It is somewhat fitting that Mr. Marvin Miller died yesterday. The baseball pioneer who transformed the labour landscape for all Major League players and, by helping funnel more of the profits towards players, helped infuse the game with top talent from around the world. Yet, as we all well know by now, Marvin Miller is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame – a sad fact that casts a pall on the entire idea of the Hall as a great museum of the game.

Later today, the official Hall of Fame ballot is announced and there will be blood. The vote this year figures to be one of the most contentious in years, possibly ever. Barry Bonds, Rogers Clemens and Sammy Sosa headline the players now eligible for Hall of Fame voting, three of the most divisive superstars of the last generation.

There can be no baseball Hall of Fame without Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. Two of the most decorated and celebrated talents to ever play the game. Two players with resumes full of BBWAA awards and honours enter the fray along with Curt Schilling and Craig Biggio: probable Hall talents who aren’t even in the same universe as Bonds and Clemens.

The already muddy waters are going to get even more opaque. Already entrenched sides will dig in deeper as fights are picked and grievances are aired. Writers who had no problem looking the other way or sticking their head in the sand will use this Hall of Fame voting season to clear their own conscious via acts of sanctimony the world has never seen before.

It’s mostly silly and trivial and only one group actually loses in the entire exchange: the fans. The Hall of Fame is a place for the fans to visit and celebrate the history of the game. There they see the famous and not-so-famous names that line the record books and annals of the game alongside cherished artifacts, all delightfully whitewashed for maximum impact.

If Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds don’t receive Hall honours in their first year of eligibility, it is no great shame. In a baseball sense, sure; but in a real world sense? Of course not. We all still remember watching them play. No Red Sox fan who watched the Rocket strike out 20 or Giants fan who cheered loudly for the man the rest of the league loved to hate needs the Hall and its voters to validate their experience or their memories. The sins of the beat writing fathers won’t scrub Barry Bonds’ NSFW Baseball Reference page from the internet forever.

Take a cue from ESPN’s Buster Onley, who nailed it on Sunday when he wrote the Hall of Fame is not “Never Never Land” where all errors and omissions are scrubbed clean and everyone stays young forever. Onley went on to add that stopping “a few of the participants at the door of a museum of history seems absurd, because the history occurred, whether we like all of it or not.”

The passion with which some assail “cheaters” like Clemens and Bonds comes from a real place, a place of deep caring for the game and what it means to those who wear that passion for baseball like a badge of honour. It is with that same passion that so many of us love the game and want to see its history and traditions carried forward and guarded, where the integral role of baseball in so many lives is protected from exploitative forces.

Hopefully those who feel players must be excluded and punished now for their transgressions in the past recognize that the millionaire baseball players don’t suffer from having their heads placed on pikes outside Cooperstown’s city limits – it is the future generations of baseball fans who suffer. Writing game stories for the Bergen Record for 15 years does not qualify anyone to decided which of baseball’s dark chapters in its storied history is acknowledged and which is disowned – history has a funny way of sorting that out all on by itself.

Comments (18)

  1. Great read Drew.

    It really comes down to whether people see the Hall as a place to honour heroes, or whether you see it as a place that guards the history of the game. Either way, to me, Clemens and Bonds belong there. What would the game be without the legends like Ty Cobb or the Black Sox throwing the World Series. As time moves on, the controversy becomes part of the allure.. Everyone knows what went on. Years from now the picture of Bonds above will be what we all remember – for good or bad.

    • Also – in theory if the Hall was to only honor heroes and who is perceived as morally proper, can we honor anyone from before the segregation days? Especially the ones who were clearly racist? And how about those who committed crimes after their playing days were up? We might end up with about 3 players when it is all done.

  2. I still think there needs to be a line drawn between the HOF as a museum and their inducted, honored members. There seems to be this belief that if Pete Rose or Joe Jackson or, yes, Roger Clemens or Mark McGwire aren’t inducted as honored members that somehow their history is “disowned” as Drew put it. But it’s not. If you go to the HOF you can find all sorts of evidence that Pete Rose existed and that he holds a bunch of baseball records. He’s just not an inducted member. He doesn’t have a plaque, sure, but the room of plaques is not all that the HOF is. Future generations of baseball fans will learn about Bonds and Clemens, if they don’t get in, the same way I learned about Rose and Jackson. They’re still acknowledged parts of the history of the game even if they themselves aren’t individually honored.

  3. That first sentence is whack.

  4. The black eye of the steroid era is no different than other times in MLB history.
    Ballparks are all different – Union Baseball Grounds had a right field fence 200 feet from home. Pitching mounds raise and shrink. Balls have been made differently to allow better or worse carry. Blacks weren’t allowed to play for 75 years. Many fewer teams in old days.
    Each era should be judged against that era. Should Lefty Grove not be considered a great since he didn’t have to face any black players? Or Gehrig because his home park had a short right field? Or Bob Gibson since he pitched on a higher mound?

    I can fully understand not voting for a borderline guy who did the roids, but since reports are maybe as many as 80% of all players did some time of doping at that time – judge the players versus their peers during their era.

    • I’m not gung-ho about not letting steroid users into the Hall but I don’t think your comparisons quite hold up to scrutiny. Bob Gibson pitched off of a higher mound, sure, but so did everyone else in baseball. Lefty Grove never faced black players, no, but that has nothing to do with anything Lefty Grove did and it would be pretty ridiculous to hold Major League Baseball’s policies of institutional racism against players who had absolutely no say in the matter.

      The chief problem with steroids is that it makes judging players against their contemporaries difficult because there’s no way to know who was or wasn’t on them. That’s not true of things like high mounds or short fences.

  5. the home run chase of mcguire and sosa was by far the most interesting thing that happened in baseball in years.

  6. Excellent piece, Drew. I’ve written enough of these myself, with very similar arguments. It’s beating a dead horse at this point, sadly. Nice knowing you Cooperstown.

  7. suck it rangers

  8. My ten cents for what it is worth (namely, about ten cents)

  9. I don’t think (some) people would be pushing so hard to exclude Bonds and Clemens if 1) they ‘fessed up, and (related to #1) 2) they weren’t both so unlikeable aside from the cheating.

  10. P.S. Re your last paragraph, I think you’re totally off. It clearly burns Pete Rose inside that he’s not in the Hall of Fame. I’m positive that it would bother Clemens to no end as well if he doesn’t get in. I think it would also bother Bonds, although maybe a little less than Clemens.

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