The Future of the Hall of FameBy: Sean Pidgeon
In case there is any doubt that the Baseball Hall of Fame is stumbling into irrelevancy, consider this. Jack Morris will probably get elected to the Hall of Fame next year. 2013 ballot newcomers Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will not.
I’m not here to reopen or continue the grating debate about Morris’s candidacy. I’m with Joe Posnanski; I think Morris is a very good player who falls short. But two out of three Hall voters think Morris should be in and next year he’s going to get in, even if his supporters have unfortunately used lazy arguments like Jon Heyman’s “he pitched to the score” and Dan Shaughnessy’s “you had to be there.” (To be fair to Heyman, he’s a “you had to be there” guy too.)
But this isn’t about Jack Morris, who, either way, should be celebrated for having a wonderful career, a Swanson-esque mustache, and, yes, that defining Game 7 masterpiece. Morris is a borderline Hall candidate, no better, no worse, than Andre Dawson and Jim Rice, two recent electees, or Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly, two candidates still waiting on the outside. These and other very good players of Jack Morris’s caliber are elected and not elected every year. They’re not so great as to hurt the Hall of Fame by their absence but still good enough players that their enshrinement would bring honor upon the Hall.
Here’s what Jack Morris and Jim Rice and Dale Murphy are not, though. They are not among the very best baseball players of all time. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are. Bonds has a case as the greatest hitter ever, Clemens as the best pitcher in history. Even the writers who did vote yes for Morris (many of whom won’t vote for Clemens or Bonds) would concede that Clemens, Bonds, and probably ten more players on the ballot are better than Morris. Jack Morris, himself, would concede that, too.
My high school had a sports banquet each spring to honor all of the JV and varsity sports teams. Each varsity coach awarded one player on his team an MVP trophy. Officially, the MVP was for the best player. In reality, it went to the best player who happened to be a senior. Usually the best player on your high school basketball or football or baseball team is a senior. Sometimes it’s a junior or sophomore. But the idea was that a deserving underclassman should wait his turn because he would get his chance as a senior.
Of course, when undeserving seniors did get MVPs, everyone knew what it meant, especially the honored award winners.
There’s not much that hasn’t been said about the steroid issue. Some, myself included, see the PED controversy in the context of its era and, absent clear evidence of absolute guilt or innocence, believe it’s best to pick Hall of Famers based on what happened on the field. Some try and figure out which players needed steroids to post Hall of Fame caliber stats and which players were already Hall worthy before they started doping. Jon Heyman, despite his poor “pitchin’ to the score” Jack Morris advocacy, intelligently argues this nuanced position and says he will give a yes vote to Barry Bonds, because Bonds had a Hall of Fame career before he allegedly started roidin.’ Others take the Shaughnessy approach and think all confirmed steroid users should be banned from the Hall. I don’t agree, but I can respect this argument. Some go further and say anyone accused or circumstantially linked to PEDs should be barred, an argument even harder to justify. And finally there are those who take the Ken Gurnick approach and won’t vote for anyone from the steroid era.
Many more voters fall into the Shaughnessy camp than the Posnanski or Rob Neyer camp. We’re going to see a lot of great players like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa never get inducted. The Hall of Fame is going to be without Manny Ramirez, one of the greatest right handed hitters of all time. Unless more of the anti-steroid folk take the Heyman position than the Shaughnessy stance, even Bonds and Clemens, Hall-caliber players before they (allegedly) ‘roided, will be on the outside looking in. And Jeff Bagwell, the best first baseman between the careers of Lou Gehrig and Albert Pujols, who has never been connected to PEDs, is still waiting for the Cooperstown call, because he has big muscles (I kid you not).
Today’s Hall of Fame voters have chosen to do with steroids what voters from previous generations chose (I believe rightly) not to do with greenies and amphetamines and ball scuffing. Because of the current voting pattern, most of an entire generation’s best players will be left out of the Hall of Fame.
It’s a shame that when Ken Griffey Jr. and Derek Jeter and Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez get elected to the Hall, the first thought won’t be “baseball is honoring some of the greatest players of all time” but “these are the ‘good’ guys who played the ‘right’ way,” which is patronizing because it turns these living legends into gritty Ecksteins (and besides being patronizing, has no guarantee of accuracy, since they did play during the steroid era, so there’s no telling for sure than any given player didn’t cheat). And it’s a shame that when, yes, Jack Morris gets elected next year, the first thought won’t be “a very good career is validated as something special,” but “Jack is the token good guy that had to be elected to have a 2013 Hall of Fame ceremony because a bunch of better players used steroids.” Jack Morris, borderline Hall of Fame candidate, deserves better than being the token senior who gets an MVP over the arbitrarily ineligible sophomore.