Hall of Fame or Hall of Hypocrisy?

Annual row about drug cheats forgets that honour roll has plenty of members who contributed to baseball's ban against blacks

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 January, 2014, 7:25pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 January, 2014, 7:25pm

The polar vortex is an all-consuming and chilling affair. I am shivering just writing these words. The people dealing with the record cold in the northeastern parts of the United States and Canada would be happy merely to be freezing as opposed to hypothermic and any attempts at warming and sunny thoughts are greatly appreciated. Well, thank God for baseball and the Hall of Fame.

Every year in early January the sport names its latest boys of summer to its uber-prestigious Hall in hopes of an early thaw.

This year's vote decidedly raised the temperature throughout the region thanks to the contentious and combative behaviour of some members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).

Everything they could do to be their absolute best they did - and I mean everything
Tim Noonan

The Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, is where they keep the history of America's most mythical sport and the BBWAA are the people who write that history.

This year Dan Le Batard, one of the most high-profile members of the BBWAA thanks to his national TV and radio shows, gave his ballot to the irreverent sports website Deadspin to fill out for him through a readers poll.

"I feel like my vote has gotten pretty worthless in the avalanche of sanctimony that has swallowed it," Le Batard wrote knowing full well that he will lose the right to vote again.

His biggest issue is the way many voters, who conveniently looked the other way during the dreaded steroid era, are now finding religion in keeping the so-called cheaters out of the Hall.

Not surprisingly his actions drew immediate condemnation from his peers, many of them colleagues and friends, who accused him of the same sanctimony he despises. "We are self-congratulatory people," said ESPN commentator and former Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser, "but this is even beyond us."

For the record, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas made the Hall this year. Maddux is one of the greatest pitchers ever, his long-time teammate Glavine was very good and Thomas was an elite slugger. I saw undeniable greatness in Maddux, but not in Glavine and Thomas. However, I don't have a vote and I don't want one because under the current climate I am clearly not qualified.

You don't need a secret ballot to know that context is a marvellous if not largely inconvenient thing. The two most dominant and fearsome hitters in the history of baseball are Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds. Ruth is a charter member of the Hall of Fame while Bonds probably never will be voted in.

The Babe never played against the best black players of the day because of major league baseball's ban against them. If Bonds had been born 50 years earlier he would not have been allowed to play in the major leagues because of the colour of his skin.

During his pharmaceutically enhanced era, relief pitchers were called specialists and would come in to the game to throw maybe 10 or 15 pitches at speeds approaching 160km/h and then when they were done someone else would come in and do the same.

Many players, apparently including Bonds, were partaking in the latest that modern science had to offer to perform at an optimal level. They were being exceedingly well rewarded to be at an optimal level.

Most didn't carouse, they were disciplined, dedicated and diligent in their rest, diet and training. Everything they could do to be their absolute best they did - and I mean everything.

You think general managers running baseball clubs wanted their players who hit 50 home runs a year to get off steroids and hit 20 a year? Everyone, from the commissioner's office through the owners, management, and players, right down to the people who recorded their feats, was complicit.

And now it is time to officially record the history of that era and the gatekeepers have put a massive padlock on that door for anyone suspected of using performance-enhancers.

Again, luckily I do not have a vote because I would have a hard time judging what is a more grievous offence to the integrity of the game, banning someone because of the colour of their skin or using drugs to enhance your performance.

What is a fact, though, is that many of the people who kept the game white are in the Hall of Fame. Their plaques hang in a place of great prominence.

Personally, I have long been fascinated that good, bad or indifferent, baseball has been a mirror of America like no other sport. It's a perfect window to a culture and the view ain't exactly perfect folks. But an honest look is a great starting point.