20+ years ago, while I was working as a student assistant at the Radford University, my boss Mike Ashley said something I never forgot. We were arguing about the Baseball Hall of Fame (as sports nerds, that wasn’t all that uncommon) and I had brought up the outrage that Shoeless Joe Jackson was kept out of the Hall. Mike glanced up and said, “Being kept out of the Hall is the best thing that ever happened to Shoeless Joe Jackson.” I was stunned. Mike was one of the most knowledgeable sports mind I knew (still is) and I couldn’t believe what he had just said.
“Best thing that ever happened to him. You know what happens the day after he gets inducted? Everybody in America forgets who he was.”
It was a great point. Other than Ty Cobb, Cy Young, and maybe Walter Johnson, there are almost no pre-Babe Ruth era Hall of Famers that modern fans ever knew existed. But they all know Shoeless Joe, and as long as he’s kept out of the Hall, they always will.
The Shoeless Joe argument tends to lead one to the Pete Rose argument that has been brewing for so many years now. Should he or shouldn’t he? In a sport that ultimately defines players by whether or not they can hit, having more hits than anyone else ever is a pretty damn big deal. But the player with the most hits in the history of baseball isn’t in the Hall of Fame.
And now it appears that the player with the most Home Runs in MLB history won’t be joining him either. Barry Bonds, the greatest player of our lifetimes, isn’t joining the Hall any time soon. Roger Clemens, arguably the best pitcher of our lifetimes, won’t be either. The reason is, ostensibly, steroids. That is of course only part of the story, as Clemens and Bonds had something else in common: both were world class pricks.
Not a prick? Harold Baines. By all accounts one of the nicest guys in baseball. Despite having an OPS 0.230 lower than Bonds, he will be going into the Hall of Fame.
You know who else teammates loved? Mike Mussina. Despite rather pedestrian numbers over his career, he’ll be going in largely because he “won with elegance” as the Washington Post said.
I’ll tell you who didn’t win with elegance: Curt Schilling. What a world class jerk-off that guy was, and still is. But let’s be clear: there is no statistical measure by which Mike Mussina was a better baseball player. None. And yet, he heads to the Hall of Fame while Schilling rushes off to the nearest radio to blame the immigrants or Hollywood or whomever else he’s hating on today.
So what do we have? We have a Hall of Fame that has decided it’s not just an arbiter of baseball but an arbiter of proper behavior. And quite frankly, if they don’t like you, they’re not letting you. Either win with “elegance”, either answer their questions and smile, or else.
Thus “good guys” who were highly suspected of being steroid users such as Pudge Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell are in the Hall of Fame*. The churlish assholes such as Clemens and Bonds are not. And even Schilling, who isn’t suspected of using steroids** and who should be a shoo-in for the Hall is on the outside looking in.
There’s something else about the steroid era that makes the motion to keep out Bonds and Clemens even more absurd: they weren’t breaking the rules. Hard to believe, but in the 1990s, Major League Baseball had no steroid policy. None. Why are so many players held under suspicion from that era, but there are seemingly no definitive answers? Because there was no testing, and until 2005 there was simply a blind eye turned to the whole thing.
And why is that? In large part because baseball was reeling after the disastrous 1994 strike that cancelled the World Series. And there’s precedent for what came next: in 1920, the Black Sox scandal rocked baseball, and threatened the survival of the sport. But some genius decided “We should juice the ball. The fans seem to like home runs.” That and the charisma of Babe Ruth saved the league.
Fast forward 70+ years, and again baseball was up against the ropes. And the answer to bring the fans back was obvious. But this time, not just the ball was juiced. The combo of a juiced ball and the chiseled from stone Greek Gods Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa brought the fans back in that thrilling Home Run race of 1998. Yes, these two behemoths looked more like defensive ends than baseball players, and there were more than a few whispers about steroid use. But you know what? Nobody cared. It was a gravy train for everyone: the league, the players, the writers, and the fans. And so we all pretended that what was so obvious was not; that these two men were juiced out of their minds. Bud Selig, who ran the league, certainly had no problem letting steroids flow like wine as long as revenue returned to baseball. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2017. The sportswriters, whose papers saw an explosion in interest as people kept up with the home run race, didn’t say what they all knew. Nobody wanted to spoil the fun until it was all over, and even then it wasn’t a reporter but a dipshit former player, Jose Canseco, who spilled the beans. Sportswriters were absolutely derelict in their duties when it came to steroids.
And now those same sportswriters who let the steroids run amok without any investigative journalism have the temerity to wag their fingers at Clemens and Bonds, as if they weren’t part of the same problem. They dare plant themselves on that moral high ground, as if they are entrusted with allowing these men into Heaven and not a baseball museum. Bonds and Clemens weren’t penitent enough, they didn’t grovel enough, and therefore (unlike Bagwell, Pudge, Piazza, etc) they will not be allowed past the gatekeepers. The Schilling snub just proves that the Baseball Hall of Fame has little to do with baseball…it has to do with kissing sportswriters asses. And THAT is why Clemens and Bonds, the best hitter and best pitcher of our lifetimes, will not go to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Who knows, maybe in 80 years it will be the best thing to ever happen to them. But right now, it is nothing short of an outrage.
*When Rodriguez was asked in 2009 if he was on the list of players who allegedly tested positive for steroids during baseball’s 2003 survey it instituted that year, he told the Associated Press, “Only God knows.” Both Bagwell and Mike Piazza admitted taking androstenedione, a substance that would be banned by MLB.
**though he obviously drinks plenty of the FOXNews Kool-Aid