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25 April 2007 @ 12:38 pm
The Baseball Hall of Fame  
Someone wrote in to Sarah Bunting's "The Vine" to complain about the recent Baseball Hall of Fame vote that excluded Mark McGuire from the Hall. In particular, the writer objects to all the articles now being written by vote-eligible sportswriters bragging of their integrity in voting against McGuire's inclusion.

I started to compose the remainder of this entry as a comment, but it got long enough that I decided to post it here instead.

I may be an atypical baseball fan; I enjoy watching the game, and I follow what's going on around the leagues and in the standings each year, but I don't really care about the history of the game or about who set or broke what record. But isn't the Hall supposed to be about the history of the game? I mean, if the point is to run down an itemized list -- the record for most curveballs in a single game is held by Joe "Slimy" Tibbles, or the record for the most over-the-shoulder running catches in one season by a second baseman under 5'6", that whole Guinness Book thing -- then sure, set moralistic constraints on the records.

But that's not my impression of what the Hall is supposed to be. Isn't it supposed to ensure that the game isn't lost, that the story of the game isn't forgotten? Isn't it meant to trigger meandering happy retellings of games or seasons, or to inspire the young'uns to go look up the stories behind the numbers? (In which case, all the insufferably smug, self-congratulatory articles about "I did my duty and kept him out!" kind of defeat the whole effort.)

Records aren't bestowed, they're achieved. Sometimes they're earned, sometimes they're "stolen", but they aren't some sacred trust held by the BBWAA, are they? When it comes to grammar I'm a prescriptivist, but I would think that a hall of fame is descriptivist by nature. And everything should be asterisked. Give me the stat, and then give me the context. Admit that the game has never really been pure and that the conditions have never been equal from one season or even one game to another. Tell me which record-setting players were drinking heavily, or snorting cocaine, or taking speed; tell me which players had to contend with racism, or with a short season, or with wool uniforms, or with being snowed out of two consecutive starts; tell me which parks give what advantages and the theories of why; tell me how the numbers changed with the advent of lights (night games), with standardized ball/bat manufacture, with pitching mound changes. You'd think the anti-sabermetrics types particularly would value the story over the raw numbers.

It's a Hall of Fame, not a Hall of Vaunted Moral and Ethical Purity. Five minutes reading about the most celebrated members would illustrate that.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
Andrew Greene530nm330hz on April 25th, 2007 05:02 pm (UTC)
Ah, but it's also an honor to be elected, and that's where it gets sticky.
michelel72michelel72 on April 25th, 2007 05:11 pm (UTC)
[Teal'c]Indeed.[/Teal'c] So maybe it's time for the Hall and its voters to come up with a clear mission statement. The impression I get is that voting is currently used to attempt to serve too many purposes.
Amy- ninja extraordinaire, bad monkeyninjamonkey73 on April 26th, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)
Amen, sister!
The ball used to have more "pop". Steroids weren't even illegal during part of my lifetime. The fact that someone hasn't been caught doesn't give them a higher moral character than one who reeks of cheat, but the uncaught get in on false merits all the time. The "greenies", the hardware, the mound height, some new concoction that isn't YET illegal. I agree that all the records really ought to have some sort of asterisk. Shorter seasons, pitching on more or less rest, the weather a team happens to follow during its season. Nothing is pure about baseball stats. A team with a short porch at home will lead to better home run numbers, it would stand to reason, with more than 80 games at home. Maybe McGuire cheated to get there, but it doesn't change the fact that he was a staple name of baseball in my youth. And he broke records. Unless you can prove that everyone is free from sin, journalists really shouldn't throw stones.