As the year 2015 draws to a close, we take some time to sit around a table, and reflect on all that the game has given us this past year. We drink some wine and jovially imitate Bartolo Colons batting technique, reflect on a rookie class that rivals any the game has ever produced, and talk feverishly about one of the more exciting World Series of this century. To anyone observing, the game is healthy, vibrant, full of hope and optimism, virtually scandal free and anxious for the year ahead. What will the Braves do next? Will the Cubs finally break the streak? Will the Giants make good with an even numbered year? There is nothing overly provocative, and it seems there is more excitement about the future, than shame of the past.
Then comes a menacing knock on the door, and the air seems to suddenly leave the room in one swift gust. The only noises are loud, belligerent voices on the other side of the door, and several palms slapping against foreheads. Heads hang in gloom, wine, once swigged merrily, is now chugged hastily to brace for what is coming. The BBWAA has arrived, and it’s Hall of Fame season.
Yes, the time has come for writers to take the accomplishments of players, craftsmen who have spent nearly the entirety of their lives perfecting this game, and have done so at such a level worthy of recognition, and demean them to endless parades of hyperbolic conjecture about the times they played in, and the reports in which their names may have been mentioned. Their pedestals, largely unoccupied for most of the year, suddenly sag under the weight of their false sense of duty and overblown idea of “protecting the game” from players who they deem unworthy of the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. They are the gatekeepers, and they’ll be goddamned if they let you forget it.
In most recent years, it seems as though the biggest zit on the forehead of this process is the steroid users. Names like, McGwire, Sosa, Rodriguez (Ivan), Clemens, and probably most importantly, Bonds will all spew from the mouths of sportswriters, laced with venom and spite because of some ill perceived wrong that these players have done to the game or them personally. They believe these figures to be tainted, undermined by choices that no one really knows that they actually made, or that the very people holding them accountable for them, wouldn’t have made themselves. It is in their belief that by barring them access to the baseball holy land, we (the fans) are sending a message that we will not tolerate such deviant behavior such as PEDs, and that the integrity of the game comes first. They are sailing the seas of righteousness, and the hall will be their sails.
The winds are changing though, and they may not even realize it.. A generation of change is on the horizon. Where the “steroid era” is more of a distant memory than a history altering phenomena. A generation that has had time to examine the context of the era and realize that there is a point where principle and history need to be separated, and that while there are certain principles that must remain un compromised (gambling), we cannot pretend to redact parts of our past that seem inconvenient or unflattering to times that our fathers have so anointed as the “golden” ones. This is a time where statistics are kept in such detail and held in such regard, that it will eventually be impossible to overlook the achievements of Bonds and Clemens in particular, to say that 5 MVP awards, 7 Cy Young trophies, 762 home runs, and 354 wins isn’t good enough, because of decisions made on the field. The seemingly easy pick in the 2016 ballot will be Ken Griffey Jr., “The Kid”. Free of scandal, adored by the fans, widely respected through his long (albeit, injury plagued) career, accruing a hall-worthy 83.6 WAR (Wins Above Replacement, measuring how many wins he gave his team, versus if an average player played his position). That puts him just above Rod Carew (81.1) and just below Adrian Beltre (83.8). That also, however, puts him roughly 57 behind Roger Clemens (140.3) and an astounding 79 behind Bonds (162.4)! We simply, as a society that claims to have such respect for the games history, ignore those discrepancies.
I’ll take it a step further too. No asterisks, no separate section, just a flat out induction. For if we decide to use, of all things, steroids as something so egregious to the games history, then let’s apply some fairness. Let’s pull Ruth, Cobb, Walter Johnson, Nap Lajoue, Cap Anson, and Jon McGraw (among many others)’s mantles in a separate section for before integration was a thing in baseball, and attach the same stigma to it, since that is an issue of human rights, as opposed to personal choices. Let’s take anyone who played in the 80’s and remind everyone of the rampant drug use, giving Gaylord Perry, Mike Schmidt, Rolly Fingers, and others their own section for us to look down upon. What about the forgotten souls of Josh Gibson, Buck O’Neil, Cool Papa Bell, and the stars of the Negro leagues? We cannot simply pick and choose which eras of baseball we choose to acknowledge as negative simply because we were affected by them personally, and shame on the writers for not taking that into account. They are to document and reflect, as orators for generations that will not be alive to be witnesses, not judge and jury for those who are not able to make their own conclusions without access to all the facts.
And now, simply because i’ve ranted and raved, and also quite frankly because it doesn’t matter, here’s my HOF ballot…
- Barry Bonds (LF – Giants)
- Ken Griffey Jr. (CF – Mariners)
- Roger Clemens (SP – Yankees)
- Mike Piazza (C – Mets)
- Fred McGriff (1B – Braves)
- Mike Mussina (SP – Yankees)
- Curt Schilling (SP – Red Sox)
- Tim Raines (CF – Expos)
- Sammy Sosa (RF – Cubs)
- Jim Edmonds (CF -Cardinals)