that I like this idea.
If they just voted in context to the era…
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….
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.
Tim Keown has a great piece in the forthcoming ESPN The Magazine on Barry Bonds and the steroid era and it’s impact on the Hall of Fame voting process.
My view in this mess is that the only way we can be consistent and judge these individuals for their actions fairly, and do justice TO the game and the history OF the game, and for the fans of the game… Is to judge these players as the best players of the “Steroid Era”. Does that sound crazy? Well think about it…
In the modern era, beginning in 1903, the following seasons have the highest runs per game average:
1936 & 1929 5.19
Looking from the opposite perspective, here are the lowest scoring seasons on average since 1903:
with seasons such as 1972, 1967, 1971, 1963, 1965, 1966 and 1976 all coming in at under 4 runs per game on average.
Are there Hall of Famer’s from each year or era? Yes there are. Just as players in the steroid era achieved greater offensive output during that period, other eras were similarly distorted historically. The ’20′s and ’30′s sported sluggers such as Rogers Hornsby .424 batting average, and Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs in 1927. In 1930 alone over half, or 9 of 16 teams in the majors had batting averages OVER .300. While in 1968 Boston Red Sox slugger Carl Yazstremski won the batting title with a .301 average. While the league that year, as a LEAGUE, hit .237.
Now are there Hall of Famer’s from that era. Of course.
Did they have advantages towards the pitchers back then. Yes. Commissioner Ford Frick, after 1961, saw that the strike zone be enlarged from the shoulders to the batters knees. This enabled pitchers like Sandy Koufax to have record high strikeout totals 382 in 1965. But that was a rule based distortion… How about the culture back in the day?
Only upto the most recent labor agreement did the owners and the players come together to ban amphetamines. One has to look no further back than Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” expose` to see the reliance the majority of players had on stimulants to get through the travel, and the daily grind of a 154, to then 162 game season. Let alone the first one, and now three (or four depending on how one looks at it) rounds of playoffs in the postseason.
Do you think it’s possible that those day games after night games, and the “getaway travel days,” or the “off-days” where the team still has to fly and go to a motel room to be ready to play the next day are any easier without such “performance enhancers?’
Now I understand how some self righteous reporters who have never played the game, or if they did, past Little League, Scholastic, or at the Collegiate level, want to exercise their “moral integrity/or self imposed obligation to “protect the Hall of Fame from “cheaters,” who cheated the fans, the owners, and their fellow players of opportunity and a long career and the riches that come with it.
But here’s the problem(s) with that erroneous, self serving fallacy: The players and the owners and the Commissioners of the times all knew about the prevalence of steroids and performance enhancing drugs! Thomas Boswell called out Jose Canseco during the 1988 season, with his suspicions and was criticized throughout the game, up to the Commissioner Peter Uberroth, for even bringing it up. So the Commissioner knew. The owners knew. Recently it even came to light that General Managers were taking players or cutting players, based on their willingness to use steroids. To just indict the players and absolve the owners, and their representative, the Commissioner, the chief executive of the game itself, is lunacy at best, and blatant hypocrisy at it’s worst!
But think about it? Is the outrage even justifiable when we already have racists such as Ty Cobb in the Hall of Fame. Cheaters such as Gaylord Perry, who used an illegal pitch and even wrote a book about how that got him to the Hall of Fame. Cobb and Tris Speaker were nearly suspended for a year due to gambling allegations from a former player to then Commissioner Landis. And only dropped when that player was too scared to show up in court to face Cobb.
There are players who were criminally violent, sexual deviates, drug users, performance enhancing drug users, gamblers, those who rigged games, owners who practiced segregation, commissioners who practiced segregation and discrimination against players and owners… etc., etc.
Where does the self proclaimed “moral police” begin to clean up the Hall of Fame? Can we absolve all of the others sins, and merely hold the line performance enhancers? Or those who bet on the game, like Pete Rose, but who could not orchestrate his accusers to go away, like Cobb and Speaker successfully did? Where is the consistency? Where is the lesson that teaches us and our children that those character flaws must be taken into account, along with the individual’s greatness? Isn’t that a great moral lesson for our children, that great men, can still do terrible things, to themselves, and hurt those around them, and that even they must be resistant to falling to temptation on such a catastrophic scale?
