Sportswriters Just Killed the Baseball Hall of Fame
Sportswriters, the great moral arbiters of our time, have rendered their final verdict. No to Barry Bonds. No to Roger Clemens. Yes to David Ortiz. Two alleged steroid users with amazing statistics deemed not worthy. One alleged steroid user with good statistics deemed worthy. At least you couldn’t accuse these sportswriters of having consistency. But no, trust them, this totally wasn’t a popularity contest.
No, not a popularity contest. Rather, our society’s greatest beacons of wisdom and virtue soberly exercising their important responsibility to wield the Hall of Fame’s “morality clause” like a bludgeon. It’s just good impartial journalism and the important role of our saintly leaders to protect us against those specific alleged steroid users whose personalities they didn’t enjoy covering, but not against those whose personalities they did.
One could spend time talking about their selective outrage or their hypocrisy. The arrogance to be gatekeepers in a fashion they were never asked. The lack of any concrete evidence governing the thresholds for their moral tests. Or the incongruent application of such standards to different players of the same era. Or the oddity that in the last few years they’ve decided that records set in an era of near-universal steroid use shouldn’t count, but that records set in the time of segregation, when talent was literally segregated into two separate leagues with competition watered down astronomically in both as a result, somehow aren’t even worthy of a notation. But this isn’t a piece to dwell on either the incompetence or the hypocrisy of our moral gatekeepers, though they are rich in both.
A less courageous or professional set of journalists wouldn’t have had the courage to protect us from the memories of Barry Bonds. More spineless journalists might have put impartiality before personal vendettas. In an era of declining trust in journalism, it certainly takes courage for journalists to collectively decide to use their supposedly impartial Hall of Fame votes to selectively pick and choose winners based mostly, apparently, on their own personal whimsy, and to then look at us with straight faces and demand the mantle of being taken seriously.
Thankfully, heroes that they are, they’ve saved baseball, and in doing so saved society, from the unconscionable prospect of viewing plaques and features commemorating the accomplishments of the most successful players of the last 35 years. For fans that grew up in that era, they’ve saved us from the horrors of being able to relive the most exciting moments of our sports-watching childhoods. What a tragedy that would be if we had to decide for ourselves which athletes to like or dislike.
Lest you thought the Hall of Fame was a place to commemorate great moments and accomplishments from a game whose connection to the fans is rooted in its history. Lest you thought the Hall was a place to cherish generations of memories that have defined the fan experience. Well, you can now put your confusion to bed because the verdict has been settled. This is a monument to the personalities that sports journalists like. Nothing more. And as such, it should be clear that the Hall of Fame, more than anything else, is a monument to sportswriters' egos. And let that be a warning to those playing now. Be nice to those who are covering you.
It is brave of the sportswriters to make this their museum rather than one for the fans, and to never have asked us if we were ok with that. And it’s bold of MLB to still charge visitors admission prices for the privilege of seeing this now highly-curated collection.
I, for one, was 6 when baseball went on strike. I remember the confused young disconcert of a young fan wondering if the sport would ever come back. I was 9 when it roared back with a vengeance as Mark McGwire and Ken Griffey Jr. made a run at Roger Maris’ home run record, hitting 58 and 56 home runs respectively. And I was 10 when McGwire and Sammy Sosa finally broke through with their epic back-and-forth summer of 70 and 66. For a while it was deemed to have saved baseball, though today it could not be more condemnable. To this day I remember exactly where I was when McGwire hit #62 down the left field line. I remember Big Mac Land at Busch Stadium, and McGwire and Sosa’s embrace. I was in 8th grade when Sosa, a Dominican immigrant, sprinted to the outfield with the American flag, a rolling wave of cheers following him around the park capturing perhaps more than any other moment the patriotic energy of the nation after 9/11. I had just turned 12 when I went to a game in San Francisco for the first time, just as Barry Bonds started smashing home runs into the bay. I remember the kayas. And I had just turned 13 when Barry Bonds smashed two home runs on a single night to break down the door to the record book once more. I remember the thrill of watching from the first row in Cincinnati as a living legend trotted out to left field. And I was 16 when the inspiring relentlessness of Roger Clemens like a machine willed the Astros through an improbable run of extra innings against the Cardinals in the NLCS. That was the same year “Big Papi” had suddenly transformed from a modestly talented contact hitter to a slow and hulking power-hitting DH in Boston. Of all those memories, the Ortiz one is pretty forgettable. The others defined my childhood.
I didn’t have to look up any of those to write that, by the way. Those moments are effervescent in my memory. They say for your whole life that baseball will never mean more to you than it did when you were 12. I might not be able to remember them in the Hall of Fame, but Bonds, Sosa, Clemens, McGwire, and Curt Schilling are all integral memories of that era to me.
For 15 years and counting the baseball writers of America have been privileging personal prejudice over earnest duty, while shoving a middle finger deep into the hearts of the memories of fans whose childhoods were defined by this generation of players that they loathe. Each year they puff their chests in moral superiority – a power play really for those in a profession of increasing irrelevance – in a weird attempt to stamp out and shield people from the memory of things that not only happened, but which were transcendent to the game of baseball. In doing so they have alienated me, and by privileging themselves over the ability of fans to relive their memories they’ve hurt the ability for the game to endure.
Sportswriters, it seems, like to write and rarely like to listen, and certainly they almost never seem to care if they hurt somebody. But to any sportswriters reading this, I hope you’re proud. You’ve tried to rip out the heart from my memories, and in doing so have rendered the Baseball Hall of Fame irrelevant to me. It’s a good trick. Skip the lines. You now have a museum all to your own egos.
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