The National Baseball Hall of Fame seems important enough. When people are inducted they wear suits and bring their families and sometimes are so overcome they weep in front of their friends.
I love the Hall of Fame. When I was a kid living near New York City and my parents were divorcing, which was traumatic, my mom ferried my little brother and me to Cooperstown in the hopes we'd forget all the other stuff for a couple days. We took the family Chevy Vega wagon with fake wood on the sides, which was more traumatic.
This was the early '70s, and I was maybe 11 and most definitely a Mets fan, so I couldn't wait to see all the Mets who'd been enshrined. I loved the Hall of Fame anyway.
I grew up, and got a vote, and more than once stayed in a little house with a few other ball writers within walking distance of the museum, which was good for a number of reasons. There was a basketball hoop in the driveway, and pillows embroidered with lovely thoughts in the living room, and a screen door that was cranky in a loud but harmless and charming way. Like Jim Leyland.
So I really hate that the process of identifying a Hall of Famer has devolved into such ugliness. Non-voters on voters. Voters on voters. Non-voters on non-voters. A year ago we rounded up a posse to chase down the miscreant who cast a ballot for Aaron Sele. Every four years, I'm guessing, a few of our neighbors write in their dogs for president. Four years later, they still have a vote, perhaps because by then we realize they might have had a point.
(Not that I'm suggesting Aaron Sele is a dog. He's not. He's also not a Hall of Famer, and we all seem to have survived one member's trying moment.)
It's a baseball museum, folks.
Is it our duty to get it right? To keep an open mind? To be fair and earnest and consistent and reasonably smart about it?
Well, first, yes. Second, what's right?
It's in the statistics, of course. It must be about the numbers. Unless those numbers are Winstrol aided, or park aided, or Rawlings aided, or era aided, and then, well, there's almost certainly a formula for that.
It's in the eye, of course. A man can't tell you what defines a Hall of Famer, but he knows one when he sees one, unless what he saw wasn't real, wasn't genuine, and then, well, nobody gets in. Because they're all cheaters and they need to suffer. Unless they were all cheaters, and let somebody else sort 'em out. Or they were great before they cheated, so let 'em all in, or something.
The standing Hall of Famers, we hear, don't want any of those PED scoundrels in the Hall, because the new generation should have been more like the old generation, getting by on grit and determination and buckets of greenies, the way the game was meant to be played. Honestly, 20-some years later, looking up at the resident Hall of Famers on stage, I'm frankly surprised some of them are able to sit still.
(You play the game, you do what you do, and then five years, 10 years, however many years later, people you mostly despised for 20 years decide if you're an immortal. That has to suck. Because, generally, what ball writers know about playing the game – what it really takes to be great – couldn't fill David Eckstein's left shoe.)
But we add it up at the end, decide what's important and what's not, and take our best guess. We decide what makes greatness, and how that's better than really, really good, and how a player compares to other players already in the Hall, except maybe we didn't vote – or wouldn't have voted – for some of those players already in the Hall, so how much sense does that make?
Every year, the players on the ballot find themselves in an impossible spot. The voters find themselves conflicted. (Unless you sell your vote, and then it becomes easier.) The holiest among us find ways to get even holier, and I was sure that was not possible, bless their condescending souls. It must be wonderful to be right all the time and not cursed by the grays in an otherwise colorful world. Sign me up.
Until then, I'm OK with taking my best shot at pushing together the relevant numbers, my conscience, and the opinions of those who see it differently, then casting a ballot I assume no one else will view as perfect. I can live with that, even if others can't seem to. I can live with a process others view as flawed, because it's the best we have at the moment. Should it be changed? Is there a more suitable voting body? Has the time come for journalists to get out of the game?
Maybe. Sure. Probably.
But this is the process we have today. I still love the Hall of Fame. The people who run the place are incredible. The people in it are, by a huge majority, deserving. And I'm more than happy to help where I can. In fact, I'm proud of it. So much so, I'd drive my (typically stingy) vote straight to Cooperstown and drop it at the front door, if they asked.
The Vega might have a few good miles left in her.
- National Baseball Hall of Fame