I’ll be upfront and honest. I don’t know where this article is going. I don’t even know if I’ll finish it. If I do, though, it’s probably going to piss a lot of people off, and I’ll give you a heads up now, I don’t foresee myself defending the half formed views I’m about to put in virtual ink in the comment sections. Sorry.
Let’s start with a little bit of context for my baseball point of view. I was born November 7th, 1995, ten days after the end of the strike-shortened season. I was born into a world where Major League Baseball was in shambles. Fans had turned against the players and the owners alike after a strike that lasted 232 days, ended the 94 season mid way through and reduced the 95 season to 144 games, and only ended after a future Supreme Court Justice ruled against MLB’s ownership. The fans made their displeasure as clear as the noonday sun. Attendance dropped by 20%. Those angry fans that did go through the turnstiles, interrupted games, stormed the field, and flew banners over the stadiums telling both sides where to go and how to get there.
We all know what happened next, though. Baseball became must see television in a way that it had never been before. The sport became populated with titans amongst men, destroying baseballs in ways that had never been seen before. Records previously thought untouchable became mile markers in the rear view mirror of modernity. Attendance, ratings, and, most important of all, profits rebounded in a way that wouldn’t have seemed feasible on the day I was born. It wasn’t the magic of powerful sorcerers, sadly , it was the illusions of street performers. There were mystery bottles behind players, congressional reports, teary-eyed interviews, and ultimately a priceless piece of baseball history defaced or improved with a brand, an asterisk, calling out the shenanigans for all to see.
Then the real fun began. One by one, right about the time I started to truly be aware of the world around me, these disgraced living myths began to retire, and a debate began that rages fruitlessly until the very words you are reading now. At the heart of that debate are the following 23 words from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America rules governing induction into the Hall of Fame:
Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.
Those 23 words have split the entire world of Major League Baseball on what otherwise would have been some of the simplest decisions in the sport’s history, if only the words androstenedione, HGH, and Biogenesis had never been uttered.
I can already feel the future tension building, and the long held opinions and anger bubbling forth once more, so allow me to switch gears for a moment. 704 miles away from 25 Main St, Cooperstown NY is another Hall of Fame for another sport. The sport is newer, having had its first official event long after some of the greatest baseball players of all time had already retired and even passed away, on February 21, 1948 in Dayton Beach, FL. The Hall of Fame in question is even newer than that, having had its inaugural class in 2010. Perhaps you have already guessed, but I am referring to NASCAR and it’s Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NC.
Much like the tension I felt in the last paragraph, I already feel the eye rolls of dismissal from a not insignificant portion of the population who doesn’t follow NASCAR, doesn’t think it’s a real sport, “call me when you can turn right,” whatever your gripe may be, but bear with me. They inducted their class of 2021 this month, and the difference in the process and result when compared to the quagmire that MLB finds itself in is striking. The headlining member of this class was a certain Dale Earnhardt Jr., who even if you don’t follow the sport, you are probably at least tangentially aware of him and JR Nation, his rabid fanbase that got window stickers for their trucks, ubiquitous Budweiser hats, and even #8 tattoos that had to be corrected to #88 when he changed teams midway through his career.
What’s significant about his induction, however, is that no one, not even the most outspoken Jr. fan, would argue that he is the greatest NASCAR driver of all time. This member of the Hall of Fame never won a championship, is currently ranked 32nd all time in wins, with several young drivers currently in the sport that will pass him sooner rather than later, and in fact at one point had a winless streak of 76 races, longer than two full seasons. But he is a member of the Hall of Fame, with zero dissention as far as I can tell. Why is that?
Because he is the most famous NASCAR driver of all time.
Back in the world of MLB, we have gotten so far off course from the objective of the Hall of Fame. We debate, on the internet of all godforsaken places, the moral fiber of baseball players, and whether or not they were upstanding and righteous enough to be considered members of the Hall of Fame. If we as a sport keep the most significant baseball players of the 21st century out due only to vague, undefined adjectives that have nothing to actually do with baseball, then we have ignored the first criteria of the Hall of Fame in favor of listening to ourselves pontificate into a howling vortex of outrage.
Of course, that’s not to say things don’t change and that moral considerations can never factor into a vote. Omar Vizquel is a timely and unfortunate example. Unlike others, he was a borderline candidate to begin with. but if someone changed their vote from 2021 to this year after the allegations of sexual harassment against a batboy surfaced, well, I can’t blame you, or if you wouldn’t vote for one of the several already inducted members who are accused, especially in the early days of the sport, of some truly heinous things. But I guess for me sexual assault, stabbings, and the KKK just don’t warrant the same moral outrage as steroids. Perhaps I’ll have to answer for that view when I reach the Pearly Gates, but for some reason, I don’t think I will.
Many times in the context of other Hall of Fame it is said that, “It is the Hall of Fame. Not the Hall of Very Good.” Of course this is used in the context of players that don’t quite make the performance cut. Let me be perhaps the first to use it in this context. It’s the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of the Very Good Upstanding People.
But what do I know. We’ve only been debating this my entire life.