Thursday, January 09, 2014

Baseball Hall of Fame Voting: Idiocy Compounded

I've been a fan of the game of baseball all my life. One of my earliest memories is of Reggie Jackson  hitting three home runs on three pitches from three different Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers in the sixth game of the 1977 World Series. There are (rather embarrassing) pictures of me from before that time, wearing little more than a baseball glove and cap. I played baseball for ten years, and I lived for the days on the diamond, whether it was organized games, team practices, or just pick-up games with friends in the back yard. I've watched baseball with a near-religious fervor all my life. It should come as no surprise, then, that I would have and express an opinion about an aspect I hate of the sport I love.

I've watched the whole steroid issue play out in baseball with a certain amount of disgust. Most especially am I disgusted by those who use steroids to get ahead. I can understand the desire to succeed. I didn't have enough talent to play professionally at any level, and steroids wouldn't have changed that. And for those who do or did have enough talent, I can understand the desire to extend a career that allows one to play a game for a living. That does not excuse their actions, but it shows the human face of an issue that often sees the press demonize those who have fallen.

And the press should hold themselves accountable for their role in this scandal. For too long they ignored what was right before their eyes. Then, when they could ignore the issue no longer, they went on the offensive, blasting away at anyone whose name was even whispered to be connected with steroids. Evidence or no evidence, conviction or acquittal, anyone who was rumored to be connected with steroids was evil, and the press was ready with pitchforks and torches to do their due diligence to burn these hardened heretics who dared to violate the holy cathedrals of baseball. This is evident, not only in their regular work as sportswriters, but especially in the decisions made by those baseball sportswriters who have been given the privilege of voting on the ballot of players eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The crux of the matter is the criteria upon which each candidate must be judged. Here is the relevant passage: "5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." When it comes to the issues of integrity, sportsmanship, and character, many voting sportswriters consider anyone connected to steroids to be unworthy for consideration. One voter this year even stated that he wouldn’t vote for anyone who played during the “Steroid Era.”

Baseball is known as “America’s Pastime.” For those who star in our pastime to be held to the un-American standard of “guilty until proven innocent” is just ridiculous. It’s no better than Kenesaw Landis giving “Shoeless” Joe Jackson a lifetime ban for throwing the World Series—not based on evidence, but based on a confession coerced from an unlettered country boy who didn’t know he was being burned. Those who have been proved to be guilty of steroid use, along with those who have confessed to steroid use, might rightly be castigated for cheating. Still, when the writers allowed proven spitball users Gaylord Perry and Don Drysdale into the Hall, their righteous indignation toward other cheaters seems overdone. In fact, on the integrity and character scale, Roberto "I'm a Better Spitter than Gaylord Perry" Alomar probably doesn’t belong either, and even the cases of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, one a drunken womanizer and the other a jackass on and off the field, might be brought into question as well. And though he wasn’t a player, by the character and integrity standard, does Kenesaw “Who Needs Evidence?” Landis really belong? As for those whose names have been mentioned but for whom no compelling and exhaustive proof has been given, excluding them from serious consideration because of their era or because of mere rumor is a travesty and a miscarriage of justice, and those who engage in such a perversion are as bad as  those who use steroids--or worse because of their hypocrisy.

One writer said that this year’s elected players, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddox, became hall of famers in their living rooms yesterday, presumably when the Baseball Writers Association of America announced their selections. Such arrogance! These men became hall of famers on the baseball diamond, in the dugout, in the clubhouse, in the weight room, in little league, in the yard with their fathers. I'm thinking there needs to be a baseball sportswriters hall of fame which is voted on solely by those who play the sport professionally. But if you lived in an era where caffeine was in use as a stimulant, whether you drank it or not, you're ineligible for election.

Although most (and certainly not all) of the players (and others) enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame deserve the honor, some who deserve the honor will never be so honored. The personality cult of baseball sportswriters--and, in one case, the arrogance of a man called "Mountain"--has seen to that. Until the Hall of Fame election process is completely overhauled or the sportswriters be taught humility and basic journalistic integrity, the true Baseball Hall of Fame will reside in the only pure shrine of baseball: the hearts and minds of its fans. Pete and Joe, you'll always be welcome in mine.

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