HOF Hypocrisy

So nice to see the MLB writers putting themselves above the game just like the players they penalize and despise AFTER THE FACT, while they celebrated them and made money writing about them in that era. The writers are just as guilty as the players in my book… And they are absolving themselves and castigating others for behavior they celebrated and promoted… Despicable….

Confronting Our Most Recent History

Peter Gammons: HOF: What We Don’t Know…

This most recent piece by Peter Gammons gets to the crux of the matter with the 2013 MLB HOF ballot. Gammons does a beautiful job, interweaving the issues with the current voting structure (arbitrary 10 name limit on ballot), the self aggrandizing self righteousness of the HOF voters, the blanket unqualification of some voters to even cast an informed vote (that led to one voter ceasing to vote again for the MLB HOF (Tj Quinn gives up HOF vote for good). Gammons describes the anecdotes that serve to sentence some players unfairly as cheaters by proxy, naming Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza specifically, with the accusation of acne on Piazza’s back, and a shrinking physique in Bagwell’s case, with Gammons going the extra mile, explaining that an arthritic shoulder forced Bagwell to play without the benefit of lifting weights. Gammons goes down the ballot of those who will get his vote, and mourns those who he feels may not get in, because of the sanctimonious writers and unfairness of the process. Reading this a second time, it reads like a heartfelt, mournful piece about the situation we are in with judging those worthy of the MLB HOF, and scornful against those who judge without evidence and cheat those who are above reproach and have nothing against their records, such as Fred McGriff, the former All-Star first baseman, who fell short of 500 home runs, a former “slam dunk” to MLB HOF immortality.

I certainly understand the motives for a writer like Quinn to wash his hands of this foul process, and cast judgement against the innocent, as well as the guilty based upon what some writers were willing to disclose about some ballplayers, and not about others. I remember the universal scorn brought against Thomas Boswell when he accused Jose Canseco, the self proclaimed “father of the steroid era of MLB”, to be cheating the game, and his fellow players by using steroids to erase records and set new ones, such as his “40/40”, HR and stolen base mark in 1988. I remember the universal acclaim brought to the same players and downright joy shared from the sportswriters, who covered Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s chase to erase Roger Maris single season home run record. This once and for all would erase the need for those writers to be forced to celebrate the surly Maris, who lashed out at the writers of his day, justifiably, for punishing him because they felt him unworthy of breaking Babe Ruth’s mark. Just imagine what would have happened if Mickey Mantle had not gotten that shot from Max Jacobsen, and come down with an infected abscess, and would have eclipsed the great Babe Ruth? Would the writers of the day have celebrated a legend in the making, keeping the all-time single season HR record “in the family” so to speak. And overlook the role that the expansion adding inferior pitching at the big league level in the American League first, and later in the National League, led to more records being broken. Like the Stolen Base record by Maury Wills. Or the strikeout record by Sandy Koufax. You better believe it.

I like how Gammons attempts to put the steroid era in context against the backdrop of segregation, amphetamines and other performance enhancing drugs use of the times, and how some players numbers like Edgar Martinez need to be put in their proper context, relative to the game in their times. We cannot banish Martinez anymore than we can celebrate the pre integration HOFers.  Are you telling me that Babe Ruth would have been as successful if he had to bat against Satchel Paige, or Bullet Joe Rogan in their prime? I doubt that. But I can’t go by what I think, only by what occurred. All we have is the numbers and the history of the game to put them in their proper context. That is supposedly what the HOF is all about. Not  the greatest 100 players and not one more. The greatest players of their era.

If we are going to make a rash judgement against “cheaters” for playing in an unlevel playing field, then we would have to kick out ALL of the Negro League era players… for playing in “unsanctioned games” with “dubious” records as a testament to their relative “greatness.” I won’t hold it against Buck Leonard that he only got to play against the MLB stars in exhibition and winter ball games. He’s still the best of his time in the era in which he played, against those of which he played. This is the Baseball Hall of Fame, NOT the MLB Baseball (re: MLB Owners version) of the HOF!

