Monday, January 05, 2009

Baseball Hall of Fame: Why are the writers so picky about choosing members of a club they could never join themselves?

When I was in high school, where a person was seated at lunchtime was a mark of his or her true social standing. One did not presume to plop one's tray down just anywhere, you know. And if anyone were so presumptuous, the persons with whom he'd chosen to associate would quickly, and sometimes cruelly, disabuse him of that notion.

This may not be the most attractive aspect of human nature, but it is human nature nonetheless: We choose our companions. We reject those we do not deem worthy of our favor. We seek out and curry favor with those whom we believe may enhance our own status. We differ from our fellow primates mostly in the fact that, at least in most modern American high school cafeterias, we seldom groom one another by picking lice out of each other's fur.

So I can understand, even if Ron Santo can not, why the Veterans' Committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame is so darn picky about letting new members in their club.

But the Veterans don't get the opportunity to snub their fellows until the Baseball Writers Association of America has had a 15 year turn at quashing the hopes of Hall of Fame aspirants.

These thoughts were prompted by the Chicago Sun-Times' Rick Telander, whose column this morning explains his Hall of Fame ballot. The linked column doesn't have the ballot reproduced; I grabbed a copy of Mr. Telander's ballot for this post from the print edition.

(See, fellas, someone is still reading newspapers offline!)

I do not criticize Mr. Telander's mere handful of selections -- but I wanted you to see the entire ballot because so you can see for yourself who he did not select. If I were the least bit objective, I might understand a debate about whether Harold Baines qualifies. But I'm a White Sox fan and in no way objective. Besides, Baines played on one leg most of his career. True, that limited him to being a DH -- and only 2,866 hits. Only! How many players with two good knees get 2,866 hits, eh? And there's a good case to be made for Bert Blyleven, too. And maybe you could make others.

No one should have to make a case for Mark McGwire. Yes, he is tainted by association with steroids. He also hit 583 home runs. There were a lot of kids ruining their health by taking juice at the same time who never made the majors, and a lot who did make the majors were never stars. I'm on record as saying that if the taking of these substances, banned or not, legal or not, was as widespread as it now seems, then there was probably a level playing field. And McGwire rose bloated head, shoulders and torso above that field. Besides, official baseball winked and looked the other way as McGwire and Sammy Sosa thrilled the country with their home run duels. Isn't it the height of hypocrisy now to dump on the guy?

That doesn't mean I would like to look the other way now. In fact, I feel quite strongly that chemical enhancements, and the cheaters who would use them, should be banned from the game. But McGwire belongs in the Hall for what he did on the field, not what he took in the lockerroom.

The way it works now, letting the Baseball Writers choose who gets into the Hall of Fame works about as well as letting the freshmen members of the Audio Visual Club decide which seniors can sit at the jock table. (Jim Rice shouldn't get in because he was mean to us!)

Mr. Telander concedes the writers are "ultraselective," but thinks that's alright. I don't. Anybody can figure out what Hall of Fame numbers are: We know what the numbers are of those who are enshrined and we can compare them to those who seek admission. The writers' function should be to decide that this career .300 hitter doesn't get in because he never seemed to get a hit with runners in scoring position -- or because so many of his homers came in blowouts, not in game-winning situations -- but that a career .275 hitter might be worthy because his hits came when the game was on the line. Let's cut the sanctimonious guardian nonsense. OK?

1 comment:

Shelby said...

Rick Telander is just a baseball snob, that's all there is to it. Harold oughta be the first pick bubbled in. And yeah - what you said. Of course, problem is, there's lots of Rick Telanders. There's a reason the audio visual club got picked on - they're dumber 'n dirt, some of 'em. And they don't know how to fight. And they certainly can't play ball.

.. BATTERRR UUuuuuuuuuuppppppp.