I want to begin this post with a confession. No, not like the one made by a Boston sportswriter this morning, but by saying that I have never been to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. At the rate the writers are going, as far as their voting practices concerning the biggest names of my generation, I’m not sure I’ll ever go.
For a baseball fan, Cooperstown, NY is the Mecca of the sport. The Hall of Fame includes the greatest and most legendary players of the game’s 140 year history. It houses plaques and mementos honoring feared sluggers, flame-throwing pitchers, and defensive wizards. It also honors players who were liars, womanizers, racists, and cheaters.
For some reason, many members of the BBWAA have taken it upon themselves to be the keepers of the sport. The Hall of Fame asked the writers to cast ballots to determine the players who would ultimately be enshrined within their walls, but the writers themselves have taken that power and are using it in a way that leads to sanctimony and hypocrisy.
The very same writers that were covering the sport during the “Steroid Era” and lauding the feats of these tremendous ballplayers are now turning their backs on those players, and turning their backs on the game’s history. The fact that many of these writers were able to make their own careers by the way they told of a players greatness makes this shift in morality that much more alarming.
This isn’t a rant about steroid use. I frankly don’t care which players were using performance enhancing drugs and which weren’t. From the volumes of work that I have read on the subject, it sure seems to me that there were a whole lot of guys “juicing” and I’m betting that far more players were using than we will ever know about. Like I said, I don’t care one bit. I didn’t care what he was on when Mark McGwire was breaking the home run record, I didn’t care about the rumors when Barry Bonds broke that record, either. I’m also educated on the subject enough to know that steroid (or HGH or whatever else) use wasn’t just being done by the hulking sluggers, but by the utility infielders and the speedy lead-off men, and by the starting pitchers, and the closers and the middle relievers alike.
What I do care about is that, as evidenced by yesterday’s Hall of Fame voting, an entire era of baseball history is getting ignored by the people in charge of remembering it.
When the offensive explosion of the 1990s happened, I feared that great players from the 1980s would get overshadowed when it came time to put their names on the Hall of Fame ballot. Sadly, it appears that’s exactly what happened.
It took greats like Andre Dawson and Jim Rice a very long time to hear their names listed among the immortals, and players with what would have been impressive resumes were quickly dropped from the ballot in the wake of the staggering offensive numbers put up by Steroid Era players. When you see what guys like Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada did with the bat while playing shortstop, suddenly Alan Trammell’s career doesn’t look so impressive. When Bret Boone is hitting 40 homers a year, suddenly Lou Whitaker’s career is forgotten after just one turn on the ballot.
Players like Fred McGriff, who averaged 31 homers and 97 RBI over a 15-year span, who twice lead the league in home runs, but never hit more than 37 in any season, who wound up with 493 career homers and over 1500 career RBI; players like him are getting very little support from the writers. The same can be said of Tim Raines, Dale Murphy, and Harold Baines. All of them had what would have been strong hall-of-fame cases had their careers ended 10 years earlier than they did, before the writers became overwhelmed by huge numbers produced by players with half of their abilities.
I had assumed that the voters would turn one of two ways when the steroid issue became public. I figured that the now de-valued offensive stats would overshadow deserving players from the previous era, which has happened, or I figured that the writers would scoff at the new “magic numbers” and view the players from Murphy and Trammell’s era more highly. But what I didn’t expect was that the writers would ignore the great players of the 1990s while also ignoring players whose numbers don’t match those produced in the steroid era. I just don’t understand how you can have it both ways.
If the writers’ intention is to penalize suspected “cheaters” by ignoring their numbers and keeping them out of the Hall of Fame, then they ought to be taking a closer look at the players like McGriff or Trammell, or Murphy, or Baines and understanding that while those players don’t have Rafael Palmeiro’s 569 home runs, or McGwire’s 583, they were the greats of their generation and should be included with those already enshrined.
More than that, though, I don’t want to imply that I’m okay with keeping Steroid Era players out of the Hall of Fame, either. The Hall has always housed the greatest players from every era in history. The best of the Segregated Era are in, the best of the Negro leagues are in, the best hitters in the Dead Ball Era certainly don’t have the same stats as players from the Live Ball Era, yet the best of both eras are members of the Hall of Fame. Why are the past two eras being viewed differently?
I suppose it’s difficult for writers to determine where to draw the line. What’s the exact date that the Steroid Era began? What do we do with players that were great in the mid-80s, but also played into the late 90s? I’m not sure the answer, but I hope the writers figure it out. Because there will come a time when I can take my kids to New York to see the Hall of Fame and to relive the memories of all the great players I saw play. But if none of those players are there, what’s the point in going?