Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Hall of Sham

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I tried to to explain my Hall of Fame stance on last night's "Press Box."  Somehwere, it got off track.  I take responsibility for that, and my reaction was, well, asinine.  I basically was so fed up with the whole thing - the show, not being heard, the crappy equipment - that I threw a hissy fit.  I own it.

I realized later on that my explanation and rationale were too broad; too abstract.  I should have handled it better.  So I'll learn from it and move on.

But my point remains true.  If I had a vote for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which I don't, I would vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.  My reasoning is that, since we've never seen all of the names on the infamous "lists" (and there are things about the Mitchell Report that still seem shaky), and there are a lot of guys who will go in under suspicion, then I can not keep everybody out.

Furthermore, we all cheered for these guys (I'm using "we" colloquially...I didn't cheer for Bonds or McGwire but I had different reasons).

Unrelated, but still worth discussing, is that there has long been a character clause; part of the rationale of letting players in.  This is sort of what I was trying to get at last night.  No doubt there are some guys who made it in despite their reputations (Ty Cobb immediately comes to mind), but their talent overrides that.  It's not the Hall of Boy Scouts, after all.  But still, there are guys that, because of their borderline numbers, get kept out by their borderline personalities and less-than-stellar relationship with the writers (who are, of course, the voters).

We have racists in the Hall.  Womanizers.  Drug addicts.  Drunks.  Pill poppers (especially amphetamines).  Cheaters of a lesser type that we consider them "charming."

Here's a guy for you: played 12 years.  Hit 381 home runs, including one season with 50, and and two more over 45.  For you stat guys, his OPS was 1.000 four times.  Never won an MVP (I wonder why), but came in second once, third twice, and seventh once, and eighth once.  Played in two World Series, but never a champion.  He compares favorably to Miguel Cabrera (on his way to the Hall of Fame), Ralph Kiner, and Hank Greenberg (both Hall of Famers).  But...there are a bunch of stigmas there.  Suspected of PED's (but never confirmed).  Brutal with reporters and fans.  Yet, you'd think maybe you could make a Hall of Fame case for him, given the other information.

Say hello to Albert Belle.  I'm not saying he's Hall of Fame-worthy, but you'd think perhaps you could talk about him.  But nobody does.  He got no more than 3.5% in his two tries on the ballot.  The detractor will tell you he didn't play long enough.  But his character was such that it would never curry favor with writers.  I'll tell you that, for a stretch, the guy was dominant.  At that point, I don't care about numbers.  Did the guy dominate?  Did he put fear in you as an opposing fan?  Then that's enough for me to at least entertain him.

Belle wasn't, oh, say Kirby Puckett.  Everyone loved Kirby.  How could you not?  Nobody knew about his issues off the field (and don't tell me they don't count for something, as I've just shown you).  But Kirby, who Baseball-Reference says compares favorably to one Hall of Famer (Kiki Cuyler), but compares more so to one Mr. Donald Arthur Mattingly of Evanville, Indiana, was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, very largely due to his larger-than-life smile and tugboat playing style.

Like I said, everybody loved Kirby.  Most still do.  Heck the Metrodome in Minneapolis (the former home of the Twins) is still next to Kirby Puckett Place.  I loved watching Kirby play ("And we'll see you...TOMORROW NIGHT!" - Jack Buck).

Don't tell me character doesn't play into voting.

Now, back to Clemens and Bonds.  I had a personal experience with the Rocket.  For the brief - very brief - stretch that I was around him, I liked him.  I liked the way he handled things.  And, come on, he reeked of old-time baseball as a player.  I loved watching him pitch with the Red Sox (and remember, I'm not exactly a fan of the Hub team).  Other reporters had bad experiences with him.  He certainly didn't handle himself well after the PED charges came out.  Bonds, on the other hand, was a miserable guy who teammates generally didn't like either.  But I have no personal experience beyond that, other than seeing him play in The Bronx once.  And you know what?  It was a thrill to see him in person.  Loved it.

They dominated the game.  Whether you liked them or not is irrelevant.

Every era had their issues.  This, sadly, was the Steroid Era.  Deal with it and move on.

Older Hall of Famers will tell you that they will not come to Cooperstown if these guys get in.  They're somewhat hypocritical.  There is a lot of info that suggests that players were using one form of "help" or another dating back to the days of Cobb.  Does that excuse the steroid guys?  Nope, but as I look at the ballot, if I'm going to vote for Mike Piazza (lots of whispers about PED's), for instance, than I have to vote for Bonds and Clemens.  Or I have to vote for none of them.

I'm not interested in a witch hunt.  I'm interested in greatness.  At the time that Clemens and Bonds (and a lot of others) were doing their thing, we were blind to what was going on.  Even though we all knew what Mark McGwire had in his locker was bad, we all smiled and said, hey great!  Chicks dig the long ball.

We knew they were Hall of Famers before any PED talk came up.  Others (Sammy Sosa, for instance) became HOF-caliber players due to PED's.  Big difference.

We lived by the sword.  We died by the sword.  Now, we've got to deal with the sword.  If they don't get in now, they will eventually.  Bet on it (sorry, that's an unfortunate reference, and I'll stay away from the Pete Rose/Shoeless Joe Jackson debate for tonight).  I used to think the "first ballot Hall of Famer" was a special honor.  It doesn't seem to be the case anymore.

There are plenty of opinions out there.  Here's Jon Heyman, who is going a totally different way with his ballot.  Ken Rosenthal says nobody might get in.  Peter Abraham had his say.  His might be the best that I've read.  Wallace Matthews and I don't agree. That's fine, and he based a lot of his feelings on the very thing I was trying to explain last night:
...none of those gentlemen can get past rule No. 5, which reads as follows: "Voting shall be based on the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
Read that closely.  That's the character thing.  Thanks, Wally.  But his "cheaters don't belong" thing is specious because we have the oh-so-charming Gaylord Perry, who cheated as a pitcher for the bulk of his career.  It's OK for him to throw illegal pitches (spitballs, grease balls, etc)?  The dearly departed Bobby Murcer once said about Mr. Perry, "If the league president or commissioner had any guts, they'd ban the pitch (that Perry threw)."  But we'll just turn a blind eye to that, I guess.

To add to Matthews' hypocrisy, he has suspicions about Mike Piazza, but voted for him anyway.  Ummmm...hello?  He just made my point.  Cherry picking here is simply wrong.  Either vote for them all - or don't.

There are other articles out there.  So many worth reading.  There are voters who are turning in blanks.  Voters who are giving up their votes.  And on and on.

It's a deeply complex issue.  No doubt about that.

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