The Sad Joke That Has Become The Baseball Hall of Fame

First and foremost, I want to say how much baseball has been an incredible part of who I am… As a matter of fact, ever since I can remember, my life has been consumed with the game… As I kid, I would spend my days pitching a tennis ball against the garage and then picking up a bat and whacking the rebound… When “The Natural” came out, I went to see it with my Mom in the old Belmont Theatre on the El Camino… I loved it so much I would not leave… I made her stay so we could watch the next showing an hour after the first one ended… After I saw “Major League” the first thing I did was go and buy a Cleveland Indians #99 jersey… I watched “61″ so many times I actually became a quasi Yankee fan… I would fall asleep to Ken Burns’ PBS documentary “Baseball” almost every night, when I played professionally… I collected baseball cards as a kid and spent every dollar I earned pumping gas at Chevron and slicing meat at Melina’s Deli on improving my collection… Nolan Ryan, Rickey Henderson, Wade Boggs, Don Mattingly, Ken Griffey Jr, Jose Canseco, Cal Ripken Jr, Daryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden “Rookie” Cards, had to have them… Mark McGwire and Will Clark 1984 olympic cards, no doubt I needed the whole set… At one point there was not a Will Clark card that existed that I did not own… I even splurged for the famous “F-Face” Billy Ripken card, I was the envy  of every 12 year old kid in my neighborhood…

To be able to then play parts of 11 major league seasons with 5 different teams was beyond a dream come true… Even now, working for KNBR 680, the San Francisco Giants flagship station, and the Major League Baseball Network, there is not a single day I don’t realize how fortunate I am to have my professional life entrenched in something that I have had so much passion for throughout the years…

I have prefaced you with all of this because what I have to say next may be viewed as somewhat anti Major League Baseball, and that is not the case… We all, including myself, have plenty of imperfections and MLB is not any different… Replay should have been implemented 30 years ago, it took a catcher nearly getting killed before they finally changed the rule about collisions at home plate, and a one game wildcard game to decide a 162 game regular season still seems asinine to me…  Yet I am not sure anything upsets me more than when a game that prides itself on history and tradition above all else, fails to recognize some of the greatest players because they have decided to morally judge certain individuals based on circumstances and actions many would argue Major League Baseball helped facilitate… Over 500 writers have a difficult enough time deciding who to vote for without asking them to play “moral police.”

What I am trying to say is that I think the Hall of Fame has become a sad joke… MLB.com writer Ken Gurnick chose not to vote for anybody who played in the “steroid era,” yet voted for Jack Morris whose career was no doubt played during a time when certain players were abusing performance enhancing drugs… Miami Herald scribe and ESPN Radio host Dan Lebetard sold his vote to Deadspin because he said he had no desire to “be part of the present climate without reform”… I don’t blame either one of these guys for being disenchanted with the process… Voters need some sort of clarification to an incredibly murky situation…

The only person with 7 MVP awards and the only person with 7 Cy Young’s in the history of the game didn’t stand a chance of admittance when they were on the ballot for the first time last year… This year wasn’t any different… We might as well throw Barry Bonds and Roger Clemons in the same category as Pete Rose… Three of the greatest players of all time that all of a sudden people want to forget ever even played the game… There is part of me that sympathizes with the writers, part of me that sympathizes with the players, but there is not a single bit of me that feels sorry for the Hall of Fame that makes the voting decision incredibly difficult for everybody involved…

The Hall of Fame is listed on Wikipedia as a “American History Museum and Hall of Fame”… How can the Hall possibly be considered an “American History Museum” when it attempts to turn its back to baseball’s historical past? There are plenty of things in our history that we as Americans are not proud of, but the great thing about this country is that we recognize our mistakes of the past and move on to correct those mistakes for the betterment of the future…

The Hall of Fame’s motto is “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations”…. By not recognizing the “steroid era” in general and honoring that times greatest players the ‘Hall’ is failing to do any of the three… Baseball facilitated a culture for many years and now is trying to do its best to pretend like that entire era never existed… 3 managers of that time just unanimously got elected to the Hall of Fame… How many games did those managers win with the help of juiced up players? Obviously the Hall of Fame Veterans Commitee did not hold those managers accountable for their players actions when deciding their HOF fate, and they should not have… Yet if we are willing to forgive the “steroid era” managers why would we not forgive the “steroid era” players? Especially when we have no idea who did what and when they did it…

The Hall of Fame Veterans Committee was amended in 2001 to include current Hall of Fame members and other “honorees” including executives, baseball historians and media members… The intention of putting the vote into the hands of living players in the HOF seemed to be a good one but there is one major problem… The more guys that are elected into the Hall the more a current Hall of Famers brand is potentially diminished…  In 2007 after 3 consecutive years of electing nobody, Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt admitted such… “The same thing happens every year. The current members want to protect the prestige as much as possible and are unwilling to open the doors”…

