|Coming Not Soon Enough|
I've been to Coopers- town twice. The first time was with guy friends who cared abut baseball, and the second was with the woman who would eventually become the Shooter Wife and a friend of hers. As museums go, having also been to Canton for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it's a fine place, and the little town is downright adorable. The place could be better, mostly because like most of baseball, if you aren't a Yankee fan you feel like a member of the barely tolerated underclass, but it's still pretty great. I recommend, in particular, the batting cages that throw trick pitches, the Negro League exhibit, and the pre-1900 displays. They are all genuinely fascinating.
The guys who are members, and the people who do the electing? Not so much.
Let's start with the primary problem -- the voters. Baseball writers have always been at best regrettable; the sport's speed and day-in day-out grind just leads to more purple prose than anything this side of teenage love. I didn't much care for these guys 30 years ago, when Bill James was just starting to point out how the emperor didn't get on base very often and the court-run media kept lavishing him with character traits that could not be quantified. I really don't like them much now, when they either go so whole hog into the numbers as to be completely unreadable, or lash out at anything more complicated than counting stats as what's going to turn us all into communists.
The writers haven't made the worst mistakes in the Hall's history; that singular honor goes to the homer-tastic Veterans' Committee of the '50s and '60s, who littered the place with ex-Cardinals and Giants without regard to, well, quality. But the gravity that the moderns take their charge now redefines wankery in our time. Is a player worthy of ordinary entry, or First Ballot Triple Secret Super Duper Entry? Will the steroid cheat with the astounding numbers cry themselves to sleep (on, well, a Smaug-esque pile of money) over the fact that their malfeasance has cost them immortality? And how, oh, how, can you, the mere reader, have any chance to comprehend the awesome responsibility that is being a Hall elector?
Here's something that we don't want to think very hard about, because to acknowledge it would make the HOF even more of an obvious tourist money separation device... the vast majority of guys in the Hall of Fame aren't, um, famous. That's because there is nothing more to say about them, assuming they stay out of jail or bankruptcy court; the story is over, and the induction might as well be a eulogy. So the very best thing that ever happened to Shoeless Joe Jackson was that, unlike Lloyd Waner or Chick Hafey, he didn't go in. Instead, people talked about him, and after "Field Of Dreams", they'll talk about him forever. The same goes for Pete Rose and his Quixote-like quest to debase himself for entry, even more than he did to get the silly record in the first place. Or, one presumes, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens and the other modern steroid cheats.
You see, the real problem with the HOF is that it charges itself with the responsibility of telling the story of baseball over the years, but it doesn't tell the full story. The full story is far more interesting, but the HOF knows who butters the bread around here. And they aren't going to say, for instance, that over the past 20 years, only a handful of markets are allowed to try to make the playoffs every year, and that if they fail, it should be seen as indictment of managerial incompetence, since they failed to win a rigged game. They aren't going to note how the Lords of Baseball turned a willful and ridiculous blind eye to truth because the turnstiles were ringing. They won't note that Bud Selig made dozens of compromised and short-term gain decisions, or that new stadium projects became some of the grandest thefts in the nation's history, or that Chris Berman made himself into a motorboat to make you indirectly hate baseball, and that Tony LaRussa, the Yankees and the Red Sox conspired to turn every Big Game into 4-hour staring contests and more, more, more.
The true story of baseball is that the game thrived, as it always does, in spite of itself. Even the long slow slide from #1 to #3 (among U.S. major leagues) isn't a real problem; there's enough money for all. The needle cheaters and fiscal bullies won, kept on winning, and will keep on winning. Championships didn't matter for non-plus markets, teams were torn apart as soon as they reached their sell date, and way too many people got wrapped up in GM and Owner Worship.
That's the story the Hall doesn't tell, and the writers don't make them do it, either.
And if they don't eventually just hold their noses and induct the whole lot of number cheats in one spectacular Class Of No Class, and place all relevant exhibits in a dark and windowless basement room where you have to pay extra to see the plaques and take a caning before you are left out...
They'll just keep making everyone have the same damn tedious argument, for the rest of our lives.
I don't want to talk about these guys any more. The people that do... may actually be worse than the cheaters, somehow.
Which leads me to the last and most hopeful idea of all.
Anyone want to start another Baseball Hall of Fame from scratch, and actually do the job right?