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Is the Hall of Fame a victim of silly idealism?

Apr 11, 2011, 2:00 PM EDT


Tom Boswell of the Washington Post was asked about the Hall of Fame cases for baseball’s black sheep in a Q&A today: Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Manny Ramirez.  His answer says an awful lot about why the Hall of Fame discussion has gotten so rancorous and complicated in recent years:

I haven’t voted for the Hall in about 10 years. A wise Post decision not to allow us to do it. I’d never vote for Bonds, Clemens, McGwire or now Manny.

But I think it’s obvious that the baseball Hall of Fame will never be what it once was — a kind of perfect otherworldy place that you visited with no complex feelings, just childlike pleasure. That’s gone. I thanks the players union for that, with Selig and the owners a fairly close second.

A “perfect otherworldy place that you visited with no complex feelings, just childlike pleasure?”  Really? When?

While not a voter himself, my guess is that Boswell is not alone in holding the Hall of Fame and, by extension, candidates who become eligible for induction, to so impossibly high a standard. It’s exactly that impossibly high standard that has caused Hall of Fame voters to tie themselves into knots in recent years.

How about this: the Hall of Fame is an outstanding museum that has a room in which guys who excelled at the game get honored. I won’t say that it’s nothing more than that — there is some emotional/historical weight to it beyond any other part of the museum — but it’s not something upon which your youthful idealism should be pegged.

In no event, however, is it fair to the candidates, nor does it reflect particularly well on the voters, for the voters to lay their childhood baggage on the institution.

  1. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Apr 11, 2011 at 2:11 PM

    If the hall is going to have no significant players from the last 10-15 years, what would be the point of going, or bringing my kids there?

  2. The Common Man/ - Apr 11, 2011 at 2:16 PM

    You know what, I visited in 2001, and was filled with “no complex feelings, just childlike pleasure,” but that was because I was in a place full of history of the game I love to follow and that has given me so many great memories. And nothing, not Ty Cobb nor Herb Pennock, nor Freddie Lindstrom ruined it for me. I imagine it would be just as special to me with Manny Ramirez, Mark McGwire, and especially Jeff Bagwell in there. Because the Hall isn’t awesome because of who they keep out, but because of what and who is included from the sport we love to follow so much.

  3. Jonny 5 - Apr 11, 2011 at 2:17 PM

    I wish more Americans at least tried to be as Idealistic as possible. Not so much the HOF though. It is the fault of the HOF 100% for having a morals clause for voters. Is it about playing baseball the best, or being the best person, or a combo of both? I don’t think anyone is too sure about that.

    • paperlions - Apr 11, 2011 at 2:42 PM

      I am pretty sure the HOF was created to honor great baseball player, and not to honor great people….you can tell because no great people are inducted that weren’t also highly involved in playing baseball or overseeing a team/league.
      If it was about honor great people that also played baseball, then how is it that Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth had the two highest vote totals of the inaugural class?

      • Jonny 5 - Apr 11, 2011 at 2:56 PM

        See my point? You are “pretty sure” about it. Just like those voting. Some are pretty sure it’s about one, or the other , or both. Clearly.

        Also it isn’t just to honor players. It also honors owners, GM’s, and managers. And I’m sure that’s a lot of men who weren’t angels either.

      • paperlions - Apr 11, 2011 at 3:05 PM

        Exactly. There no one gets to be in position to own a baseball team or run a league by being an angel (or even by being moral)….most people that rise to such positions (or higher) would be horrified if their life was on film for all to see. Big business is not a place for those with morals…those without them will crush you.

      • paperlions - Apr 11, 2011 at 3:06 PM

        Man, I really need to stop working, take my time, and proof read my posts

  4. Brian - Apr 11, 2011 at 2:24 PM

    first of all, we need more articles here with the word “silly” in the headline.

    It seems like the HOF and its voters see it as their duty to keep the game pure by not allowing those unsavory characters on its walls. But the face of the matter is, the game’s not pure and it’s reputation has been sullied, broken and rebuilt repeatedly since its inception. The HOF is a historical museum and it should feature anyone who’s had an impact on the sport, whether positive or negative, and yes that includes the Roiders, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe. The fact that the HOF thinks it’s its duty to “protect” us from the bad things in baseball is, indeed, silly.

    • Kevin S. - Apr 11, 2011 at 2:57 PM

      Actually, it’s just the voters. The HOF hasn’t taken that stance at all:

      • Brian - Apr 11, 2011 at 3:54 PM

        i lump them together in one big bunch…who are the voters but an extension of the hall authorized to regulate it?

      • Kevin S. - Apr 11, 2011 at 4:34 PM

        Except they aren’t just an extension of the Hall – the BBWAA is a completely separate entity. If anything, they’re contracted out.

  5. akismet-e6748cca3a16ea6e8283008d25583adc - Apr 11, 2011 at 2:29 PM

    The HoF voter base is changing, quickly. There’s a reason Blyleven never sniffed induction for 10 or so years, then suddenly rocketed up the ballots. Older voters (in other words, those voters who had actually SEEN Blyleven pitch) considered him to be a mediocre, career .500 middling pitcher. As those voters have retired or died, newer more modern voters have replaced them. These new voters embrace modern stats and subsequently voted Blyleven in mostly on career WAR and striekout totals.