So the question now becomes how do we fix the problem? First and foremost I want an entire section built in the HOF explaining the “steroid era” and what sort of effect it had on the history of baseball…  Lets also make sure current members of the HOF have nothing to do with any sort of selection process… The conflict of interest is too great… The next thing that needs to be done is the Baseball Writers Association of America needs to limit the number of voters to those who actually follow the game, actively write about it and care about the historical meaning of what the Hall of Fame is supposed to represent… The original concept to grant the writers the power to decide the games greatest players of all time was to hopefully get unbiased opinions and votes… That has never been the case… The issue is that members of the BBWAA are actual human beings and just like the rest of us they have never been unbiased… They continue to prove that year in and year out when a seemingly no question slam dunk first ballot Hall of Fame’r gets denied votes… Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Willy Mays, Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux and every other elected HOF’r have all been victims of blatant wrongful omissions on the ballot by members of the BBWAA… You would think that when it took Joe DiMaggio four tries to get inducted, thats right, four freaking tries, the HOF would have said enough is enough and they would have figured out a different election process… About the only semi logical reason to keep the standard HOF vote solely in the writers hands is because thats where it has always been… We all know baseball prides itself on tradition but whether we like it or not this world is about learning from our mistakes of the past and eventually changing for the overall well being of the future… The time has come for the Hall of Fame to make that change…

I propose an annual rotating panel of voters comprised of members of the BBWAA, noted baseball historians and former MLB players, managers and executives NOT in the Hall of Fame… Who better to judge the best players of an entire generation than the actual people that signed, managed and played against them… As well as those who documented their every move… The Hall would also need to make sure as many different eras as possible are represented… I would also propose a small portion of the vote comes from the actual numbers themselves…  In the sabermetrics world that we now live in I would trust a computer telling me who a Hall of Famer is just as much as a baseball historian or a certain player who may hold certain prejudices for whatever reasons… Trust me, I have no intention of eliminating the human element of the process, I just want to let the hard numbers have their say…. The final group that baseball has no right keeping out of the selection process are the consumers who keep the entire business of baseball in operation, the fans… The Hall must then make sure all of these groups have the appropriate education and understanding of what classifies a HOF’r …

In 1945, when the Hall came up with its official rules for election it asked voters to consider candidates based on “overall playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, their contributions to the team on which they played and to baseball in general”… This was the final product of qualification standards that were amended several times between 1936 and 1945… In order to eliminate gray areas and individual biases and judgements, I propose the HOF eliminates the “integrity, sportsmanship and character” portion… For me personally, I really don’t care what kind of guy you were or are… I just want to know if you were the best… The Hall of Fame selection process will never be perfect, there will always be controversy and debate but it is the Hall of Fames responsibility to make sure we simplify the selection process and eliminate subjective opinions as much as possible… There are already liars, cheaters and drug users in the Hall of Fame, whats wrong with a few more? EB

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17 Responses to The Sad Joke That Has Become The Baseball Hall of Fame

  1. Jake Nady says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I have said the short version of this in too many bars and at too many water coolers. Great piece!

  2. I agree with your analysis. I love Baseball and I want to go to Cooperstown someday. However, I will never go if Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Pete Rose & Craig Biggio are not elected in. You are correct Baseball and writers benefited enormously from the Steroid era. After the strike, people stayed away from games until the Home Run Record chases. Steroids saved the game itself.

  3. Clint Cole says:

    My feelings exactly, you hit the nail on the head.

  4. Craig Cesarin says:

    Totally agree. Another question has to be asked? How many players had surgeries that made them better then before? Tommy John or ACL replacements etc.? It’s funny I’ve asked my dad who played pro ball in the Brave organization in early 50′s cut short because of shoulder problems or my neighbor who played with the Indians in the 60′s I asked would they take steroids and every time they said if it would have extended their careers they said absolutely! They don’t condone it but I wonder how many pros would say yes if their careers would be extended still knowing what the effects are on the human body?

  5. Mike Neil says:

    That was well said,I like the idea of ex players being in the mix and people that give a ratt’s ass about the history and the well being of the game as part of the solution So what if a computer program narrowed it down to a group of players by their stats. For shits and giggles the computer selects a group of 20 players then the new voters select that years inductees. I think the max per year is 7 or is that the nfl?

  6. Jim Ross says:

    Nice article but it will never happen.

  7. Danny says:

    I couldn’t disagree more with your position, but that doesn’t mean you’re wrong or your argument is without merit. It simply means that we disagree. And this year, like many in the recent past, to disagree means to personally antagonize and verbally assault those with opposite views, which is truly a shame.

    I would say this.