Mark McGwire was lauded for how he embraced the family of Roger Maris as he broke Maris all-time single-season home run record in 1998. But when called to testify in front of Taylor Hooton’s father, after Taylor committed suicide after taking steroids, to succeed like McGwire, McGwire punted and shirked away his responsibility and accountability, stating pathetically, and repeatedly, that: “I’m not here to talk about the past…” Then what was he there for?
Now some may say that this disqualifies McGwire from the Hall of Fame, but my argument is that if we choose to erase this era from the game… Then why have a Hall of Fame and a museum based on the history of the game, in the first place? This is a crisis for the Hall of Fame, that threatens it’s relevance to a new generation of fans and visitors. What if they can’t see any players they grew up with inducted, and their experience and relationship with the game is erased?
Would they still go? Would they still be fans? Just who can we elect? Can we be sure that those inducted are clean? Tom House, a former relief pitcher back in the 1970′s admitted that he tried steroids in the ’70′s… Is it reasonable to assume that he was the ONLY one? Jose Canseco admitted he began steroids in the minor leagues in the ’80′s, while teammates with McGwire, and that even to this day, one can still go “over the border” to Mexico, or play ball in Latin America and get steroids, without a prescription, either outright or through a surrogate like Alex Rodriguez did with his trainer Yuri Sucart.
Since we can’t go back and “unmake history,” we can’t go back and make Ty Cobb an honorable man; Pete Rose, a non-addictive personality; or Barry Bonds what he was before we believe he began to take steroids… we only have the one option left to us, provided by most who vote for the Hall of Fame. Primarily to judge the players on the basis of their era’s, and judge them accordingly next to their peers.
Remember though, Babe Ruth dominated when players traveled by train, and not further west than St. Louis. Neither he nor Cobb had to face the great negro league players in anything more than an exhibition game, seen and known only by those who witnessed them. Expansion from the 1960′s and up to today has added more teams, and inadequate players and pitchers than in previous generations. The rules have changed, and been changed again. Only now do we test for human growth hormone, in addition to other synthetic drugs to enhance performance and hide that fact.
Only recently have we embraced players from Asia, like Hideo Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki, and players from Korea and even China, that have made baseball today a truly global game. Do we short Ichiro because even though he has the all-time hits record at 262, and an outside shot at 3,000 hits as a big leaguer, he just didn’t play in the league enough, or dominate longer than the usual 10 year period, even though his peak was greater than even the game?
And what about the guys on the margins who used once, and stopped. Or used and later stopped? Were they not also competing against Bonds and the rest? Do we exonerate them by only targeting Bonds and those we know of, merely by chance, and allow them to go unscathed and un-scrutinized? Is that justice? Is that even fair to people like Bonds and the rest?
Simply put we CAN’T make distinctions between users and non-users, because there is too much we don’t know, and will never know… The only way to be fair and do justice to the game and the fans of the game, is to judge the players on their numbers and their contributions to the history of the game, warts and all. Roger Clemens is a Hall of Famer, just as much as Greg Maddux is. Ichiro Suzuki is a Hall of Famer, just as much as Sandy Koufax is. The Hall of Fame is there to celebrate both the greatness of it’s players AND the history of the game.
You can’t tell the complete story of baseball without telling about Pete Rose. Or Barry Bonds. Or Roger Clemens. Or Greg Maddux. Or Mariano Rivera. So why try to??? Because the “Hall of Famers” won’t show up for the induction? Did they “show up” for the Negro League players BEFORE Ted Williams went out of his way to recognize them and their contribution unexpectedly in 1966? Did that speech not lead to the Hall of Fame having to change their policy and start a committee to judge who should be let in to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and not the Major League Owners and Players Hall of Fame…
The Hall of Fame belongs to the FANS, and it’s legacy is preserving the history of the game, and the appreciation OF that history of the game, to further generations. A father can take his son to see the video, pictures, and artifacts of “the best (lefthanded) pitcher I ever saw, son,” Sandy Koufax (if it’s MY dad talking). And one day I can go and tell my son how I rooted for Tommy Glavine and John Smoltz, when I was his age. And how I dreamed of being able to pitch for the Atlanta Braves until the scout told me I threw 4 pitches that couldn’t break the speed limit, and had to find another dream in life. That led me down the path to what I do today. That is a powerful message. Just as powerful as putting Barry Bonds up there and telling my son, that this man was the greatest hitter and athlete I saw on the field, but couldn’t stand the fact that people who cheated were replacing him in the record books, as his father was dying. And so he chose to do what they did, and erase them from the record books, himself. There is a moral lesson there. And it is powerful. The kind that can define right and wrong and the consequences of one’s actions… If they are not careful, that will haunt them forever, and throw away their name and their legacy… And for what???
