Cooperstown: where history is secondary to morality

While there has already been countless electrons transmitted through the Internet over the failure of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) to elect anyone to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday, I still felt that I had to chime in.

(Disclosure: One of my brothers is a member of the BBWAA, although he has not been a member long enough to have a Hall of Fame vote. Members for at least 10 years can vote. Some news outlets, such as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times do not let their employees vote.)

The list of eligible candidates for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York this year was one of the most illustrious ever. The game's career and single season home run leader was on the ballot: Barry Bonds. The pitcher who had won the most Cy Young Awards ever, Roger Clemens, was eligible. One of, if not the best, hitting catcher in the game's history was on the ballot in Mike Piazza. A player who amassed over 3000 hits while playing three crucial defensive positions (catcher, second base, and center field), Craig Biggio made his debut on the ballot. Sammy Sosa, who hit 609 home runs in his career, eighth best all time was eligible.

Some of the returning players (players are eligible to be chosen by the BBWAA for 15 years as long as they get at least 5% of the vote) included Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Jack Morris, Alan Trammell.

And the BBWAA membership looked at this esteemed group and for not a single one of them could they muster the necessary 75% agreement to induct anyone into the Hall of Fame. For the first time since 1960, no living person will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. (Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, umpire Hank O'Day, and 19th century catcher Deacon White, all of whom are long dead, were chosen by the Veterans Committee in 2012.)

The reason for this problem? The spectre of performance enhancing drugs which has made the BBWAA decide that the Baseball Hall of Fame is a place where the history of the game can be erased or censored because some people believe, often times with little or no proof, that the baseball stars of the 1990s and early 2000s must be shunned,

Biggio came the closest to election, garnering 68.2% of the vote. Morris received 67.7% of the vote, although he is coming up short on election because not enough voters actually believe he was good enough. Clemens received 37.6% of the vote just ahead of Bonds at 36.6%. Sosa finished in 17th place, picking up just 71 votes, around 12.5%.

Shockingly, at least to me, Piazza was in fourth place in the voting at 57.8%.

Why were there not enough votes to induct anyone, even ones whom the BBWAA generally regards as "clean"? Because the membership has decided that they, as a group, are the guardians of all that is clean and pure in the sport of baseball. Only the brave voters of the BBWAA can keep children from growing up with the knowledge that a museum in upstate New York does not have a hard to read plaque with a relief of Barry Bonds' face on it.

No matter how you view the morality of performance enhancing drugs in sports, you cannot deny that the games played by all the players during the so called "Steroid Era" didn't actually happen. Is there a particular reason why this particular form of cheating is any worse than gambling, segregation, poorly decided antitrust law, and a whole host of illegal activities in the game's history?

When you think of gambling problems in baseball, most people think of two things: Pete Rose (who is ineligible for election to the Hall of Fame because of his lifetime ban) or the 1919 "Black" Sox scandal. But, the game was rife with gambling problems almost from the start of the National League in 1876. The 1877 Louisville team was cast out of the league after it was shown that it threw games toward the end of the season. Gambling was a problem in the sport for decades after that.

Players who were overt racists, such as Ty Cobb and Cap Anson, are in the Hall of Fame. Tom Yawkey, whose Red Sox teams won a grand total of zero World Series during his time owning the club and were also the last team to integrate, is in the Hall of Fame. This list could go on for quite a while.

There are likely dozens of players who took amphetamines, which are a banned substance now, during their playing career. This would include players like Henry Aaron and Willie Mays. But, I guess that's OK. They seem like nice people, right? They did the right kind of cheating!

The BBWAA voters say that players like Bonds and Clemens tarnished or destroyed the game's history and integrity with their actions. But who were the victims in all these events? The San Francisco Giants ownership certainly benefited greatly from people who came to watch the team play in a new stadium in a beautiful location. The New York Yankees and Houston Astros aren't giving back any World Series appearances they had because of Clemens' pitching for them.

If you bought a ticket to a game and saw players who were using steroids did you really care at the time? Did it bother you in hindsight? What do you want done to achieve "justice"?

What bothers me the most is that some writers consider EVERY player from the 1990s-2000s to be suspect and not worthy of induction into Cooperstown. Ken Gurnick, who covers the Dodgers for MLB.com, tersely said so when he revealed his ballot. (I'm sure Mark McGwire, the Dodgers new hitting coach, and Gurnick will not become drinking buddies this year.)

Mike Piazza never failed a drug test. Nor did his name ever come out after a leak. But, there were rumors. There were whispers. Some people didn't like the look of his back. He seemed to get very good unexpectedly. And for some BBWAA voters, ergo, Mike Piazza cheated. Not only could reasoning like this not hold up under legal scrutiny, it wouldn't even be allowed into print by a reputable newspaper editor. But, it was good enough in the minds of some people who apparently believe that they can use an extraordinarily low standard of proof, so they can uphold their own cartoonishly high sense of morality about baseball.

The BBWAA voting body, many of whom do not actively cover the game anymore, or even work as sportswriters, is still filled with people who think that there was sometime in baseball's history when it was "pure" or "clean." In the past, baseball was not pure. It never has been. From the time that professionalism entered the game in the 1850s, there was always a certain amount of hypocrisy that fans had to buy into. The BBWAA has done nothing with their recent Hall of Fame indecision but to say that they are more important than the game they covered.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens may not be our ideals of what we think baseball heroes should be. But no player is. Or ever will be.


More by Bob Timmermann:
"It's Time for Everton Football"
UCLA starting to make Omaha a regular destination
LACMA mounts an exhibition that may be the best thing hardly anyone sees
Baseball's International Final Four comes to California
UCLA stumbles, falls, wanders around, and wins the Pac-12

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