Over the past week every sports media outlet has been spewing nonsense about who should be invited to Cooperstown. Traditional counting statistics have been compared against things like WAR while old guys just say things like “he looked like a Hall of Famer when he played.” For once, I may agree with the old guys.
Let’s first tear down the notion that the Hall of Fame is some sort of holy building that’s guarded by the ghosts of old baseball players who “played the game the right way.” It’s a museum, and nothing more. I get that it might mean something special to a handful of guys who get inducted, but for the most part those who don’t make it aren’t losing any sleep over it. I’ll be the first one to say Cooperstown is an awesome place to visit, but I’ll also tell you that you’re high if you think it encompasses all the best baseball players in history.
The fact that Barry Bonds and all the other steroid users aren’t in the museum is dumb. There have been cheaters in every era of baseball. Whether it’s Kenny Rodgers throwing a spitball, Willie Mays pounding amphetamines or Mark McGwire juicing his face off, cheating has existed since sports were invented. You can almost use different forms of cheating as a marker for each era of baseball. I’ve done a complete 180 when it comes to steroid use. The ranks are going to become very thin if you’re gating everyone who cheated. The thing those forms of cheating have in common is the end result is supposed to help players win. So no, Pete Rose isn’t in this conversation because what he did isn’t cheating, it’s more like insider trading.
These arguments come down to comparing player X to old player Y. In this scenario people attempt to compare time periods, as if that’s possible. If we’re going to do that, we have to realize there are a ton of good-not-great players in the Hall of Fame like Lou Brock. We force ourselves to compare Edgar Martinez against guys who played when you couldn’t step on the field unless your skin color was white. Do you really think the Babe would hit 60 home runs if he was hitting against guys like Clayton Kershaw? How many home runs would David Ortiz have hit if he were seeing 85 MPH fastballs every day?
My hope is that we’ll get to a point where we say “yeah, I think that guy was one of the best when he played the game” and the argument stops there. It’ll never get there, but a guy can dream. It’s not possible to have an argument over which players deserve the call, because it all comes down to the individual’s memory of that player. At the very least, maybe we can stop caring so much about who’s face is on a wall in a building in the middle of New York.