2013: Year of the Hall Pass
When we look back at the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame class, we’ll see nothing. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nil. None. Nada.
That’s because the vaunted Baseball Writers in all of their wisdom opted to not vote in any of the players eligible. This included people like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds in their first year of eligibility. Arguably two of the greatest to ever play the game.
But the question is, “Why?” Well, without going whether I think it’s right or wrong (at least not this early in the post), let’s look at some of the varying factors influencing the HOF vote over the past few years and into the future.
Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs)
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first, that way we can get onto more serious topics and everyone will have more space to sit down.
It’s pretty much a generally accepted “fact” that Clemens and Bonds, along with a large number of other HOF candidates have used some kind of PED during their careers. While Clemens and Bonds never tested positive for any such substance, their actions and demeanor have been such to give the majority of fans the impression they are as guilty as sin. The only thing either has been charged with or convicted of is perjury. If that, a questionable lifestyle and a bad attitude about being accused of something is grounds for keeping people out of the Hall of Fame, then baseball’s shrine better have a garage sale quick. They can start by selling the bronzed busts of people like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Micky Mantle for 50 cents each.
Baseball players and writers back in the day knew what was going on. There were instances – as related by one ESPN analyst Howard Bryant – that there were two coffee pots in locker rooms – one with normal coffee and one laced with some kind of PED.
Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt may have said it best in a statement to The Associated Press, ” … everyone was guilty. Either you used PEDs, or you did nothing to stop their use.”
And ESPN’s Buster Olney stated that while he did vote for Bonds and Clemens, he did so because he felt they played in an era where literally thousands of players could have been using PEDs while baseball looked the other way.
But Bryant made what I think may have been the most salient point on the topic when, on the Jan. 9 episode of Baseball Tonight while holding a roundtable discussion on the HOF vote, he said (and I’m paraphrasing as I cannot find the actual video), “Everyone knew what was going on and it was no big deal. But when they were asked about it, they lied. That tells you that they knew what they were doing was wrong.”
HOF: Shrine vs. Museum
So what should it be? The answers vary.
Some want a place where only the most hallowed individuals from the game are honored. But even amongst that group, you have a discrepancy as to whether or not a player’s actions off the field should discount or deny a player’s admission at all.
In recent days I have heard discussion that the Hall of Fame be turned into a museum where EVERYONE would get in and their complete story told. The only issue I see with this is that people like Clemens, Bonds and all-time hits leader Pete Rose may not like they way they are portrayed. I don’t know what legal protections are offered a museum, if any, but I’m sure some players might want to file lawsuits if they felt they were being treated unfairly.
I have to say that personally, that latter option in the best for me. But maybe in the case of the players whose careers were tainted by PEDs, betting on games and excessive use of drugs and alcohol, they could just light those rooms a little more dimly than the rest.
BBWAA Voter Registration
I think the main reason for what appears to be a growing split in how the Hall of Fame functions is due to the parties involved. On one hand you have the players and fans, who for the most part are younger. They enjoy the game for the game’s sake and not all the political baggage that it sometimes carries.
On the other you have the Baseball Writers Association of America, or BBWAA. Yes, I know ‘baseball’ is one word and I know that there is one to many B’s in that abbreviation. But let’s focus on the problem at hand, okay boys and girls?
The BBWAA is made up of writers who cover the game for a living. And as such, they feel this need to ‘protect’ the game and its HOF. While no one knows for sure, I’ll draw on my nine years of experience in sports journalism to say that the average age of this group is likely bordering on getting the senior discount at nearly every Denny’s, Sizzler and Marie Calendar’s around.
In short, they’re old. And these older folks don’t like change very much. And until some of these guys wash out of the system – and that may take a while as sitting at a keyboard and banging out stories ain’t exactly strenuous work – not a lot will change with them. New guys will filter in, but you can be sure that a percentage of them will be influenced to ‘protect the game’ like their elderly colleagues and the cycle will continue.
But another interesting statistic among sportswriters in general is that they typically don’t have a lot of experience playing the games they cover.
Back in the 90s when I was the Sports Editor for The Daily Independent in Ridgecrest, Calif., I attended a writing seminar hosted by the LA Times in Anaheim with good friend J.C. Meyerholz. Times sportswriter Bill Dwyer was the keynote speaker and started his address by asking a series of questions.
“How many of you in here played a sport in youth leagues? Like Baseball or football?” Nearly everyone in the room raised their hands.
“How many of you played a sport in high school?” Of the 100 or so people in the room, maybe five still had their hands up.
“How many of you played a sport in college or junior college?” I was the only one left with my hand still in their air.
Those of you that know me even remotely know that I was long on hustle and short on skill back in the day. Had I ever gotten a chance to play a full-blown game in any college sport, I’d have been a “Rudy” rerun.
So for me to be the ONLY writer in a room filled with professional journalists that had played any collegiate athletics tells you a great deal about just how much these writers really know about what they are covering. They don’t know what its like to take a game-winning free throw. They don’t know what it’s like to make a key block. And they certainly don’t know what its like to stand in the box while a guy, who doesn’t know you from Adam, hurls a baseball within inches of your head at 90 mph or faster.
I’ve had that latter experience and its unsettling to say the least.
My point in all of that is to say that sportswriters, in general, are bureaucrats, pure and simple. They are paper pushers who can use their powers of persuasion for good or evil. And while many don’t go down the road of Max Mercy, they do tend to become biased to their own views and allow the power they do have to go to their heads. And in doing so, they lose sight of what they write about and what they really cover: Games.
I promised I’d give me view on this and so here it is: Make the Hall of Fame a museum and let ’em all in. The Hall, which is supposed to be located at the site where baseball started and most assuredly isn’t (click here for more), should tell the whole story of America’s game – Baseball.