Moralizing the Baseball Hall of Fame

Greg Maddux was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this year

Greg Maddux was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this year

At the gym yesterday, I was listening to music on my iPhone while watching ESPN with no volume on the little TV attached to the elliptical. The program on ESPN was a talking heads show, which held little interest for me because, well, I know more about sports than most of those idiots. And, about humility. But, when the caption indicated they were talking about the recent players elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, I pulled the plug on my music and plugged it into the TV outlet. I’m a total baseball nerd and, while two of the three players inducted in 2014 (Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux), spent much of their careers with the hated Braves,  I had to listen to what they had to say. What a phenomenal trio of players to be inducted this year. I will spare you the stats for these guys because you can look them up if you’re interested. I did try to find one stat that I saw on Maddux last summer, but I couldn’t find it. It was the number of times in his 23 year, 5,000 inning career Maddux went to a 3-1 count in a hitter. I really wish I could find the stat because it was some insane number, like in the twenties. Again, geek out all you want on stats at baseball-reference.com. It is literally my favorite website on the entire Internet (that I can mention in polite company).

Alas, to my chagrin, when I plugged in my headphones to the TV, the talking heads were not talking about these three great players. Instead, they were rehashing the tired debate as to why the steroid guys like Bonds, Palmeiro, and Clemens were not elected. Some dude named Bomani Jones was screaming into his microphone that the HoF had become all about the baseball writers, who take themselves way too seriously (unlike the humble talking heads on ESPN). He said, “The baseball writers are moralizing the Hall of Fame into irrelevance.”

OK, wait. Pause button. Stop. Think. Breathe.

Let’s start with the obvious, Bomani, and talk about irrelevance. If your last name is Jones and your first name turns out not to be either Chipper or Cleon, YOU are irrelevant when it comes to baseball. Seriously, raise your hand if, before you read this insightful blog, you had ever heard of Bomani Jones. Yeah, me neither. Feel free to Google him and you’ll find an underwhelming list of jobs and accomplishments that can best be summarized in a one-sentence resume: “I sit around talking about stuff other people have done without actually knowing anything about it.”

Now, on to the substance. Since when has anything ever been moralized into irrelevance. I can think of lots of people and institutions that have immoralized themselves into irrelevance (Enron and Spiro Agnew, just to name a couple), but very few that became irrelevant as a result of sticking to high moral standards. So, if the BBWA is holding the Baseball HoF to a high moral standard, it is to the benefit of the long-term viability of that institution.

Bomani went on to try to defend his untenable position by asking, “What will happen if an entire era of baseball is simply left out of the Hall of Fame? What will people say when they look back sometime in the future and see nobody elected from an entire era?”

Let’s first break down the idiocy of the question. What is an “era” in baseball? Since the average Major League Baseball career is about 5.5 years, an “era” of baseball is probably no more than about 10 years. A little digging around the Internet suggests that most people define the heart of baseball’s “Steroid Era” as 1995-2005. We’re talking about 10 years, not 100 years. And, as this year’s inductees demonstrate, there are plenty of outstanding HoF candidates who played the game honestly, without the assistance of performance enhancing drugs, and reached phenomenal accomplishments, worthy of HoF induction.

That said, Bomani is right on one point. If the BBWA continues with this posture and keeps the cheaters like Bonds and Clemens out of the HoF, there will be a bunch of guys with phenomenal stats missing from the HoF. But, he completely misses the implications. In his narrow worldview, when my great great great grandson is reviewing baseball history, he will lose something by not seeing these names in the HoF. The exact opposite is true.

When my later generation progeny does his baseball homework, he will undoubtedly ask the question “Why isn’t this Bonds guy in the HoF? He’s still the all-time home run leader? Why isn’t this Clemens dude in the HoF? He had a better winning percentage and 1,000 more strikeouts than Greg Maddux in about the same number of seasons and Maddux is in?” When he further researches this, he will find that those two guys, and many others like them, are not in the HoF because they cheated. Who knows how many innings Clemens pitched because steroids helped him get back from an injury faster? Who knows how many of Bonds’ home runs would have been caught on the warning track if he hadn’t been juicing? Of course, there’s no way to know. But, we know they cheated and gained an advantage over guys like Maddux and Barry Larkin, who played honestly in the same era and got into the HoF. Maybe the future generations will even read up on the steroid era itself and how destructive it was to the game and the individuals. That might be a good lesson.

I don’t disagree that the baseball writers are taking a moral stand by keeping the cheaters out of the HoF. But, in this day of moral relevance, I applaud anyone who has the guts to take a legitimate moral stand like this. And, as a hardcore baseball fan, I appreciate that they continue to protect the integrity of the game and the Hall of Fame.

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About Bruce Robertson

Bruce Robertson is an amateur writer and professional provocateur
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