I’ve gotten fired up about the way that this year’s Hall of Fame voting is turning out and I just have to vent. Of course when I started to do so, it started turning into a small book in my head and I couldn’t figure out how to structure it, so I thought I would break it down into a few parts. Here’s Part 1…
What the Hall Should Be
I have to start by reiterating my position on the Hall of Fame (I first wrote about this back in ’09, but I have a pretty good idea that I’m the only one that remembers that!). The full name of the institution in Cooperstown, New York is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and one of the stated purposes is to preserve the history of the game of baseball. It is my position that the greatest players of all eras should be immortalized in the Hall of Fame. Period. I believe that steroid users cheated. But if you aren’t aware of other cheaters in the game that are in the Hall of Fame, I suggest you do some reading. I believe that some of the guys (e.g. Barry Bonds) were also jerks and the last person you wanted your kids looking up to, but by all accounts, he very well may have been Mr. Congeniality compared to Hall of Famer Ty Cobb who was a hateful racist who intentionally tried to hurt other players. But as an institution committed to telling the story and the history of baseball, how in the world can you try to tell the story without these players?
This is really the first year where we have a large class of players that both played in the “Steroid Era” as well as were implicated as users so this all comes back to the forefront. Here’s the thing…there were things that were inherently unfair about most of the eras of the sport. Are you telling me that all of the MLB players pre-1950’s didn’t gain a statistical advantage because the league would not allow some of the greatest athletes in because of the color of their skin?! Josh Gibson hit nearly 800 homers in the Negro Leagues and he died at the age of 35. According to Buck O’Neil (pretty much the one baseball authority that would be able to make the statement) only two other players in MLB history hit the ball with the same authority and sound of the bat as Josh Gibson. They were Babe Ruth and Bo Jackson. Gibson is reported to be the only player to have a Home Run actually make it out of the original Yankee Stadium. There are others that report that he had home runs between 560 and 580 feet long. Do you really think that the pitchers of that era don’t have significantly better statistics than they would have if Gibson and the other elite Negro League players had been allowed in Major League Baseball? And aren’t there hitters that wouldn’t have even had jobs if MLB hadn’t been racially biased? You really would need an asterisk on that era.
Now if it’s the “drugs” side of things that hangs you up, then we should look to the 70’s & 80’s. See…virtually every clubhouse in baseball would have amphetamines available for whatever players needed them. Often there were 2 coffee pots, one labeled “leaded” and one “unleaded” to designate which one had amphetamines in it and which did not. Many have argued that the offensive statistical drop-off in the “post steroid era” (which is a misnomer I assure you) is much more attributable to amphetamine testing than steroid testing. It was as much a way of life to help guys get ready to play double-headers or day games after night games as drinking 3 Red Bulls is today. But if you are telling me we can’t have any drug use, then we really need to start booting some folks out of the Hall of Fame in a hurry.
I could go on and point out things regarding how we only can speculate whether or not the vast majority of players did or did not use performance enhancing drugs and it’s completely unfair to try to do so. If you want to exclude someone because they admitted what they did or they tested positive, then I guess I can go with you there, but otherwise it’s illogical to, years later and miles apart, try to assert that you know someone used PED’s that are now banned that, by the way, were not banned at the time (but were instead celebrated with big contracts). And if you just assume that anyone who did something remarkably better than anyone else in that era must have been using, then we need to not vote for anyone that eats a lot and drinks beer and smokes cigars, because that’s all Babe Ruth was doing and he retired with TWICE as many home runs as the person in 2nd place on the all-time home run list at the time.
I hit a few tangents there, but my point is this. The Hall of Fame should contain all of the great players down through the years that you can’t tell the story of baseball without. Anyone who grew up in that era wouldn’t know the game of baseball that you are describing if you exclude Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, & Roger Clemens from that narrative. I have no problem if it says on or beside their plaque that they were accused of or reported to have used performance enhancing drugs. Then the narrative will be much more complete and accurate. Baseball isn’t perfect, which is one of the ways it is a microcosm of America, so the Hall of Fame shouldn’t attempt to make it look like it was perfect. Just tell the story for generations to come.
Coming soon…Part 2 – Big Problems with the Voting Process