Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Hall of Likability - Class of 2015

I like Mike

Nothing gets a baseball nerds blood boiling like a good (or contentious) Hall of Fame debate. Its what I imagine went on at Comic Con after they announced that The Mouse bought Star Wars and the guy who made Lost was tasked with resurrecting the franchise. I'm sure some people loved it like the 2nd coming of Jesus, while others were so despondent that their tears fogged up the visors of their storm trooper helmets. The rest just shrugged and went back to developing at app to facilitate furry hook-ups.

Everyone who follows baseball has some sort of opinion about The Hall and they usually get pretty worked up defending it. I give Buster Onley a lot of credit for basically saying he didn't know what to do about it and voiced that the only way he could by obtaining (you know, other than by speaking about it as widely respected baseball writer). Considering the remarkable amount of distance I have from this process I don't have a particularly strong opinion. However, this distance does allow for me to look at the whole picture. And this whole picture shows me that we don't have a Baseball Hall of Fame, but we have a Baseball Hall of Likability.

The baseball writer is in general on odd creature. So in love with a sport that requires such athleticism and an incredibly specific skill set, but kept in the shadows of its true shining grace by the shear draw of the genetic lottery. This feels ever so much more unfortunate when finally granted inner observer's access to the kingdom, only to find out that some those gifted with the skills and ability take their very existence for granted. The baseball writer sees the blessed pass by without displaying the reverence to the privilege and responsibility of playing the game. And it burns them up inside.

That's why you will hear ad nauseam about playing the game the right way. As if their is a wrong way to throw a no hitter or drop 4 bombs in an afternoon. Every aspect of baseball is incredibly hard to do, and it seems like there is an expectation that when you accomplish it you should be humble about it. Part of that is probably correct in the spirit of good sportsmanship, but what happens when a player in an 0-16 stretch or just got shelled to a tune of 6 ER over 3 innings. On the field, most players hold it together one way or another, with some notable exceptions. However, its in the locker room, in front of the baseball writers that the true personalities come out.

That's were the Hall of Likability comes into play. Making the BBWA the St. Peter of the Hall of Fame is like letting your 4 year old pick the dinner menu. They're gonna pick candy every time. Steroids & PED's just gave the baseball writers the excuse that they need to keep out the guys they didn't like. Player that were jerks (Bonds, Clemens) or the guys who they feel like just flat out betrayed them (Sosa, McGuire, Palmiero). In the writers' defense it can't be easy to look at the long relationships they have had with the players they had been covering for years and then have those same players lie to their faces. But that doesn't change the responsibility with which they have been entrusted.

What about Ty Cobb? Oh that nasty old racist from baseball's "Golden Era"? The same Ty Cobb who as a career OPS+ of 168 and who still ranks as the 20th greatest hitter of all time? Numbers like those won't keep you out of any where despite how cantankerous you are towards people. And the racist part, well that didn't mean a whole lot at his induction in 1936 as MLB was still an all white league. As much as that sort of behavior might have his head on a pike now-a-days, it sure isn't enough to create some sort of retro clause to remove him from the HOF. But with the Hall of Likability things like, "He may have cheated" (gasp!) or "He lied about cheating" (oh, the horror!!) or "He gambled" (won't some one please think of the children!!!) are enough to keep out the players the baseball writers don't like.

So then there's Mike Piazza. He's got HOF numbers any way you cut it. He wasn't anything better than an average defensive catcher throughout his career, but man could he rake. He was also never bad enough behind the plate (until the end) to consider moving him out of an offensively depressed position. What a story too. Drafted in the 62nd round (pick 1390 to be exact) during the '88 draft as a favor (or so the legend goes), and he goes on to a (probable) Hall of Fame career. Nobody does that. Its hard enough to get a 1st round pick to be an All Star. Piazza was also by most accounts a nice guy, a good interview and a team leader. Did he take steroids? I don't know. I've heard stories, but I've heard stories about Bonds, Clemens, Sosa & McGuire too (None were ever suspended BTW).

Major  League Baseball has shown no interest in stepping in to break the BBWA's chicken wing choke hold on the Hall of Likability. They don't really want to go to bat over PED's and I can hardly blame them. The game was (possibly) saved by it in the '90's and checks were cashed long ago. No sense in digging up that dead horse to beat it again (its only gonna stink worse). They will just let the writers fight it out. Its at a stage where no publicity on this particular issue is bad publicity. I mean its been nearly 1/2 of MLBNetwork's programming for the last week.

If the Hall of Fame is a museum, it should be treated as such. Of course we want to highlight the great players above the others, but with this level of documentation available choosing a selective history does no one any good. It just ignores a large part of our history. And those who ignore history are... well, you know.

In the end, debate will always be a part of loving baseball. Even in today's numbers revolution, there is still an endless amount to talk and to write about. It even seems as though the Hall of Fame debate is perfectly timed every year to get us from the Winter Meetings through the holidays and on to Spring Training, when not a lot else is happening. Maybe that's way it should be. An awful lot got written and discussed in the last 3 weeks (and weeks to come) when not a lot of baseball actually happened.

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