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This Hall of Fame business likely would have left old King Solomon scratching his head

What is it about Baseball’s Hall of Fame that makes it so compelling? We aren’t talking about “heaven,” at least per se, are we? Why do people get so stirred up every January when the baseball writers annually and clumsily do their thing and again in December when the old codgers’ committee annually corrects the mistakes the baseball writers dumbly make?

Only in baseball does it really matter. In football, the floodgates at Canton, Ohio, open every summer, allowing newly anointed saints to go marching in by the battalion. Maybe the fact it’s relatively so easy is the reason only intimate family members and the most wacked-out gonzo fans care who gets to reside there.

Hockey’s pantheon has a bit more character, and hockey people, who are notoriously tribal, bicker strenuously about the politics of the process. Interest, however, is admittedly regional. On the other hand, how many who live beyond the length of the Mass Turnpike know the whereabouts of basketball’s shrine? The tennis Mecca, nestled among the mausoleums of Newport, is an even bigger secret.

Thoroughly charming is the degree of passion baseball alone excites on this mossy subject, thanks mainly to the anecdotal richness of its long, colorful history, which is deeper than that of all other games near combined. In this space, it has always been an obsession. Stunning is how much of a flap this year’s proceedings inspired everywhere else.

That’s mainly because PEDS – those infernal performance enhancing drugs now threatening to blight a whole generation of that precious history – have, much as everyone predicted, confused the issue bitterly and, maybe, hopelessly. When mainly in frustration the writers ended up defiantly voting nobody into the baseball Valhalla in this year’s balloting, they struck quite a nerve.

It was not entirely fair. If the BBWAA has handled the matter poorly it was hardly reasonable to have the impossible responsibility of unraveling this gordian knot of a dilemma dumped into its collective lap.

Why does no one wonder where the commissioner has been in this fiasco? The answer is in hiding, which has been Bud Selig’s official policy on this wrenching issue from the very get-go.

When Pete Rose went astray on gambling it was the commissioners who brought him down. Bart Giamatti grounded him and Fay Vincent emphatically re-affirmed his ineligibility for such honors as the Hall of Fame. Please understand that the commissioner doesn’t control what happens at Cooperstown and has only a ceremonial role there. But his desires concerning the fundamental question of what’s “good for baseball” extends to every blessed spec of this game and its presence, promotion, and preservation.

Be assurred that if Giamatti or Vincent were in charge today – or Happy Chandler or even Ford Frick, for that matter – the office of commissioner would have clarified baseball’s official attitude on PED offenders, thus profoundly influencing the process and thereby lessening the burden on the writers who have neither the talent nor the license to make such a difficult decision unaided.

But, then, if Giamatti or Vincent had been in charge the last couple of decades, we wouldn’t have this problem today. I can’t prove it, obviously. But I find it unthinkable that either of the astute gentlemen who preceded Selig as czars of this game would have ignored the menace of steroids and the pernicious issue’s astounding growth through the 1990s the way Bud so casually did.

But of course Bud was far too busy in those happy days, expanding the profit margins of his buddies, the owners, and multiplying the value of their equity, the franchises, to pay attention to the fact that the torsos of many of his players were bulging to the point where some were beginning to look like that memorable cartoon character of that misguided era, “the Incredible Hulk.”

It needs to be said Selig was not alone in taking a powder on this delicate issue. There were many others complicit in the outrage and the sorry list assuredly includes the baseball writers who proved so gifted at looking the other way and disdaining the obvious, for which they’re now paying the price, perhaps deservedly. But the writers are also now trying –however feebly – to atone whereas Selig now compounds his folly by being AWOL on the aftermath as well. I can’t wait until the electors get to consider his eligibility for elevation to the ranks of the Cooperstown elite.

It was a mistake for the writers to elect no one this year of all years. It was a free vote beyond control so there was no averting a messy result to a messy situation. But it’s unfortunate it turned out as it did. Everyone understands that the dominance of candidates infected with the steroid question confused the issue. But it would have been far better if the writers had dramatically rejected the cheaters while rewarding someone who’d excelled without cheating, or was even remotely suspected of having cheated.

They had a perfect candidate in Jack Morris, the very fine pitching mainstay of a quarter century ago who, in his 14th year on the ballot and having come close just a year ago, would have been easily justified as a nice, “clean” choice.

For my money, the on-going rejection of Morris is asinine. A gritty bulldog who excelled in big games, Morris is as worthy of enshrinement as a Waite Hoyt, Red Ruffing, Don Drysdale, or Catfish Hunter, all comparable stylists of earlier times cut from roughly the same tough cloth. Morris will make it someday and become yet another silly mistake by the BBWAA eventually redeemed by the Veteran’s Committee. But he should have made it this year when it would have been a nice statement, one that might even have kept the BBWAA’s growing legion of critics at bay.

Others argue the writers might have chosen Craig Biggio, the scrappy Houston second baseman who had 3,000 hits, which normally guarantees election ASAP. It was Biggio’s first year on the ballot and there’s no disgrace in not making it on your first try.  Joe DiMaggio got snubbed his first year and may we not safely agree that good as he was, Mr. Biggio is no Joe D.

It’s the matter of why Biggio missed this year that’s important, for there was the very small suspicion he “may” have done steroids. He has never been formally accused; his name has never shown up on the various and dubious lists of the suspected; nor has it been tainted by leaks or rumors. But he does come from that era, and some vaguely wonder if perhaps he bulked up a bit more than seemed natural somewhere along the line, for he had a surge in power, here and there.

So this is what and where we’ve come to, reduced to trying to divine who may or may not have been tainted based on scraps of evidence, or even mere inference. Maybe we should resort to tea leaves? Talk of your slippery slope.

It will take a lot more wit and wisdom than the BBWAA possesses on its very best days to sort this mess out.

Down the road it will be easy to reject Alex Rodriguez because, after all, he admitted guilt after he was outed by Sports Illustrated. But David Ortiz gets a pass because even though he was outed by the New York Times, which based its case on leaks from the Mitchell report, he never admitted guilt although he did promise to give us an answer, but never did. How’s that for a choice?

Do we condemn Roger Clemens, who got smeared by a leak yet beat the charge in a federal court of law, while glibly excusing a Mike Piazza or Pudge Rodriguez who, judging by appearances, seemed guiltier than Clemens but weren’t tarnished by leaks?

Not even Solomon Himself could have smartly made these vital distinctions properly. And the last time I checked, there were no Solomons in the ranks of the BBWAA. 

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