In what has become an annual lamentation for me digitally and otherwise, I can finally quit griping about Bert Blyleven not being elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame. The Flying Dutchman finally has made the transition from candidate to the elect, and years of languishing on the ballot exchanged for a bronze plaque and sporting immortality.
In the meanwhile, second baseman-cum-highlight reel Roberto Alomar was, too, elected to Cooperstown, waiting only two years from the opening of his 15-year eligibility to get the call.
That said, the BBWAA still has serious issues. Some writers still submit ballots with no selected nominees, while Alomar’s case demonstrates that there remains this supposed superiority of a ‘first-ballot’ Hall of Famer. ESPN.com senior writer Jim Caple publicly had a snit with the balloting protocol, particularly the ten person maximum. Bob Costas, according to Joe Posnanski, appears to be interested in Hall of Fame contraction. (I generally respect Costas, but I think in this instance he’s way off base. More on that below.) Many others in the guild are calling out said guild for issues surrounding the steroid era, which appears to be the reason first-time nominee Jeff Bagwell was left with a low 41%, 75% being needed for election.
As I wrote last year, the Hall of Fame must necessarily get bigger because history is a created universe that only gets lengthier and more expansive (unless we’re talking about the NHL. Or the XFL.) Will we also demonstrate interest in removing league championships? Who cares about who won Super Bowl IX? The Steelers have six, they don’t need that many, so let’s get rid of the one where they beat the Vikings. After all, the Vikes haven’t won anything anyway, so who cares? While we’re at it, let’s rid the Spurs of their 1999 championship. It was an abbreviated season and they didn’t play a full slate of games. Clearly, they weren’t on par with the Showtime Lakers or Jordan’s Bulls or even Hakeem’s Rockets that won back-to-back championships, if for no other reason than Jordan was away in baseball purgatory.
If we’re pruning history, let’s rid ourselves of the 1994 World Series, too.
Wait, they did that to themselves? Oh, never mind.
History is history, champions are champions and, for better or worse, Hall of Famers are Hall of Famers. This self-righteous posturing by sports’ self-declared gatekeepers is as vain as it is a shameless act of mindless stupidity. What, shall the BBWAA declare Ross Youngs hereby banished from the Hall of Fame because the equally-legitimate Veterans Committee erred in the minds of sportswriters? We can safely say a good number of the writers are still seething over Phil Rizzuto and Bill Mazeroski’s election to the Hall by the VC, so much so that the committee was reorganized and reformed in 2001, just in time to close the gate behind the Maz.
The issue is that while we lionize the Ruths, Gehrigs and Aarons, the Hall of Fame shows no partiality. Stark said it best, after the electoral fact, who cares about how many ballots? Once inducted, immortality is immortality, great is great and there is no plaque bigger than another. Everything else, from Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson (neither of whom were unanimously elected) to last week’s insult to Jeff Bagwell’s magnificent career by–by all accounts and public opinions–improperly linking him to the juicers, injectors and cheaters of his era, is pure, vile prejudice.
What makes Robinson any different than Bagwell, in this context? One shined in an era when ball players were monochromatic, the other shined when ball players were injecting each other in the buttcheek. One cannot and should not be defined by the outside context of the game: Robinson excelled in the shadow of racism, the other in the shadow of syringes, creams, pills and perjury. And in both instances, people withheld Hall votes not because of the player and his respective body of work, but because of their conception of the era in which they played: one tainted by the color of his skin, the other long after by a bizarre guilt via association. One is as outrageous as the other precisely because both are unfairly discriminatory against the nominees. Prejudice is evil in all its myriad forms.
Then there’s the other elephant in the room: the BBWAA, wittingly or otherwise, gave their blessing to all kinds of corner-cutting and better ball through better science by turning a blind eye to all the activities. Writers waxed nostalgic during the McGwire/Sosa/Gonzalez season-long home run derbies, no one seemed to mind Roger Clemens’ burgeoning cranial size, no one thought twice about Brady Anderson and Jose Canseco was a nut. Now, Canseco is the only one who hasn’t been burned by the allegations, and the writers are suddenly concerned with the sanctity of the game, while Gaylord Perry’s plaque is made of sandpaper and Ty Cobb should have gone in with a hood instead of a Tigers cap. (And let’s not forget Cap Anson, who singlehandedly built the color barrier. He’s there, too. Perhaps Costas should train his crosshairs elsewhere.) All the while, Joe Jackson remains wrongly shut out, Pete Rose is readying his signing Sharpies for another trip to Main Street Cooperstown and Buck O’Neil is inexplicably absent, though he was the singular voice and historian of Negro Leagues baseball and a champion for urban renewal, education and baseball (in that order.) They only seem interested in sanctity when it’s convenient.
Otherwise, baseball soared back into the public eye in the 90s, and interesting things make for interesting stories in newspapers, and newspapers sold in those days when there were interesting stories about interesting things that had the public’s interest. Poor Barry Bonds never had a chance, not only did he have an, um, tempestuous relationship with the press, he then was implicated in the era while he was still playing, becoming a scapegoat for dirty play in a dirty era. Pedro Gomez’s car probably still has an indentation in the backseat from all those nights camped out at Yournamehere Park and the Giants spring training facility. He won’t vote for Bonds for that reason alone, and that might be the only justifiable reason to withhold.
The reality of the matter is that all the drugs and the corners cut were done with the acceptance, tacit and otherwise, of baseball and those same celebrated gatekeepers of the game. As such, they are part and parcel of the era in which these players played and, like it or not, it is unfair to hold that against the players who were playing within the established parameters of the game they were playing. For the same reason, the designated hitter ought to be treated with the same credibility of any other ‘full-time’ player; instead, they are neither roiders nor position players: Is it worse to be wrongfully hated, or wrongfully ignored?
So, while the BBWAA got it right this year–even if partially–they continue to get so much wrong. Those who return a blank ballot ought to have their voting rights revoked, and those who do submit ballots ought to do so publicly and defend their choices accordingly. Some of the baseball cabal at ESPN do this already, one of the few things they get right as a news organization. But until we get real transparency, we’ll continue to have to expect bickering and head-scratching at the results.
And an annual excoriation from yours truly.
Congratulations, Robbie and Bert. You’re a-ok with 75% of the right people.