — and don’t tell me that all Hall of Famers are perfect individuals. They are far from perfect.

Pérez, whose father, Tony, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000, said today’s candidates face a different environment than previous generations. Several Hall of Famers have committed ethical sins more troubling than spitting cannonballs — domestic violence, color-barrier enforcement, collusion, alleged game-fixing, illegal recreational drug use — but now, it seems, there, a candidate’s transgressions seem more likely to smudge or erase their legacies.

“In today’s world, because of social media and people’s access to information, you are more vulnerable than you were back then,” Pérez said. “The character is seen differently, and it can be exposed more easily.”

Despite all the attention Bonds and Clemens received, their vote totals actually rose from last year. Two other players had massive declines, and in both cases the writers clearly rolled out the character clause.

Omar Vizquel fell to 23.9% from 49.1% after his ex-wife accused him of domestic abuse last December and a former bat boy filed a sexual harassment complaint in August last. The 25.2 percentage point drop is the biggest single-season drop since the Hall of Fame’s annual voting began in 1966, according to research by Jayson Stark of The Athletic.

Schilling fell 12.5 percentage points, from 71.1 to 58.6, after asking the Hall of Fame to remove his name from the ballot for disrespecting writers. He also amped up his rhetoric on social media, essentially undoing the goodwill he earned as a player when he won the Roberto Clemente Award, baseball’s highest honor for community service.

Beltrán also won this award, and voters should remember this when considering his candidacy. But the Hall of Fame won’t tell voters what to think about Beltrán’s sign-stealing with the Astros, just as they gave no instructions on how to account for steroid use.

“Once you try to start giving character advice in one case, you probably have to start giving it in all cases,” Hall of Fame chairman Josh Rawitch said in an interview Wednesday. “We just think it’s much more important to leave that to the electorate, whether it’s the BBWAA or the committees at the time, because it means something different to each person.”

A 16-person committee will meet in December to assess the past 30 or so years, and Bonds, Clemens, Schilling and Sosa could get another look. But their presence on this newsletter is not guaranteed; a panel of BBWAA members designs the ballot, which will be voted on by a committee approved by the Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees.

“We strive to have a group of people who are part historians, part living Hall of Famers and part executives, all of whom are going to take an unbiased look at the candidates in the room,” Rawitch said. “We are looking for a balance in terms of their playing career, where they grew up, their race, their gender – we try to find a group of people who represent society. You might have someone who has a strong opinion, and that’s okay, and they’ll try to convince others to vote for them. But at the end of the day, we’re trying to find a group of people who won’t come knowing who they plan to vote for.

Palmer, who has served on a committee in the past, said the composition of this group will be key in determining which candidates will participate. As always, character will be up for debate – but perhaps it shouldn’t be so essential.

“Even though I wasn’t in the Hall of Fame, the most memorable thing about this weekend is still the love affair fans have with baseball, its records and its history,” Palmer said. . “So what does the character have to do with it?” Is it so important, is it sacrosanct, that it takes precedence over everything else? »

This question belongs to every voter, and it will not go away.

“We believe character matters in life, not just the Hall of Fame voting process,” Rawitch said. “Some industries are probably held to higher standards, baseball being one of them, and always has been one of them. We actually think that’s a good thing.