Oh, there are readers out there who will finish off this sentence with “Nothing. Keep it the way it is. No Shoeless Joe, no Pete Rose. No Mark McGwire. Probably no Barry Bonds. So be it.”
Then there is Reggie Jackson, who for a moment, in a recent interview for Sports Illustrated, made a case that the Hall is too broad in its acceptance. Bert Blyleven, Jim Rice and others are not, in his opinion, Hall material.
What does Mr. October think about Ron Santo, lifetime .277 hitter, getting inducted posthumously this past weekend? The way he was chugging out the damage control, Jax may now think that was just fine.
Ron Santo was Mr. Baseball in Chicago, first on the field, and later in the broadcast booth. He defined the game for millions of people. So, yeah, one could argue, let him in.
Isn’t the Hall intended to be for the demi-god-like, the other-worldly-excellent, as demonstrated throughout the entire scope of the sport?
There are two ways to get into the Hall of Fame. One, to be voted in by the Baseball Writers of America. And two, the veterans committee gets anyone the writers may have overlooked.
Why is this back-up option needed?
Well, try this out: no one has received 100% of the BBWAA votes on the first ballot. No one. In fact, Willie Mays, center fielder for the Giants and Mets in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, was a player many of the more knowledgeable followers of the game think of as the best to ever play the sport, certainly no lower than the top five, and an indisputable Hall candidate.
But guess what? Mays ranks 14th in percentage of first ballot votes to get in the Hall of Fame. This means an astonishing 23 of the 432 professional baseball writers eligible to vote that year said Mays did not belong in the Hall of Fame. That alone should be proof that these writers did not belong in the BBWAA. You don’t vote for Mays, out you go.
Nope. Can’t trust the writers alone, though a solid majority did get it right with Mays and a solid majority still does get it mostly right.
What complicates the current landscape are the accusations and, in some cases, the admissions of drug use. Not the meth the players used, until recently, to get up for the games in the midst of a grueling season, not the LSD that Dock Ellis claims he was on when he pitched a no-hitter against San Diego, but the steroids and growth hormones. These have been cited as demonstrating lack of integrity, lack of character, and poor sportsmanship. These three qualities are supposed to be taken into account when voting a candidate into the Hall of Fame.
Like a lot of lofty ideals, these attributes are easier to find in the ideas we hold about players than in the actual people once we study their lives.
Ty Cobb is in the Hall. Deserves to be, too, on the basis of his career. Really, the guy had a .401 batting average through four seasons and .367 for his entire MLB career. But read this piece by Larry Schwartz of ESPN about the Georgia Peach, as he was called, and then decide if Cobb demonstrated Integrity, Character, and Sportsmanship.
Pete Rose? Did he possess worse character than Cobb? Better integrity than Cobb? Shoeless Joe Jackson? Better? Worse? Do either of these alleged gamblers deserve to come off the ineligible list?
These are all debates that can help us work our way through a few pints at the local.
Then the Alleged Juiced Crew. Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds, Clemens, McGwire… better or worse than Cobb?
Oh, but you may argue that Cobb was a product of his era, that the nastiness, the racism, were part of the times. A mother who married at 12, who killed his father when the young ballplayer was a teen. A victim of his era, you might argue.
So then drug-enhanced performances are not an integral part of our own era? Is coffee a drug? You say it’s legal. OK. What about your favorite local band? Any of those players ever rip those killer Saturday night licks while maybe a little stoned?
So how about this. We make the Hall tiered. On the top level, we have the highest possible performances, combined with integrity and character and sportsmanship. There would be a separate room for this group. Most likely it would be a little room.
On the next level, great performances but with a taint in the character department. Call it the Rogue’s Gallery. Cobb is the first one to go in there. A big, big room.
Then the next tier, maybe the Outlaws’ Room, we place those who knowingly and repeatedly flaunted contemporary laws, like, say they used substances that were outlawed at the time. The Bambino goes in there. After all, it is well-known that Babe Ruth loved his beer, and sorry, Yankees fans, but a lot of his career happened during Prohibition, so into the Outlaw Wing he goes.
I am afraid Hank Aaron and probably Mays belong in there, along with legions of other stars of their era who regularly used speed to compete in this marathon we call the baseball season.
Off of that room we have the Designer-Drug Annex. This will house nearly all of the MVPs of the last ten years or so. These are the players who used drugs designed to enhance their performances.
We need this Annex. We cannot exclude a batter who used steroids and yet whose lifetime batting average was Hall-worthy. Most likely he performed well against pitchers who were also likely juiced. Do two players competing against each other, both of them on ‘roids, cancel out the advantage? Probably. So they need to be included because, at least with some of their accomplishments, the drugs gave them no edge. It’s only fair.
The Gamblers’ Den would house the Pete Roses and the Shoeless Joe Jacksons.
This way, the Hall holds up its standards, and yet does not have to explain to a curious visitor from another culture why so many MVPs, so many players in the top 20 of all time home runs hit, are not honored. Take your kids to the Hall and explain to them why many of the best players from their favorite team are not included, players they have seen you cheer fanatically when their three-run homers banished the hated rival.
Go with the tiers. Redesign the Hall. The room with the highest standards, that is, excellence of performance, combined with character, integrity, sportsmanship, that room will have some players we can all be proud of. They deserve their special room. And it will be the smallest.
That we do know.