    So, what will begin to happen in the next 10 years? This transformation will continue, more modern, sabremetric-capable voters will arrive and the old-time, morally bound voters (represented by the middle-aged white Boswell) will exit stage right. I think at that point we’ll really be able to have a legitimate discussion about the steroids age and the players in it. Fewer voters will exists simply to “penalize” the likes of McGuire, Sosa, Bonds and Clemens for “stealing” these cherished records from their boy hood idols. And more voters will try to treat the era and the players in that era on the merits of their performance against others in the era.

    Personally, I think the entirety of the morals clause is ridiculous. So what if Pete Rose bet on the game while he was managing; that has ZERO to do with his qualities as a player, and his inclusion into the Hall of Fame should be exactly based on that. Shoeless Joe Jackson? Even if you aren’t an apologist for his role in the Black Sox scandal, he remains one of the best hitters ever to play and his story should be told (good and bad) in the Hall. Same goes for all the sluggers and stars whose names are mired in the mud from the 1995-2005 timeframe. Asterick their plaques, put their steroid allegations and Mitchell reports right next to their plaques, but include them so that 50 years from now people don’t forget the era or its players.

    • Detroit Michael - Apr 11, 2011 at 3:00 PM

      Please, Shoeless Joe Jackson has nothing to do with the steroid users. It’s apples and oranges.

  6. sdelmonte - Apr 11, 2011 at 2:31 PM

    In short, Boswell blames baseball for not being Baseball. And once again I ask why he and others like him haven’t quit their jobs as sportswriter in protest.

  7. garlicfriesandbaseball - Apr 11, 2011 at 2:35 PM

    You have to ask yourself if alcohol’s a drug and if it is, that would pretty much weed Babe Ruth out of the Hall. He used to drink a 6 pack in the dugout during the games, or so I’ve read. Here’s one of the best articles I’ve ever seen on the subject. I wrote about it in my blog, but the gist of it’s regarding Pete Rose from the National Review “…..Or maybe the commissioner could just admit that Rule 21(d) is outdated and its punishment provisions are disproportionate. A lifetime ban? The average sentence for murder is 15 years.” Here’s the blog if you’re interested:

    James Robbins, National Review Article:

    • jimbo1949 - Apr 11, 2011 at 8:13 PM

      Since we’re discussing the illegal use of drugs or the use of illegal drugs, I would remind all that from 1920 to 1933 alcohol was an illegal drug. I’d say there were a lot of HOF guys that were using illegal drugs during that time.

  8. tomemos - Apr 11, 2011 at 2:44 PM

    The past is always better than the present. Those who fought World War II were The Greatest Generation. Kids these days. Where have they gone, the snows of yesteryear?

    How could anyone look at the plaques from baseball’s days of segregation with “no complex feelings”? And what kind of writer idealizes a lack of complex feelings, anyway?

    • pauleee - Apr 11, 2011 at 3:39 PM

      The Snowdens of yesteryear?

  9. cur68 - Apr 11, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    I think the Hall needs an annex. The can use a trailer or something like community colleges do. All the guys who have something about them that harms baseball can go in the annex. I’d annex Cobb in a heartbeat. Joe Jackson should be in the HOF though. It’s pretty obvious all he did was take money that was given to him and never did a thing to earn it. It’s even pretty arguable that he didn’t even take the dough (IMO). So the Annex of Fame would be a good place for Bonds, Ramirez, Rose, Palmero, Canseco, McGuire, Sosa, Cobb, and Clemens (to name but a few). I treasure the thought of the sound of the cheap tin door closing on them every time someone went in there.

  10. Loren - Apr 11, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    After that quote from Boswell I think I finally see the issue. The problem isn’t that the players now are morally worse than in days gone by, the problem is that we know about it. All the dirt that comes out about players now simply wasn’t reported way back when. That “childlike pleasure” comes from ignorance (or innocence), not any form of purity. It’s not possible to go back, but part of me thinks that maybe things would be better if we didn’t know that Johnny Fastball beat his wife or Eddie Slugger got a DUI. So much about the love of baseball is the fantasies it inspires anyway. Why not pile more fantasy on top?

  11. dreamkafka - Apr 11, 2011 at 4:24 PM

    At what point do the players become upset over their exclusion? Perhaps players will begin to refuse the Hall’s request for memorabilia and such…perhaps even begin their own institution. I’d be more interested and would assign more credibility in whichever would be more willing to induct Bagwell which doesn’t appear likely with the extant Hall.

  12. 411video - Apr 11, 2011 at 6:01 PM

    just childlike pleasure

    Well, it is a sport very much about fathers and sons, according to some the great literature (Malmud, etc.)…and Freud said the child is father to the man…The Baseball Hall of Fame should include all who had an impact on the sport of baseball…the good, the bad, and the ugly…just as the Hall of Freud includes the fine and the perverse.

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