I am not a voter for the baseball Hall of Fame. I’m not a voter of any Hall of Fame, other than the BibleQuizzer.net one and since I’m actually in that hall of fame, my vote can be considered of minimal value. However, I feel that it is regular fans like me, who get away from the sanctimonious stuff who could actually give a good account of what the Hall of Fame SHOULD be. See the Hall of Fame is both a museum and a celebration of those players who are great.
The Hall of Fame is, in fact, the culmination of a great career. This is where a person must develop their philosophy on what is important. Is it more important to attempt to preserve the “integrity of the game” or is it more important to honor what actually happened on the field of play. I suppose there are a variety of answers one could have to that type of question, but the fact is that every individual who is up for the Hall of Fame actually participated in the game. They have statistics, memory-inducing moments, and games and/or championship winning resumes that demand consideration. I think this mandates giving candidates consideration, based on what they have actually done like Tim Kurkjian expressed here.
The Bob Costas test, which he discussed on the radio, is a great one theoretically. Attempt to determine if they were generationally great players before/without the use of performance enhancing drugs and vote on them with that dichotomy in mind. I call this the McGwire-Bonds distinction. McGwire was a great home run hitter, but the lack of other elements (he was a poor fielder and base runner, he had virtually no doubles or triples, and his batting average was certainly not hall of fame worthy—though not terrible) makes his case primarily based on PED-enhanced categories, whereas Bonds won several Gold gloves, had great batting average and on base percentage, and was a fantastic base runner at the ages where people are potentially great base runners.
None of that is to say that even if you accept the McGwire-Bonds Distinction that you cannot think that Mark McGwire is a Hall of Fame player. It just says that the case for Bonds can be made if you take away his alleged steroid use and his numbers in steroid use enhanced categories. McGwire may still be a Hall of Famer in your mind, but basically, Bonds has to be. The opposing view is one that says it is the job of voters to police the sport.
Here’s the problem with voting for the Hall of Fame being a way to police the sport. First, unless it is connected with being caught for doing the “crime” while playing, it undermines the policy. It undermines the sport itself. If we are going to make decisions like Ken Gurnick‘s decision where you leave out a whole generation, it seems to be a fair and consistent choice. By the same token, it also deprives the Hall of Fame of the recognition in an age of the game itself.
Realizing that baseball interest numbers are dwindling, it is a very poor decision to not recognize any period in your history to a group of potential new fans. People from my generation are entering the prime purchasing power of our lives and our memories, and the individuals who made them, are being excluded from the Hall of Fame. This naturally inhibits our interest in both the Hall of Fame and the game it memorializes. This is a bad move for baseball. On a complete tangent, I believe if the voters continue with this nonsense, someone will come up with a private hall of fame idea that will eventually replace Cooperstown as the memorial of baseball memories.
The second problem with trying to police the sport is you will definitionally be wholly inadequate at doing it. The idea of policing something is to do away with the problem. Not voting someone into the Hall of Fame does nothing to keep people from using Performance Enhancing Drugs during their careers. These careers are over, and very few people (if any) play with the primary incentive being to make the Hall of Fame. The incentive is to have fun, make money, be popular, or something that is more immediate. Therefore, you police the Hall of Fame, which is, by its very nature, a place that is a memorial of what happened. It’s asinine to believe that any memorial can ever improve the thing which it memorializes.
The third problem with policing the sport is knowing who is guilty of something worthy of exclusion. Sure, I believe Barry Bonds used Performance Enhancing Drugs. Excluding him from the Hall of Fame merely because I believe that means that I punish based only on my feeling. It is as unjust as a parent deciding to punish a child, merely because the parent believes that something wrong was done. And when you punish someone for something you “believe” happened, how can you ever be certain that you are punishing the right person and all of the correct people. The simple answer is you can not.
The fourth problem with policing the sport is that cheating is a sliding scale. Before replay (and even after it, to some degree), batters who knew they did not hit a home run tried to sell that they did, base stealers trying to spike fielders, outfielders feigned a catch, pitchers spit on a baseball to make it unbalanced in weight, catchers sold a strike, second baseman pretend to tag out base stealers, and first basemen obstruct baserunners views while pretending to make a play.
Deception is part of the sport. Deception is encouraged until it is caught. Aren’t all of these things cheating to one degree or another. Now certainly, none of them raise to the level of something that affects your entire being. But until outlawed, all of these things were part of the things players got away with. To classify everyone who does things that we now consider barbaric or illegal when it was accepted by the game is to not recognize the flaws of the game itself. And while today could have been a celebration of perhaps the best class of people to enter the Hall of Fame since the initial class, it is instead a debate on the morality of something where most evidence is circumstantial at best.
The game was flawed. Let’s fix it. Let’s make the punishment real steep. Let’s take multiple time offenders who falsify information and purposefully obstruct MLB’s intent to improve the game, like Alex Rodriguez, and eliminate them from the game permanently. That is a way that Major League Baseball can move forward and attempt to fix the situation. If any other players fit that category, give them lifetime bans. Exclude those people from the Hall of Fame. If we believe that people were only great because they cheated, we don’t want to honor that.
On the other hand, if you try to tell educated people of the forthcoming generations that the best players they ever saw never had a positive drug test, were linked in some conversation about improper drug use, and are therefore not worthy of being recognized as a great player in the best museum ever made, people won’t go to the museum that doesn’t hold those memories. Without nostalgia, the game begins to lose a foothold on the fabric of collective consciousness.
Without that, generations of baseball fans will find another way to spend their summers and the game will die.
Shear numbers tell us that if the Hall of Fame voters continue with this policing strategy for even just one more year, the backlog of great players that this generation of baseball fans remembers will be so great, that the tide will turn. Jim Caple noticed the math on this years ago, but the future of baseball fans is less enthusiastic than ever before, and that is frustrating.