Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
With any luck, this will be the only Hall of Fame column I'll ever write, because my one opinion on the place is that it should not exist.
That probably sounds unduly harsh, so let me back up and explain. This year marks my 10th in the Baseball Writers Association of America, which makes me eligible to vote for the first time. When Hall officials reached out late last year to see if I would be registering, it pained me to say no.
What kid who grew up with baseball mania wouldn't want a say in who gets into Cooperstown? The building itself is a magical place, a must-visit for all fans that captures the power and romance of the game.
But I asked them not to mail me a ballot. This hardly makes me an original; baseball writers far more accomplished than I, from ESPN's Buster Olney to Yahoo!'s Tim Brown, have in recent years announced that would no longer vote. This is not another "why I don't vote" column, because those writers have taken care of that.
On my first day as a non-voter, I'd instead like to offer an earnest, non-trolling proposal: The Baseball Hall of Fame should cease to exist as we know it. No more elections. No more Hall of Famers. And, mercifully, no more arguments that demean great players and pollute our discourse about the game.
The Hall of Fame voting season has become a joyless, irresolvable time, and baseball life would be more fun without it.
Here's what I propose instead: Rather than electing players to the Hall of Fame, the Hall - rebranded the Museum of Baseball History - would hold an event every July celebrating the season that came 10 years earlier. This would replace the revenue and relevance now brought by induction weekend.
This year, the museum would celebrate the 2009 season. Prominent members of the World Series-winning Yankees team would attend. Johnny Damon would participate in a panel about his crucial, mischievous mad dash to an uncovered base that helped the Yankees beat the Phillies.
The 2009 season began with revelations that Alex Rodriguez had once used performance-enhancing drugs. This would provide an opportunity for exhibits and discussions about his legacy and redemption in the public eye.
Imagine that: Rather than talking at one another with circular arguments about whether PED users belonged in the Hall, we could simply work together to enhance our understanding of a complex issue.
All of the great stars of that year would attend. We would celebrate the career of 2009 A.L. MVP Joe Mauer, who just completed a great career. We would avoid exhausting arguments about his worthiness for the Hall, and simply enjoy his presence. The 2009 N.L. Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum could unveil a new brand of baseball-themed edibles, if he wanted.
The problem with these elections are multifold. One, they're inherently subjective. Let's say you believe that Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame because he was the best player of his era, if not of all time. Let's say I think that players who broke the rules about drug use do not deserve induction.
We would never be able to resolve that difference, and our disagreement would drone on and on, as it has for years, with no chance that anyone becomes wiser because of it.
But the PED era begs for re-examination, away from all the overheated columns of the day that either condemned or defended the likes of Bonds, A-Rod and Roger Clemens.
Imagine a process that instead inspires discussion about fair play, the reasons why young players growing up in poverty choose to cheat, and the ethics of those decisions. That's a July weekend worth attending with the family.
As it stands now, the process brings ugliness that would only embarrass us in front of our children.
Take this year alone. I was at the winter meetings in Las Vegas when a few old cronies on the Today's Game Era committee elected Harold Baines. The ensuing outrage - while founded in the objective truth that Baines' career was not as productive as others who are in not the Hall of Fame - quickly turned nasty.
Sports Illustrated's headline - "Harold Baines' Stunning Hall of Fame election is an embarrassment" - wasn't even the harshest critique. Poor Harold Baines. He worked hard and showed strong character for decades, all to be ridiculed for a career that wasn't quite as suberb as Edgar Martinez's?
As former All-Star pitcher Brad Lidge tweeted soon after, "Haven't tweeted in a very long time, but I am passionate about the HOF. Baines and Smith worth weighing in on. No matter your opinion, let the guys have their moment! Smith should have been their long ago, and Baines was a joy to watch. Congratulate now, much debate later..."
As Lidge said, Baines was a joy to watch. Why take it any further? Why continue with a system that brings fresh anger into the world - over a baseball career, of all things?
The ugly discourse continued in the weeks that followed, when writer Bill Ballou of the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester declined to vote for Mariano Rivera, and became the internet pariah of the day (though, he's since changed his mind). Merry Christmas, Bill. Shame on your for having an opinion.
This past Sunday, Bill Madden in the New York Daily News took shots at his MLB.com colleagues who voted for PED users:
"Last week, MLB.com announced the ballots by their six Hall of Fame voters. Being as all of them get their paychecks from MLB, it was interesting that they all also voted for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, and two of them, Mark Feinsand and Jeffrey Flanagan, voted for twice-suspended, three-time drug offender Manny Ramirez! Aside from that, there was this concerning quote from T.R. Sullivan about his ballot: 'I'm not big on comparables, but (Billy) Wagner was every bit as good a reliever as (Mariano) Rivera and (Trevor) Hoffman.' Perhaps in the future, MLB.com might want to think about keeping their writers' ballots - and opinions - private …"
Madden's view appears to be that PED users don't belong in the Hall, and that Wagner was not, in fact, as good as Rivera and Hoffman. Okay. Valid points. But they're not objective facts, especially the PED one. And they're no reason to get nasty with folks who disagree.
There's no reason for any of this, actually. If we cancelled Hall of Fame elections, and replaced them with fun celebrations and substantive discussions, Cooperstown would be a happier place, deepening our experience of baseball rather than making it toxic.