I was at the gym the other day (these pecs aren’t going to wail on themselves) and I happen to catch a segment of one of ESPN’s talking head panel shows on one of the standard-issue muted flat-screen TVs placed every five feet around the wall of any self-respecting personal fitness facility. The following discussion topic was written across the screen:
“Who hurt their Hall of Fame chances more, A-Rod or Manny?”
The topic was obviously in reference to Manny Ramirez’s recent 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance and Alex Rodriguez’s admission to abusing performance-enhancing substances the previous winter.
As the allegedly tainted sluggers of the Steroid Era begin to trickle into Hall of Fame eligibility, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), the self-regulating collective of beat writers who vote on Hall of Fame candidates as well as player awards including the Cy Young, MVP, and Rookie of the Year trophies, is seeing to it that the question will not be, “How should the Hall of Fame react to players whose performance was enhanced by illegal chemical stimulation?” But instead, “Does the Hall of Fame even matter?”
The BBWAA has already given the cold shoulder to Mark McGwire, he of the best at-bat to home run ratio in baseball history, and with questions about whether Manny and A-Rod will be inducted, it is becoming clear how it collectively feels about the players of this shady era of sports history.
McGwire, Ramirez, Rodriguez, and Barry Bonds are unquestionably among the greatest baseball players of all time. If the Baseball Hall of Fame actively chooses to omit several of the most-accomplished players in the history of the sport, then what, if any, is the significance of the Hall of Fame?
For much of the past century, the National Baseball Hall of Fame has stood as an unchallenged pantheon of baseball’s most-talented performers. Each summer, discussions rage over whether or not an eligible player is “Hall-worthy” and how well he will perform on the BBWAA ballots.
However, such thinking diverts attention away from a player’s actual performance and redirects it towards thinking about a player in terms of this authoritarian body that is the Hall of Fame.
It is parallel to telling someone that their regional dialect is “incorrect” because the words they are using are not acknowledged in the “Official” English Dictionary. Who granted authority to Webster to decide what is and isn’t a word?
In the same vein, who decided that the National Baseball Hall of Fame is the be-all, end-all judge of the greatest baseball players of all time?
Baseball fans need to break their mental bond with the Hall and consider that perhaps it has something other than the best interests of the sport at heart.