I love baseball. It is the greatest sport in the world. No other sport I have ever watched has elicited such a childish joy and emotional connection. It goes back to playing catch and hitting the ball from my Dad’s soft toss as early as I can remember. I was that kid who slept with his baseball mitt on and Cleveland Indians cap on every night. To this day my wife gets the biggest kick out of how happy and child like I get when we go to a ball game. How I know all the players, I have all these stats I tell her about even though she does not care about them nor does she know exactly what half of them are. Baseball, in all it’s simplicities, is just pure. One team trying to out do the other, out smart them, out maneuver them, and yes… out cheat them. Yesterday we saw a handful of travesties on the Hall of Fame Ballot. The Baseball Writers Association declined to vote for any one person enough to allow them admittance to baseball’s most hallowed space, the Hall of Fame. I can’t really blame them, if they feel justified in this than it is what it is. Possibly the biggest travesty is that Kenny Lofton, one of the best Center Fielders to ever play the game, did not receive enough votes to be on the ballot again next year. That makes me sick, but that is not what I am here to rant about today.
The Hall of Fame, for lack of a better comparison, is a museum of baseball. Sure, it is what every great player strives to achieve, but at the same time, it is a space that chronicles the history of baseball. For better or for worse. You look back at the history of baseball and there are a lot of cheaters, ass holes, scandals and racist jerks that have a place in the Hall. The Steroids era, while many see it as a dark time for baseball, in reality, helped rejuvenate the game and bring it back to the forefront of American sports after it almost crumbled due to a players strike in 1994. I do not agree with leaving that era of the game out of the Hall of Fame. Simply put, while steroids were illegal in the country, they were not illegal in the game. Those players who have been implicated or connected should serve some sort of penance if the government wishes to try them, it will likely fail like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, but the game of baseball should not. Barry Bonds, long before he gained 100 pounds of muscle, was the best player of his generation, and possibly in the discussion for best ever. If you want to put him in the Hall of Fame for his career before all the homers, I’m sure you could justify that easily. Clemens is arguably the best pitcher ever, and sure his legacy is tainted, but none the less, as will always be true in baseball, the numbers never lie.
I sit here, as a man with a deep respect for the game. I see Ty Cobb in the Hall of Fame. The dirtiest cheat that ever played the game. He slid with the intent to cripple his opponents, he was a bastard of a person who once climbed into the stands and beat a fan with his cleat because he was black. This man, a great player but disgusting person, is in the Hall of Fame. Barry Bonds, tremendous player, and a surly and unpleasant person outwardly towards the media and a PED user, might not get that same admiration. Long before the Steroids scandal, there was always players seeking an edge. It is just in the nature of competition. The use of enhancements has always been present in baseball, from Greenies, to amphetamines, to cocaine, to HGH and steroids. If you are going to single out the users of PED’s in the 1990’s and 2000’s and take a stand on them going into the Hall of Fame, maybe you need to rethink who is in there.
As I mentioned in the opening, the Hall of Fame is baseball’s museum, it’s history. Not only am I a baseball addict, I have a degree in History and specialized in sports and social history. It is impossible to move on or learn anything from a time period if you try to wash it away from history. The HOF, shouldn’t be voted on by only BBWAA members because many are jaded and hold grudges against players, and should be dedicated to the memory of baseball as a whole. If that means a special wing just for the ‘Era’ no one wants to admit was a good thing for the game, then that is fine. One of the things that has always bothered me, due to the opinions and general misguided direction of the world at the time, is the lack of suitable information and respect available for the players in the Negro Leagues. I have spent a lot of my personal free time and college thesis time studying the players and stories of the forgotten part of baseball. But, much like the Steroid Era, there is no justification in forgetting about it or neglecting it a much deserved space in the HOF. There is an old adage, that history is doomed to repeat itself. This holds true, especially when no one is taught it or remembers it. If you leave out 20 years of baseball’s history from the HOF, then in 50 or 60 years when all of us who watched them play are all long gone, the same thing will happen in the game, and this same discussion will occur.
I read an article today about how the living members of the HOF are so glad that none of these ‘cheaters’ didn’t get voted it. If the script was flipped around and they were being judged by the writers for using a spitball, or vaseline under the cap, or a corked bat or whatever many of the great hitters and pitchers used, they would be singing a much different tune. Jayson Stark of ESPN and one of my most admired baseball writers agrees with me. As does fellow ESPN baseball scribe Jim Caple. This year’s HOF class is a racist manager who fought tooth and nail to keep integration as part of the game and refused to pay players much at all, an ok catcher who was playing in a time when it was common practice for catchers to tip off hitters to what pitch was coming and where, and an Umpire will be hitting Cooperstown. This is a direct quote from Caple’s article I linked too a moment ago, “Perhaps whoever they send up to the stage this summer will explain the Hall of Fame induction criteria this way: Well, it’s OK to honor an owner who helped perpetuate racism. And a player who played most of his games when pitchers couldn’t throw overhand. And, yeah, an umpire. But a ballplayer suspected of taking steroids? Nooooo way. The Hall has standards to uphold. Oh, and when we say ‘suspected of using steroids,’ we mean that he played in the 1990s.” That sums it up what I am getting at in just a few sentences. Look at the players who could and probably will get snubbed who had nothing to do with steroids, at least who haven’t been publicly linked to them: Mike Piazza (probably the best catcher ever), Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Kenny Lofton. Not to mention, Bonds, Clemens and Mark McGwire. Guys who would have been no doubt 1st ballot HOF’ers if no steroid scandal had existed.
It is possible that in due time the great players of my childhood gain enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Sooner would be better. I hate the fact that almost all of my childhood heroes have turned out to be cheaters, but if I can come to terms with it, why can’t the writers? I mean, all through high school and college I emulated Roger Clemens wind up and delivery and “attempted” to throw all the pitches he did. Throwing the splitter is what I blame for ruining my arm. Until either the HOF committee, writers, or baseball’s ruling class decide to write this wrong, I stand by my assertion that Bonds, Clemens and all the ‘greats’ from this ‘Era’ get to be placed in the Hall of Fame. It is stupid to ignore them, it is short sighted and misguided. Baseball, as in life, the focus should be on accepting the past, remembering or honoring it, and moving on. Not forgetting it ever happened and have 20 years missing from the history books.