Friday, January 04, 2013

Things I Think About Baseball Hall of Fame Voting

If you are a sportswriter and you are suffering a deep existential moral crisis over whether to vote for Mike Piazza because Murray Chass claims he had zits on his back, you need to take a deep breath, step back, and turn on the news - the real news - for about fifteen minutes. After you watch reports of the fighting in Syria, the drug war enveloping Mexico, the increasingly gloomy news about what exactly elevated CO2 levels are doing to our planet, and the fact that somebody thinks that Allen West is a worthwhile spokesman for any point of view other than "batshit insane", then ponder the agonies you have put yourself through over Piazza's back zits.
If, at that point, you still feel you must stretch yourself on Procrustes' column inches to declare the horrors of voting for the Hall of Fame, give it up. Voting for the Hall is a privilege and an honor, and most important of all, it's supposed to be a positive thing. It's a chance to honor players you thought were great and celebrate their achievements. Enjoy that. Have fun with it. Revel in your good memories of Jeff Bagwell or Eric Davis or whoever. But for pity's sake, don't turn every ballot into a road show production of Antigone.
Because that takes the fun out of the Hall of Fame, and it makes you look like a self-important ass. And neither of those is what the fans want to see.

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What's largely missing from the ongoing Hall debates is joy - joy in the fact that the verb attached to baseball is "play", that what we're hopefully celebrating in Cooperstown is a body of work of play that we as fans, regardless of whether we view RBIs as esoteric numerical magic or think Nate Silver is OK as a starter statistician, cherish. Are there guys in the Hall whose body of work, I think, doesn't merit them being in there? Absolutely. Jim Rice? Loved getting the guy's baseball cards when I was a kid, but Dale Murphy was better and he ain't in there. But then again, undeserving guys have been getting in for ages - there's one too many Waners in there - and the world hasn't ended, and baseball hasn't exploded like the Death Star, and the game has gone on. Jim Rice getting elected to the Hall of Fame has absolutely zero effect on my enjoyment of watching David Price. All it means is that there's one more plaque I won't linger over too long if I ever make it to Cooperstown.

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The debate over steroids - who used them, who didn't, who might have used them - is, I think, laughably misplaced. Yes, steroids and HGH and other stuff got used. And it got used by everyone. Stars, LOOGYs, guys fighting to hang onto the 25th spot on a roster and guys signing seven-year contracts. Yes, guys putting up fat numbers might have used, but so did the guys they were playing against, from the cleanup hitters to the mop-up men. Read the Mitchell Report names. Nobody ever "feared"Adam Riggs coming to the plate. If you're going to penalize these guys for being enhanced, then give them credit for pitching and hitting and fielding against guys who were similarly enhanced. Don't save the moralizing for the guys who were bad interviews, recognize the context and move on.

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My entirely made up HOF ballot looks like this:

Bagwell
Raines
Bonds
Clemens
Piazza
Trammell
McGwire
Sosa
Biggio
Trammell

Ask me tomorrow and I'd maybe swap out Sosa for Walker. Or Palmiero. Or McGriff. Or, in a moment of weakness, Dale Murphy. But I'd rather celebrate just about anyone on the ballot and the pleasure I got watching them than mean-spiritedly abuse the percentages, turn in a blank ballot, and keep everyone out rather than risk someone I didn't like getting in.
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