Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Empty Halls of Closed Minds

Paul Hagen had better have one hell of a speech ready for the last Sunday in July. It had better be a long one, too.

Hagen is the winner of the 2013 J. G. Taylor Spink Award for baseball print reporting given by the Baseball Writers Association of America, an award which will be presented at the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Cooperstown, New York (It's not being elected to the Hall, a mistake many sportswriters make each summer). Hagen will also be the only living person presented an award at the 2013 ceremony. The baseball players and owners being inducted into the actual Hall are long, long dead.

And as a result of that, the BBWAA, an organization of which Hagen and yours truly are longstanding members, even if I'm emeritus, is closer to death than ever before -- at least as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned.

As you may have heard, no living players eligible for the Hall in 2013 received the required 75 percent of votes cast by BBWAA members of the required seniority to be elected for what is endearingly if foolishly regarded as the sport's ultimate honor. Not anymore it isn't. What honor is there in receiving one from an organization without it?

In the year when there were more eligible candidates than any in my over 15 years of voting, nobody made it. Not the game's all-time home run hitter. Not the best-hitting catcher ever. Not a 300-game winning pitcher. Not maybe the best postseason pitcher who ever lived. Not the second-most dynamic offensive player of the 1980s. Nobody. A plurality to a majority of BBWAA voters had a point to make. We think steroids are bad. We think steroids are so bad, we're willing to be worse to prove our point.

Jeff Bagwell got fewer votes in 2013 than he did in 2012. Why? Because the bitter old washerwomen who comprise a significant minority of the voters wanted to vent their spleen. Murray Chass, a sad parody of an angry old man these days, saw acne on Bagwell's back one time in his playing days. Proof enough for us!!

Mike Piazza didn't make the cut. Never formally accused of steroid use, but rumored to have said in an off-the-record conversation to a baseball writer that he'd done so. Second source? Violating source confidentiality? Who cares about our profession's ethics! We're judging HIS profession's ethics.

Roger Clemens was accused of perjury for testifying he never used steroids. A federal jury acquitted him. Perjury's not a crime where an alibi or reasonable doubt come into play. The jury either believes you or the prosecution. Twelve good citizens and true believed Clemens. How dare they insult the integrity of the game!! We'll show 'em.

Barry Bonds never had a chance. In addition to being a smart sociopath, Bonds blew up baseball's beloved records and statistics -- the highest crime against the sport its Purity Police can conceive. Also, and this really probably irks the guys and gals who didn't vote for Bonds, at some level Barry doesn't care they didn't. That's one advantage of being a sociopath in the first place.

Here's an oddity for you. At the end of the 2004 season, baseball's steroid controversy was in full swing and Barry Bonds was at its center. "The Daily Show" had run a sketch on Bonds and steroids during the season. He'd been on the cover of the New York Times Sunday magazine, and the story had indeed mentioned performance-enhancing drugs.

At the end of the 2004 season, Bonds was elected National League MVP. The award is voted on by members of the BBWAA. Wonder how they voted in the 2013 Hall election.

What really rankles is that so many voters were cowards as well as pompous moralizers after the fact. If some player from the pre-steroid era, or a player of that period generally regarded as clean, Curt Schilling, Craig Biggio, Tim Raines, anybody, had been elected, well, that would be a statement by the BBWAA. A mistaken statement in my opinion, but it would have made a point. But too many voters couldn't go that far. They wanted not to deliver justice, even hanging justice, but to vent their indignation that baseball wasn't any less corrupt and fallible than all other human institutions, and by extension, they were not to be regarded as any less corrupt and fallible than their fellow humans.

Put it this way. When you hear Bob Costas moralize about the PED users in baseball, do you hear a sincere advocate for a position, or a man angry that his youth gets further away each moment and that the baseball hero of his youth drank himself to death?

Many of the "no" voters of 2013 wrote or stated anguished declarations about how hard it was. Bull. They loved every second. They love being the Gods of Cooperstown. That's why they (and me, never forget I voted and am in this deep, too) are Gods who must be and will be destroyed.

Major League Baseball isn't the most forward-looking organization in the world, but even it must recognize the contradiction of running a museum which is intent on erasing decades from the the sport's history. More saliently, MLB surely recognizes the commercial dangers of supporting a highly publicized trashing of said history. The Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce must surely be delighted with today's results. Where do they get banners with Paul Hagen's likeness on 'em?

The National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame selects the nominees for election. They selected all the players of the steroid era based on on-field accomplishment. Since MLB runs the committee that runs the Hall, we must conclude that baseball itself decided that these candidates passed whatever morality tests the sport has. Pete Rose wasn't on the ballot, after all.

The voters thought otherwise. As a matter of practical politics, it's very unwise for an organization to claim more power than a more powerful one has granted it. MLB has wanted to alter the Hall voting format for years, and has been right. As I always say, I have a vote and Tony Gwynn  doesn't? Something wrong there. The missing Class of 2013 just gives MLB a better excuse to strip the BBWAA of the only authority it has left in the sport.

It's also an excuse for MLB to make more money. Stand by for the TV ads urging you fans to cast your votes for the 2015 Class of the Cialis National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame.

I really don't give a shit whether Bonds, Clemens, or anybody else gets elected to the Hall or not. It's a museum for a fun, silly game, not Westminster Abbey.  But the BBWAA voters were my former professional peers. Many I considered friends, and I know many of those business friends were "no" voters. With a few nasty exceptions, they're not malicious folks. They know and love the sport and want to do what's right for it.

That's why I'm sad. The voters confused, as humans often do, what's right with what makes me feel like I'm right. Baseball writers are prone to seeing the sport as one of the world's major religions, with them as clergy. It can make them a pain to be around. The Bagwell no vote is based on the malicious gossip that is the bane of all press boxes.

But the point of being a baseball writer is in the second word of the phrase. All the principles of journalism these voters violated out of a warped sense of priorities do far more damage to their own battered trade than they did to baseball by making the Hall of Fame look foolish. Baseball always looks foolish one way or another. It's one reason I love it.

I love journalism more. Watching my former profession hurt itself through misguided arrogance hurts a great deal, and that it was done by people I know makes the hurt almost insupportable. The substitution of suspicion for proven fact is one of reporting's cardinal sins, almost THE cardinal sin.

The BBWAA got the Hall vote because baseball felt it could find no other dispassionate, unbiased jurors within the sport. That's out the window now. And since news customers are looking for the same thing when they purchase information, the damage the BBWAA did to itself today goes far beyond losing that vote.

My Hall vote is about my last tie to my former trade. I'll keep it as long as baseball lets me. I suspect that won't be that much longer.

Today, it's hard not to think "just as well."


At 10:38 AM, Anonymous Karen said...

Well said, Michael. Apparently you aren guilty even when found innocent. Not voting in Michael Piazza was a travesty.


Post a Comment

<< Home