Baseball’s Hall of Fame is a joke.
And we still don’t understand the punchline.
Back in 1994, before I ever dug my cleats into a Little League diamond for the first time, Major League Baseball went through a strike-shortened season, a strike that curtailed the postseason and World Series, and gutted the popularity of America’s Pastime nearly until the turn of the new millennium.
Baseball was becoming an afterthought when pinned up against the NFL and NBA.
Trust was lost. Stadiums were emptied. It was capitalism at its ugliest, greed at its ultimate point. Something had to change to get people to come back, and to stay back.
I remember being 8 years old, sitting in front of my parent’s little TV in the living room, next to the kitchen, in their old house. Sosa’s Cubs were playing McGwire’s Cardinals. McGwire was stuck on 61 home runs when, late in the game, he stepped up to face righty Steve Trachsel. The stadium was packed, the flashbulbs were striking all about, and I sat there with my mother, waiting for something magical to happen, until it did. He squeaked his record-breaking 62nd homer just over the left field wall, and even at the time I thought about how ironic it was that this mammoth man — who made a living destroying baseballs deep into the night — may have only cleared the fence by a couple feet. I just didn’t know what the word ironic meant when I was 8.
No one cared. The record was broken. The deed was done. McGwire and Sosa, friends, were two lovable characters who took baseball from the pits of irrelevancy back into the hearts of Americana.
Three years later, Barry Bonds eclipsed McGwire’s 70-homer 1998 season, with 73 himself. By that time, people figured something fishy was going on, whether it was juiced-up baseballs, or just the players themselves who were juiced.
* * * * * *
Here we are on 9 January, 2013, the day where Hall of Famers get elected. No one did.
Among those left off were Mike Piazza, the aforementioned Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, and so on. You could make a compelling argument that each of those 5 players were among the best-5 in the game for periods at a time, all deserving of their rightful place in Cooperstown.
The problem is, baseball writers are the gatekeepers. The same ones who — during their careers — lauded Bonds and McGwire and Sosa and Clemens for their historic levels of greatness, are the ones vilifying, begrudging, and keeping them out of the same place they voted in Jim Rice. They are rewriting the history books, telling us what we saw happen, didn’t actually happen. The objective data each player accrued during their life in the sport doesn’t mean as much as they are telling us it meant.
They are holding the keys to a lock that suddenly doesn’t mean as much, and is bordering not meaning a damn thing at all.
Is it fair to praise individuals for their greatness before turning on them after new rules are set in place? Is it fair to wave a sanctimonious gavel in the faces of the public, when we were all seeing the same thing? Is it fair to turn a blind eye to the sins while they were happening, just to fault them for it after the fact?
The answer is a resounding “no.” It’s not fair at all.
The players suspected of PED usage were not doing anything wrong within the confines of the rule book while they were playing. I can’t blame them for looking at getting an edge. After all, that’s the American dream — win at all costs; do what you have to do to survive and flourish and get the most money you can while you still can.
Am I condoning what these players did? Not at all. Do I think Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are the most likable guys? Not even close.
But what these players did on the field actually happened. It was real.
Baseball writers should not be given the power to tell us otherwise.