Bert Blyleven and the forthcoming problems with Halls of Fame

Yesterday, Andre Dawson was elected into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America, or the BBWAA, gave Dawson a healthy vote above and beyond the 75 percent needed for induction. Dawson–who spent the first part of his career languishing in Montreal as a prototype five-tool player, then the more notable part of his career as a knee-less warrior in the presence of the routinely-plastered television voice of the Chicago Cubs, HarHEY! CHECK OUT THE KID IN THE SOMBRERO!–should be congratulated for a well-deserved capstone to a Cooperstown-worthy career.

And, on his 13th chance at eligibility, former journeyman pitcher Bert Blyleven was again left on the outside looking in. By five votes. Someone managed to vote for David Segui (!!!), but Blyleven was left five votes short.

Eligible ballot-casters are allowed ten votes, with the aforementioned 75% criterion for induction. It is known that some members of the BBWAA will fill their ten spots, while others select a handful from a crop regardless of worth, and others still return a blank ballot with the annual certainty and predictability of broken New Year’s resolutions.

I am of the belief that Blyleven belongs in the Hall, and my point here is not to argue why. The beautiful part about this time of year is that all those reasons are easily accessible on just about any sports-related website and, for a brief while, ubiquitous on sports television, so credentials need not be rehashed here.

What Blyleven did seems to take a backseat to what the BBWAA makes out Blyleven to represent. In so doing, the BBWAA again made it clear to the baseball-savvy public that the Hall of Fame is more about insulating their sense of self-importance as gatekeepers than letting worthy members in. Briefly, what Blyleven did on the mound during his career is irrelevant to what Blyleven represents now as a perennial nominee.

In recent years, the conversation around Hall of Fame election time inexplicably became one of ballot worthiness, and the term ‘first-ballot’ became a way to qualify the really elite from the merely elite, not only in baseball, but throughout the sports universe. Such a move became a natural stepping stone to the conversation that is cropping up now, especially in the past 24 hours or so since Dawson earned his election: the argument for a small versus big Hall of Fame.

The line of thinking is fairly straightforward: the Hall is reserved for the highest echelon player or baseball figure, and not everyone should get into the Hall, so not only are we going to start an unwritten rule dictating that some writers will not vote at all for first-ballot nominees, but some worthy nominees will not be judged as such because the Hall of Fame is reserved for the best of the best.

It is also convoluted and narcissistic, building the ivory tower research scientists, pundits and scholars love to create for themselves in the name of expertise. A few years ago, when Blyleven, and now-HOFers Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage became fixtures on TV in the wake election time, earnestly and indignantly ripping the BBWAA and their self-important system, the writers could–unfalsifiably–step back and turn the tables: our system works, and they’re just sore losers! And since the media, which is, of course, comprised in part by the BBWAA, dictates how the story is disseminated, they can paint the victims however they wish.

Sutter and Gossage are now in the Hall, and Blyleven is being called for make-up as we speak. And let’s be honest, no one likes to suffer a whiner, but the grievance in this instance is entirely justifiable. Blyleven apparently represents not a person whose qualifications for induction are comparable with his peers already inducted, but a scapegoat for a diluted Hall of Fame.

Blyleven is like the evangelical who, in 1978, wanted drums in church, or the punk whose punk credentials are suspect because he got a part-time job with a publicly traded company. Drums are commonplace in church these days, and punks don’t even exist anymore outside a romantic, mythic and misinformed image of ‘rebellious’ youth sold in Hot Topics across America.

Similarly, baseball’s history is not getting any smaller.

The Hall of Fame will get bigger because the game will continue to be played, and played well by players whose names will be uttered in future conversation with Mays, Ruth, Koufax, Gibson, Stargell, Aaron, Robinson, Schmidt, Puckett, Ripken, Yount and Dawson (Andre, not Richard.) It is not a disgrace to the game that Bert Blyleven will be inducted; it is an honor to the player who played, not the game itself. After all, the game would not suffer the behavior of media sycophants who never played who continue to refuse induction to the late Buck O’Neil, who loved the game and the children who played it in equal, incalculable measure. Writers forget this when they, consciously or otherwise, make the conversation about themselves rather than those greats who played, when the tax on immortality is so punitive that they can use it to remove value from those who would otherwise be worthy: Dale Murphy, Dave Concepcion and Ron Santo understand this all too well.

A Hall of Fame player is immortal, regardless of how many ballots it takes them to earn the distinction. Like Christian salvation, once eternal, all else is irrelevant. Making Bert Blyleven wait years only makes the writers write, the public complain and the player suffer at the whimsical hands of a self-idolizing social club.

Only one of the three gets paid for it.


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