The new class of the baseball Hall of Fame was announced today. Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Craig Biggio and John Smoltz were all elected. I was a fan of all four players, so their enshrinement makes me happy. Unfortunately, baseball writers seem determined to take all of the fun out of this. Whether it is Jay Jaffe explaining to me why Jim Rice and Robbie Alomar, two of my favorite players, lower the standards of the hall, or Grant Brisbee making the case that Barry Bonds should be in the Hall, or Joe Posnanski making the case for Pete Rose, it makes what should be a good thing for baseball very tiresome. The same is true of Jayson Stark, Brian Kenny and a host of others. I like these writers. I read their columns regularly. But, they just don’t get why the Hall of Fame matters to us regular baseball fans.
There are a few basic types of arguments that the writers use to make their cases, and each one helps show why they don’t get it. One argument is that the point of the Hall of Fame is to tell the history of baseball. That being the case, it is absurd to tell the story of baseball without steroids, or gambling, or whatever. The thing is, the Hall of Fame does tell the story of baseball, warts and all. If you want to know who has the most career hits, the Hall of Fame has a display with Pete Rose’s name on top. It even has memorabilia from players that no one remembers because they did something special one day. That story gets told whether Barry Bonds, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe have bronze plaques or not. Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon are two of our most historically significant presidents. We are not failing to tell the story of America because we aren’t naming high schools after them.
Another argument they make is that there are already liars, cheaters, racists, and probably a few steroid users in the Hall, so why should we keep these guys out? This boils down to what your parents probably told you, two wrongs don’t make a right. Just because the voters have made mistakes in the past is no reason to repeat those mistakes now.
A third argument is that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are arguably the best position player and best pitcher who ever lived. Not having them in the Hall makes the Hall irrelevant. See the first argument above.
A fourth argument is that everyone was doing it, and besides, baseball wasn’t policing it anyway. See argument two above.
What these writers seem to want is to make the Hall of Fame into a sort of record book. The want the top 1% of players, according to Wins Above Replacement or JAWS or FIP or whatever, to be enshrined and no one else. But that’s not what the Hall of Fame is, and that’s not what I want it to be. And I have a hunch it’s not what most fans want it to be. The plaques in the Hall of Fame are a special honor. Of course they should go to great baseball players, but they are not there to remind me who has the most home runs or strikeouts. There are a million different places for that. They are there so I can take my kid to Cooperstown and stand in front of Tony Gwynn’s plaque and say, “I saw him play, and man was he a beautiful hitter.” They are there so I can stand in front of Jim Rice’s plaque and say, “I used to wear number 14 on my little league team because of Rice.” They are there so I can stand in front of Jackie Robinson’s plaque and think to myself, “It’s amazing that a silly game can have such a big impact.”
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe would ruin it because of their lies, their cheating, and their general douchebaggery. When I was a kid, I had a Roger Clemens poster on my wall. He was standing on the mound, looking in at the catcher with the ball behind his back. Only it wasn’t a ball, it was a rocket. But if Clemens ever gets elected and I go to Cooperstown, all I would feel standing in front of his plaque is a sense of regret because he taught me that we shouldn’t have heroes. That would devalue the Hall.
I’m not at all anti-stat, but the criteria for the Hall of Fame should simply be that for 75% of the voters a player looks and feels like a hall of famer. Trying to dig deeper, to get at the truth, takes away the wonder and the joy. I love baseball, so please, let’s just let the Hall of Fame elections help us celebrate the wonder and the joy we get from baseball and leave all of the ruiners out.