In the hands of a skilled journalist, it's a fair question. But Shank is no skilled journalist.
As such, he can't actually address the real question. Instead, he resorts to the usual trinity of whispers, innuendos and lies, such as Jeff Bagwell is suspect because he got bigger as he got older. (As if that never happened before. Ever seen Tony Gwynn?)
But at least the white guys get some benefit of the doubt. (Was there seriously any question about Rogers Clemens using? His best friend testified under oath that he shot him up.) He falls back on his cliched racial denigrations (Sammy Sosa "played the language-barrier card before Congress," as if being Dominican is the same as growing up in Groton).
But why the change of heart? I have to think it has something to do with this guy:
Curt Schilling has, in the minds of many Hall voters, gone a step too far when he retweeted a photo of a guy in a shirt that read "Rope. Tree. Journalist." Shank and his ilk were all over talk radio saying this was the last straw, and that Schilling was welcome to shit all over any politician he pleased as and waste millions of dollars of the public's money long as he didn't wish ill on the Fourth Estate.
To that end, Shank's take is that Schilling's latest volley pushes him out of Hall consideration because of the so-called "character clause." Here's what the Hall actually says about voting:
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.
It doesn't take a brain surgeon, or even a sports journalist, to recognize that character stops when the player retires. There's nothing in the clause that indicates that an ex-player who, for instance, gets busted drunk driving, as Carlton Fisk did, should be kicked out. Heck, Tony LaRussa got busted several times and they still voted him in. Is retweeting a bad joke honestly worse than getting behind the wheel of a 2-ton vehicle after a night of scotch ("I love scotch. Scotchy scotch scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly")?
So what about Shank's character? What about a guy who called David Ortiz, perhaps the most important athlete in the history of Boston sports ever, a "sad sack of you know what?" What about years of racist spitting and sputtering against every black and Hispanic athlete to cross 128? That didn't seem to stop him from accepting the Spink (or should that be Pink?) Award for baseball writing.
Big Papi is ultimately why The CHB wrote this column. Because in five years, he will have to decide whether to vote in Big Papi. Shank thinks Papi is a fraud. But if anyone can spot a fraud, it's a fraud.
Oh and Shank, if voting for the Hall is truly the "most volatile and toxic thing we do all year," there's always a remedy: Quit.