Gammons is right, it is completely unfair that a player like Fred McGriff who eclipsed the HR mark of Lou Gehrig, may not get enshrined because players such as Mark McGwire had an edge he refused to take. Even when his last dubious season he “hit” .181 for his last place, hometown Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Could McGriff had benefited from juicing and padding his numbers to get to the 500 HR mark? Well those who are claiming him unworthy on the basis of those numbers have shown that he could have possibly have passed on MLB HOF immortality, because he had the integrity NOT to cheat the game. How sick is that? What message does THAT send to the children of today and next generation of ballplayers, as well as future generations? Is it the right one?

And forget steroids for a moment, take Gammons take on why he votes for Jack Morris when others do not. Why, because Gammons tells firsthand of how Morris peers spoke about how much they respected the talent of Morris, and this is coming from hard fought respect on the field, as we all know Morris was hell to deal with as a person both on the field and off it, teammate and opponent alike. This is coming from the peers of his generation. That along with his winning record should matter more than the fact that because he pitched in an offensive league with a designated hitter and contemporaries like Steve Carlton, did not have to, until the final three seasons of his career. And that those final three seasons, pretty much forced Carlton to retire against his will. Carlton had that luxury, but Morris did not… So one is celebrated by the writers, and accordingly the fans by way of the echo chamber… Is that fair, and does justice to the legacy and the history of the game. Across ALL eras? I think not.

There are good arguments to be made for and against many players when it comes to the Hall of Fame. But we can’t have it both ways. We cannot celebrate some players at the expense of others. We cannot celebrate “dead ball” era players and judge those in the Ruthian “offensive era,” no more than we can celebrate the pitchers of the ’60’s like Sandy Koufax, and cast off the best hitters in the DH era,  like a Paul Molitor, or a Frank Thomas, for playing in an offensive era.

We can’t castigate those who used steroids to pad their stats, anymore than we can go after the players who used amphetamines to have the focus and the energy to play day games after night games in Wrigley Field, year after year. You can’t enshrine Barry Bonds because “he was a HOF before he supposedly began to use in 1999,” for the simple fact that we know that elite players like Roger Clemens were juicing as well? We can’t go back through the records and weight them retroactively, enhancing the efforts of non-users and slighting those who did use, because we don’t know the extent of the use, and WHO was using. How many pitchers tried it and kept doing them? How many tried it once, and never did again since they found no benefit? How do you judge one across the other and come out with a fair assumption based on evidence and not hearsay, baseless rumor or blind conjecture and hyperbole… You can’t! So we just have to suck it up and do what we are supposed to do, judge the players on the basis of the era they played.

If the Baseball Writers are unprepared or unwilling to do just that, then they should have their votes revoked and privledge to vote removed. Let those who are more studious about the game and understand it’s context make the call, they are more than willing to make, while the writers play God and enjoy the worst kind of attention possible, the attention of choosing NOT to do what they set out to do and were obligated to do. That is the same kind of pathetic, selfish, “me first,” self interested attitude that GAVE us players like Bonds, that put us in this position in the first place!

Don’t leave the game’s legacy and future standing in the eyes of the public and future generations to those who already failed the test and aided and abetted those who committed the crime, and only now choose to blame the players, while absolving the owners and Commissioners who let it happen so that they could enjoy record profits for themselves, at the expense of the players AND the fans! We need to reward what is best about the game, not what is the worst.

A Hall of Fame with “missing history” is just as offensive as previous times, when similar choices were made and justified to keep out stars of the Negro Leagues who were forced by the owners to play amongst themselves. Well then as now, it was the owners and the Commissioners of the game, who work in the Owners best interest, who harmed the legacy of the game for generations. However instead of learning from that dark moment in baseball history, the owners and their representative, the Commissioner, are dead set on repeating that dark day, for generations to come… This does violence to the image and stature of the game, much more than any “enhanced ballplayer” EVER could!

It’s time for both sides to put the game first… And let the fans celebrate it, warts and all…. THAT is the right choice. And that choice does NOT choose to “cheat the game” again, by cheating the fans and it’s players of the history they made and played a big part in creating.