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.