The Hall of Fame can be a leader in creating the perfect environment for teaching and imparting such a valuable and profound lesson of not just morality, but dignity, conscience, and honor and what it means to do right, in the face of overwhelming circumstances, and what falling to temptation, if even for a moment can cost you, if you are not willing to toe the line, and stand on principle and the highest of ideals, exuding character.
Character that Hall of Fame people like Dale Murphy showed, and continues to show and advocate for, who are NOT in the Hall of Fame, to counter the alternative and antithesis OF it. If that is what the Hall of Fame is left with. It will be left with… nothing to celebrate and fade into irrelevance. Instead it can choose to be an aide in educating the next generation, to show the consequences of those who were irresponsible, and celebrate the efforts and examples of those who WERE responsible, in people like Murphy, like Fred McGriff, like Craig Biggio, like Pedro Martinez, players who were not only key players in the game, but exemplary people OF the game. Who respected the game, and the people involved in it, and were the best, impacting others in their daily lives around them, to make their lives better.
Listen to Craig Biggo’s press conference where he explains why he’s retiring. Listen to a man, who knows he can still pad his stats, hanging on for one more year, but instead wants a different kind of “legacy” for his family. A legacy of simply being a husband and a dad. Full time. No sacrifices. No more excuses. No more being selfish, having a one way dynamic with his family revolving around baseball for it’s own sake. People like that, are people who have the character the Hall of Fame was made to celebrate. But even to the “stat heads” Biggio, despite being an All-Star at three different positions, a leader of his team for the majority of his career, having reached 3,000 hits, and over 600 stolen bases, even HE is on the “borderline” to the Hall of Fame and may have to wait behind others, to get in… Well if THAT is what the Hall of Fame values, and shuns people like Biggio, and Dale Murphy, while letting people like Cobb stay in? I mean Kirby Puckett beat his wife? Tony La Russa had a DUI (March 22, 2007) preceding his own pitcher dying in a DUI car crash? (April 29, 2007). And I guaranDAMNtee you that Tony La Russa will be elected to the Hall of Fame, probably on the first ballot, too!
So the ONLY way to judge these players and events fairly and do justice to the game, and for the fans of the game, that is for the enjoyment of the FANS themselves! (You don’t have a game if the fans don’t show up, folks!) you ultimately have to judge the players by the era or time period they played in. Is Sandy Koufax an all-time leader in stats for starting pitchers? No. But is he an all-time leader from 1955-1966, when he played… yes, he is. That is why he belongs. And Pete Rose belongs. And Ty Cobb belongs, just as much as Satchel Paige, why? Because it’s a Hall of “Fame” (Webster’s: fame: “public estimation: reputation. poplar acclaim: renown). It exists to celebrate the game, and the history of the game, both good and bad. And that is not to be discounted or disowned because some of the people involved in it were horrible. Or that the game itself was played by those fighting both sides in a Civil War, the bloodiest war our country has ever known.
Celebrate the game, it is a wonderful game. With characters and personalities that exhalt the highest of ideals (Jackie Robinson) and the absolute depths of moral depravity (Ty Cobb). Put them together as a whole and present them accurately and justly, and you have one hell of a learning experience on, of and for anybody’s life. Especially the next generation. And for the possible beneficial impact of that example, do not shun or censor or serve to dilute what the Hall of Fame is, exists to be, and can well be… To choose to do so, now, would be robbing America of yet another discussion that is truly needed in America in our times, and trash the legacy of men like Dale Murphy, of those who did the right thing, into the same bag as those of Barry Bonds and Pete Rose, who did the wrong thing… Don’t lump everyone into that same pile of irrelevance and “un-personhood,” because then the Baseball Hall of Fame will be paradoxically sentencing itself to that same unnecessary and prideful conclusion, feeding it’s own arrogance, over the role it plays in preserving the game, and what is best about the game for current and future generations.