Buddy-buddy system and steroid-greats ruining it for all
On January 26, 2021, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced for the first time in 60 years, that no players had received enough votes to be inducted into its hallowed ranks.
So, to explain, the Baseball Hall of Fame – situated in Cooperstown in NY State – is Baseball’s Holy Grail, the shrine that pays homage to all that is best about America’s favourite pastime. I went there on my first ever Channel Five Baseball Roadtrip in 2004, during my 12-year stint as the Presenter of Channel 5’s live coverage of all things Major League Baseball – every Wednesday and Sunday night, midnight through ‘til 5am!
I loved my trip to Cooperstown, but given what I’m about to say, that might seem a strange statement, so you’re going to have to bear with me.
Good… Burn it! Yep, burn down the Baseball Hall of Fame and start again. It’s rotten to the core, riddled with inconsistency, and it’s one scandal away from the glue-factory!
Now, before you start picketing the streets of Bath to vent your disagreement (I’m firmly in Lockdown so you won’t find me), I obviously don’t mean the Cooperstown Museum. And that brings me to my first point. The Hall of Fame is NOT the Museum and the Museum is NOT the Hall of Fame. They share the same venue, but not the same ethos. One is a wonderfully historical tribute to the history of the game, which I have been lucky enough to see firsthand, while the other is a deeply flawed tribute to the best players that ever played the game.
Simply put – the glory of one does not paper over the cracks of the other – in fact it doesn’t even reach first base. The Museum would remain a must-see venue for any baseball fan, Hall of Fame or not.
So, why are the Halls riddled with a lethal dose of baseball woodworm?
It all started way back in 1936, when the Hall was newly erected, and the writers enshrined its first five occupants: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson. No arguments with any of those I presume?
Back then, no one cared about a man’s personality or his personal ethics, as long as he was a God on a baseball diamond. Trouble is the standard set on that day, 84 years ago, has never been the standard by which future inductees have been measured.
Here is the case for the prosecution:
No place for “Charlie Hustle” Pete Rose. Rose was a switch-hitter (he could bat right or left handed) and his numbers are off the wall Hall of Famer. He had a 23-year playing career, he is the all-time MLB leader in Hits (4,256), Games Played (3,562) & At-Bats (14,053). He won 3 World Series Rings, 3 x Batting Titles, 1 x MVP Award, 2 x Gold Gloves, 1 x Rookie of the Year & made 17 x All-Star appearances at an unequalled 5 different positions. But, because he admitted to gambling on baseball when a player and a Manager (though he also claims never to have bet against his own team), he’s therefore only got himself to blame, right?
No – it’s not that simple. If you’re going to have rules, they have to be consistent across the ages. And with the Hall of Fame that has never been the case.
Ty Cobb at one time, held about 40 offensive records in baseball and was one of the greatest players to ever play the game, and not surprisingly he was an original inductee in the class of 1936.
But he was apparently truly offensive off the pitch as well. Did you know that in 1912 at Hilltop Park in New York, Cobb clambered over 12 rows into the stand to beat a heckling fan. The fan had a disability, and yet Cobb continued the attack even after this fact was made evident to him. He was suspended indefinitely for the attack – the ban lasted 10 days.
Part of the problem has been the voting system. Until quite recently it was always the unique responsibility of the baseball writers. I accept a subjective opinion will always be a problem, but confining that vote for many years to just Baseball writers was a formula for disaster.
It goes without saying that baseball buddies will get undue attention over baseball beauties. The writers have also often justified their more questionable selections with reference to the career hallmarks that now guarantee Hall of fame recognition – 3000 hits or 400 HR’s or 300 Wins etc. But instead of providing structure to the process it has betrayed the very essence of the sport.
Baseball is, and should always be, first and foremost a TEAM sport. But now, because of these benchmarks, great players prolong fast-fading abilities to reach Hall of Fame standards. Just as Cal Ripken’s streak of starting in 2632 consecutive games played, harmed the team fortunes of the late 1990’s Baltimore Orioles, one is also entitled to ask who benefited from Early Wynn going 2-8 in 1962, when he lost seven of his last eight decisions as a 42 year-old. He returned the following year and went 1-2, which gave him 300 wins and promptly retired.
There are a host of players who put their team before individual glory and it cost them their rightful spot in the history of the sport – Bert Blyleven (287 Wins), Alan Trammell (2,365 hits) and Lou Whitaker (244 Hr’s) for example.
I do accept that the Hall of Fame has at least tried to address some of these short-falls. For example, the creation of the Special Committee on Negro Leagues to ensure all historical baseball excellence is found at the Hall. Or the Veterans Committee – a cabal of retired players, executives, and writers – charged with honoring the players that the writers over-looked, is a perfect example. But even this has been soured by controversy. The tenure of Hall of Fame 2nd Baseman Frankie Frisch immediately springs to mind. As chairman of the Veteran’s Committee in the ‘70’s, he oversaw some decidedly dodgy selections of former teammates that infamously became known as “Frisch’s Friends”.
Fast forward to the modern day, and you have this year’s stand-off. Three notable players failed to reach the 75% yes vote line that is required to be successfully inducted.
Curt Schilling, Roger “the Rocket” Clemens and Barry Bonds all had clear Hall of Fame careers, according to their statistics, but both Bonds & Clemens have been tainted by their association with Steroid use in the latter years of their careers, whilst Curt Schilling’s perceived extreme political views, have allegedly negated his popularity. Bonds was also a divisive character, but even ignoring his late career boost that has been attributed to steroid use, his numbers were those of the greatest player of his generation. Love him or hate him, he is a Hall of Famer.
Ok, so burning down the Baseball Hall Of Fame may be a little extreme, but I see no other alternative, unless we build an asterisk wing. That’s it! Let’s build another wing of the Hall of Fame, and have a separate induction process. We could call it the Hall of Shame. Ty could be the first in, closely followed by the modern day steroid-tainted greats. I can just hear Big Barry Bonds during his induction speech: “I’d like to thank my God, my family and my pharmacist for this great honour!”
Burn it and start again, because it’s not the concept that’s flawed, but its make-up!