If the Baseball Hall of Fame no longer wants to recognize the best players in the history of the game, then we no longer have to recognize it as the ultimate shrine to the sport.
On Tuesday, arguably the greatest hitter in the history of the game, Barry Bonds, was denied entry — again — on moral grounds. Roger Clemens, one of the greatest pitchers in the game, received the same fate. Meanwhile, another unquestionably great pitcher, Curt Schilling, missed out because of his political beliefs and bigoted comments.
And I’m wondering why they were excluded.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is filled with cheaters, bigots, scoundrels, and folks who used performance-enhancing drugs — both the early-day stuff and the real good stuff of recent years.
Yes, there are some men of exceptionally high character in the hall, but to believe that Cooperstown is exclusively filled with such people is beyond naive — it’s willful ignorance.
Bond, Clemens, and Schilling would fit right in with this lot.
After all, they were exceptional baseball players. I thought recognizing such titans in the industry — flaws and all — is why the Hall of Fame was built.
The Hall of Fame’s self-appointed mission is — and this is directly from its website — “to preserve the sport’s history, honor excellence within the game, and make a connection between the generations of people who enjoy baseball.”
Were Bonds, Clemens, and Schilling not unquestionably excellent, even if the first two’s means weren’t necessarily scrupulous and the latter has been anything but excellent since retirement?
The last time I checked, Bonds had a career so prolific he would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer without the specter of performance-enhancing drugs on his record. The same with Clemens.
Schilling is unquestionably an all-time great, too.
Many point to the “character clause” on the Hall of Fame ballot as the reason to not include these three. Apparently, voters need to take into account “integrity, sportsmanship and character” for each player.
That’s a nice thought. The problem is that character seems to be more heavily weighted for some players and not others.
Mariano Rivera’s unsavory far-right political beliefs weren’t a problem for him when he received 100 percent of the vote. There’s no doubt Schilling is less couth, but why is he held to a different standard than the only man in the history of the Hall of Fame to receive a unanimous vote?
Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, and Ivan Rodriguez are all in the Hall and are all suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. That’s only to name a few. Was it proven they took them? No more than it was proven that Bonds and Clemens did.
The difference is that Bonds and Clemens were ensnared in federal probes. Both players claimed that they never willingly took PEDs. After long legal processes, neither has a conviction on their record.
Do I believe both of them took performance-enhancing drugs? Of course. But why would they still be held to higher scrutiny than folks already in the Hall of Fame?
The cognitive dissonance is startling.
There’s only one explanation for it, and it’s not a flattering one:
This is personal for too many of the 400-or-so baseball writers with ballots.
No one debates the numbers or the impact of Bonds, Clemens, or Schilling. No, their exclusion is about writers who are trying to maintain a final shred of self-importance in a sport that’s fading fast. They’re big-timing the biggest names, under the guise that it makes them bigger; that it accomplishes something worthwhile.
It doesn’t. It’s just petty and small.
Don’t like Schilling or what he says? Get in line.
No one enjoys the concept of performance-enhancing drugs, either. But it wasn’t until this century that Major League Baseball actually wrote a rule against them. Meanwhile, the commissioner who turned a blind eye to the rampant PED use — and probably some of the players who took advantage of the moment — are enshrined.
Maybe Bonds, Schilling, and Clemens receive the votes next year, their final turn on the ballot. This year, Bonds and Clemens are at 61 percent of the vote — you need 75 percent to be enshrined. Schilling needs 16 more votes. Those writers who are trying to prove a point (about what, exactly, I don’t know) will have made all three sweat for as long as they could. The pettiness will end and they’ll finally deliver the trio to their rightful places along with the other legends of the game and Harold Baines.
But I’m not banking on that, because this operation should not have gone on for this long in the first place.
And so long as nothing changes — so long as pettiness is deemed more important than play — the Baseball Hall of Fame will be an embarrassment.
Kurtenbach writes for the (San Jose, Calif.) Mercury News