Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why the Hall of Fame matters to me

By now you know that tomorrow is the Hall of Fame's election announcement for the 2014 Induction class. Greg Maddux will get in. Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas probably will get in. Craig Biggio *just might* get in. Jeff Bagwell won't. And this bothers me. By now you've probably seen us rail against various Base Ball Writers ad nauseum for five years the better part of a month.

By now you also may know that I used to be employed by the Hall of Fame. My wife grew up in Houston, (I didn't spend as much of my childhood in Houston, but enough to claim Houston as my hometown in my college yearbook) and I told her that the only way we'd ever leave Texas is if I got a job at the Baseball Hall of Fame. The first winter in Cooperstown was cute. The second was terrible. And by the third winter, when I was shoveling the roof to keep it from caving in under the weight of the snow we thought, "We have to get out of here," and so we moved. I have nothing but good things to say about the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum, the people that run it, and the mission of the institution.

The Hall of Fame will never be irrelevant, there is too much history there. I am an Astros fan through and through, but I got goosebumps seeing Cy Young's tobacco spit-stained jersey. I had to walk through the Plaque Gallery to get to my office, and eventually I had to start leaving earlier so that I could just stop and read Amos Rusie's plaque, or Addie Joss's plaque, or Eddie Murray's, or...you get the idea. The fact that Every Body - regardless of whether they have actually made it to Cooperstown - gets so pissed off this time of year about the Hall of Fame serves as confirmation that the Hall of Fame will never be irrelevant. But the very people who handle the actual electing of the Hall of Famers are making the institution difficult to appreciate.

I cannot fault the Hall of Fame for this. From a certain standpoint, letting the BBWAA dictate who gets in and who does not takes the pressure off them. It's not Jeff Idelson (the President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum) making the call that X player is not worthy of being enshrined. At whom are we pissed? Well, it depends on the day. Today it's Ken Gurnick. Tomorrow, it'll be someone else. Tomorrow, actually, will probably be a lot of people. We're not mad at the Hall of Fame itself, other than that it allows the BBWAA to, with increasing regularity, make a mockery out of one very specific yet highly visible part of the institution's campus.

The BBWAA elects the players, the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum is a collecting institution - which is focused on education and preservation - that inducts the players. It's that simple. Who wouldn't keep that relationship alive? It's another entity's fault that the interested parties are pissed off. You can't reasonably expect Jeff Idelson and the Hall of Fame's Board of Directors to approve lowering the institution's standards by removing the character clause. Would you want that to be your legacy? I would not.

The Hall of Fame matters to me because, like you, it honors a key piece of my childhood. I don't know of anyone who decided, after years of college football fandom, "You know what? Let's see what this 'Base Ball' is all about." And, as kids, we identified our favorite teams by the players' impact on us. I don't remember a single thing about Larry Andersen. All I knew was that the first baseman with a funny stance could knock the cover off the ball, and did so 449 times. And I liked the guy with the dirty helmet who eventually got 3060 hits and 668 doubles - 2nd-most among righties in baseball history.

So I care about the Hall of Fame because I care about the people that work there, because I care about museums in general, and because I care about baseball. But more than that, I get cranky this time of year because I get tired of a bunch of baseball writers telling me that the players that helped me fall in love with the game (and the Astros) are not among the best players in baseball, and furthermore, that they think - but don't feel obligated to explain why - those players are cheaters. That's what gets me cranky.

But that's on the BBWAA, not the Hall of Fame.