    We may not know all the players who used PEDs, but we do know some. We know those listed in the various investigations, this can’t be disputed. Those players cheated the game. Again, this can’t be disputed.

    Did others that weren’t named? Yes. But the writers shouldn’t surmise, on their own, which players did or did not cheat the game. They should use whatever evidence, facts, etc that they want. That’s what a vote is, a subjective tally.

    As to the Hall of Fame itself, the building is a museum, complete with articles from Pete Rose, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemons. This half of the building is a museum and shows the history, connects the generations and doesn’t leave a void in the timeline of baseball that so many, uninformed people, keep trying to talk about. On the other side of the building is where those honored with a plaque reside. And that’s what the Hall of Fame is, an honor. It is an honor bestowed upon individuals who in the eyes of the voters, deserve it.

    Not everyone deserves to have a plaque. You can tell the story of baseball, complete with the steroid era, complete with the inclusion of Barry Bonds’ career, and at the same time not honor them. By not presenting them with a plaque voters are saying, something in their career wasn’t worthy of being honored. And that is fine. Isn’t the bigger, better message, delivered to people when they ask why Barry Bonds, or Roger Clemens, or Pete Rose doesn’t have a plaque in the Hall of Fame the fact that while great, they were flawed, and for their greatness they are recognized, but for their severe flaws they are not honored.I couldn’t disagree more with your stance, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong.

  8. Roger D. says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more Burnsie. The writers act like a bunch of Country Club Snobs. I think they should eliminate the limit on how many you can vote for as well. Give the right two writes another vote and a deserving Biggio gets “The Call”

  9. HairLord says:

    This is by far the best piece I’ve ever read on this issue. I totally agree with everything EB said. Don’t forget Shoeless Joe. A lifetime ban should end when the guys life is over.

  10. McCovey Cove Dave says:

    Eric, your ideas are refreshing, thought provoking and needed. I want moral judgements taken out of the HOF decision. To be very honest, the most qualified people to make the HOF decision are people with analytical minds. People like a Jay Jaffe, Bill James and others of their background can make more well founded decisions than most of the people currently voting. This decision should be numbers oriented and strong saber-metric people will do a better job.

    One thing I want in the HOF process more transparency. I want to see everyone’s ballot!

    It is a sad day for me when guys like Barry Bonds are looking like they will never get in!

    Baseball is slow to get things right and this process will get better over time. Saber Metrics is a positive force that can not be stopped and each year, it will be more understood by HOF voters. Mark my words.

  11. Laurie DeSimone says:

    I completely agree with you (as I usually do!). I think it is rediculous how everyone is playing God with the HOF. NOBODY can guarantee who did or did not use some sort of PED’s in the past. So now what they are saying is 1. If you did and didn’t get caught, kudos to you, you have a shot! or 2. If you did or didn’t and did get caught, sucks for you, you got no shot. If you are trying to keep any integrity to the Hall and the game, put in the players that deserve it from EVERY era and explain why this era happened and what was done to correct it. Also, make current and future players held accountable and make them aware that if they are caught using PED’s they will forfit their eligibility to be a candidate.

    Miss hearing you on my way home from work on KNBR EB!

  12. Bobby Jack Miller says:

    Geez Eric, have you BEEN to the Hall of Fame? All kinds of players and accomplishments are recognized there. Just because a player hasn’t been “inducted” doesn’t mean his accomplishments are ignored.
    As a hypothetical situation, what if you have two players are all but identical in every way and they are both borderline as to whether you’d vote for them. Except for one thing. One you know for a fact used steroids and one didn’t. So how do you vote?
    Do you vote for both because the had the same accomplishments? Do you vote for the “clean” one because he didn’t juice (of course if you do that, you’re saying that it matters)?
    So whether you say you’re using PEDs or character or whatever as a criteria or not, you’re likely making judgments based on what you think about those things.

  13. Mark slater says:

    It’s funny how former players such as curt shilling scream against PED users and how they are the bane of baseball. However he won three World Series rings with known juicers who actually tested positive. Funny how he doesn’t give his rings back. The whole baseball heirarchy is unbelievably hypocritical

  14. TJ Delgado says:

    Well said. I completely agree. I liked how you emphasized your love of the game in the beginning and came up with solutions. This was not just a rant, but a well thought out post.

    Awesome

  15. George di Cristina says:

    The HOF is a fascinating, moving place for any fan of the game who appreciates its’ history. Don’t tell me, though, it’s all about honor and integrity. As Ray Ratto eloquently points out, look at the racists enshrined there. Think of the amazing players they denied access to the major leagues. Who had the greater impact, racists or PED users? Not a tough question…or answer.

  16. Great piece, Eric. As baseball has evolved, so should the HOF. I believe great baseball commentators and radio and TV people should also be included as voters. Who follows the game closer then a Dave Flemming or Marty Lurie?

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