February 14, 2011; Clearwater, FL, USA; Detailed view of a major league baseball sitting in the grass during Philadelphia Phillies spring training at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Wednesday’s decision by the baseball writers of America, not to elect a single player on their ballot to the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, made a resounding statement. It punished all the sluggers of the steroid era who, we have known for nearly a decade now, were cheats. It also punished those who looked like they may have been cheats (sorry Mike Piazza). Really, it punished any player that ever played during the now infamous steroid era. But who suffers most because of today’s ballot count? The fans.
This hall of fame selection (or lack thereof) only proves what we already knew. There is a cloud over the steroid era of baseball. It is so large that the mountain some of these truly great players now have to climb to make the hall is nearly insurmountable. How does this hurt the fans? Well, maybe it doesn’t hurt current fans too much. I know plenty of people (who aren’t hall of fame voters) who love baseball and don’t want to see Bonds or Clemens in the hall of fame. Most of them are older and their reasons always include how baseball “used to be” and the “taint of this era”. I feel this is sort of selfish.
Does the baseball I grew up watching not count? Are all of the stars that fans my age, and younger, grew up cheering for unworthy to share a Hall with the players of yesteryear; players who played the “right way”. The hall of fame exists to enshrine the truly great. Some players just barely make it in, others take a try or two, and still some are all-time greats- first ballot locks. Two of these all-time great players missed the Hall of Fame this year and it is a shame.
When I have children, I expect I will take them to ball games. I will teach them how to keep a scorecard, tell them tales of all the baseball memories I have from when I grew up, and pass on all the glorious traditions baseball has given us for more than a century. When I take my child to Cooperstown, what justification will I give them for some of the glaring omissions of my youth? These baseball fans, this next generation of fans are the ones who are punished.
I didn’t grow up during the glory days of baseball. It seems I was born after morality in the sport of baseball died. All players before Roger Clemens stuck himself that first time were guys you could dream of being; pillars of all that is good and righteous. Before Barry met Balco, every Hall of Famer was a stand up individual; we never had to doubt the legitimacy of the records they held. Forget dead balls and mound heights, forget corked bats and balls with rubber in the center. Heck! Forget segregation and recreational drug abuse. Back before 1994 baseball was “pure”. So now, when I visit the hall 10, 15, 20 years from now and my kid asks me “Dad, who was your favorite pitcher?” I’ll respond, “Oh he was great. He was one of the top five greatest pitchers of ANY era of the sport. I’d show you his stats, but they aren’t in here. When I grew up, baseball was a sham.”
The truth is, it is impossible for us, as fans of the game, to know who was on what and when. How many of Bond’s over 700 homeruns were hit while he was juicing? I couldn’t tell. Could you? How much of an advantage could a player have when we’re assuming every player he played against had the same advantage?
To be honest, I don’t care about these questions. The Hall of Fame isn’t the Hall of High Character it’s voters imagine it as. We have all heard dubious stories about the Babe and The Mick and so on. Good for you baseball writers! You got to pass judgment on the evils of the steroid era. That saves my kids and grandkids a lot of work. When I take them to the Hall, instead of seeing the achievements of the great players of my childhood and reaching their own conclusions about the credibility of their achievements when stacked up against the whole of baseball past, you did it for them.