The Shame of the Hall of Fame

19 Jan

Baseball is, of course, America’s pastime. It’s a sport with fabled legends and stories that have stood the test of time.

Cooperstown is home to the baseball heroes of the past. It is a town that looks like it came straight from a movie set. My last visit there was in July 2011, and even my buddy’s girlfriend who knew nothing about baseball fell in love with the town.

The little shops line the streets that are filled with family’s who walk them. The pier waters glistens in the summer sunsets. Doubleday Field has just as much history as the old Yankee Stadium. Then there is the mothership: The Hall of Fame building – a place where legends call home.

Cooperstown has always been a special place to me, from the countless games I played at Doubleday, to shopping in my favorite store “Mickey’s Place”, to eating pizza at the local shop with my teammates.

I hope that some day I can pass that love on to my children. It scares me to think I may not be able to do so.

After last weeks voting results saw Barry Larkin as the newest member of the Hall, I began to think about the elephant in the room: performance enhancing drugs. Let the record show that I do not hold the same grudges as the majority of people for players who allegedly took PED’s. I’m going to try and attempt to explain why:

I grew up as most children do. Tossing a baseball with my dad as early as I can remember, swinging the bat in the backyard with him yelling at me “not to chop wood”. I collected a countless number of baseball cards – all of which I still have. I started tee-ball when I was five, and I continued playing all the way through college.

Baseball was always that special bond for me that I could fall back on during the growing pains of adolescent-hood. It was my escape, a place I always felt comfortable and a game I always had fun playing. It is a child’s game, more than any other sport.

A lot of my love for the game came from my dad. It started in the backyard and continued with stories from his playing days. My dad is a southpaw, and he pitched a no-hitter in teener league but lost the game 2-1. He would tell me stories of how he and his teammates would walk home after practice or games and my grandma would make them all pasta at their house. A Pennsylvania native, he was cut by the Pittsburgh Pirates at an open tryout after working his way to the third-string first baseman.

He was, in short, my first true hero. I wanted to be just like him and experience the same things he did.

Then there were the stories about his heroes. Not only were these stories about heroes, they were stories about Hall of Famers. My dad saw Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford play for the New York Yankees. On Sundays the Yankees used to always have doubleheaders. My dad and grandpa would drive from Scranton to New York for games all the time at the original Yankee Stadium. My dad told me about the story where they once had to ask an usher for a new seat because they got stuck behind a beam holding the third-tier roof up at the stadium.

When my dad was out in California during the 1980’s he watched Reggie Jackson play for the Angels. On his way back from a game with my mom, Reggie pulled up next to them in his convertible at a stop light. My mom snapped a picture. They still have it for validity to the story.

My dad grew up during a great era of baseball. But then again, so have I. It saddens me to think that the stories I will have to tell my children won’t mean as much to them because they players won’t be Hall of Famers.

Like the story of the first time I saw Alex Rodriguez play. He was still a Texas Ranger at the time, and it was a rainy day at the old Yankee Stadium. My youngest brother, Timmy, and I loved watching him so much that we actually wore two hats to the game to show our love for the Yanks and A-Rod. I remember he was awesome that game. He hit a homerun in his first at bat, and later doubled off the wall as the Rangers beat my Yankees. But I went back home with a smile because I had just witness a great game from one of the game’s greatest players of all-time.

I remember an opening day game in 1997 where Mark McGwire hit a 9th inning homerun off of Mariano River. The ball was hit so hard and got out so fast. It went into the black seats in centerfield. I have never before or since heard the stadium so quiet like it was after that homerun.

In 2007 Roger Clemens was attempting another comeback. He signed with the Yankees and was in Scranton on Memorial Day as he worked to get his pitch-count up for his first major league start in June. I went to the game with my brothers, Danny and Timmy, and my dad. It may seem crazy to the outside fan, but this was Roger Clemens, “The Rocket”.

What do all of these players and my stories have in common? Sadly, all these players have been accused of using PED’s. I say sadly not because it upsets me that they did, I say sadly because I’m not sure if the excitement these moments gave me can be translated to my children like my dad’s stories were to me.

That is the shame of the Hall of Fame. Great players, who did great things, and made millions of people smile, will be left out of the Hall because they competed. They wanted to be the best that they could so they did what they had to to get that extra edge. Where is the real crime there?

I can’t wait for the time to come when the everyday human being will be taking PED’s to increase the longevity of their own lives. It’s an inevitability, the science is there, it’s just the results that are pending at the moment. Then what will the writers and critics of alleged steroid users have to say?

“The steroid era” as it is often referred to, was a GREAT time in baseball history. I don’t think anyone would disagree. It was the great Renaissance following the 1994 MLBPA’s strike.

Just take a minute and think about the excitement of that era, steroid related or not:

– McGwire with 70 and Sammy Sosa 66 homeruns in 1998.

– The record setting 1998 Yankees and 2001 Seattle Mariners, and also, Ichiro and Matsui.

– The Boston Red Sox 2004 World Series title.

– Barry Bonds 73 homeruns in 2001.

– Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra and A-Rod changing the shortstop position.

– The Florida Marlins improbable World Series titles in 1997 and 2003.

– The Yankees and Atlanta Braves dynasties.

These are just a few examples that come to mind as I write this article. There is more. There was more.

It was a special time to grow up watching baseball. Why are we degrading the era, the accomplishments and the players all because of PED’s?

Baseball “cleaned” up their act, shouldn’t that be enough for now. Why does the BBWAA feel the need to punish the players and their fans even further? They’ve already been embarrassed enough.

The long-term effects of keeping players like McGwire, Bonds, and Clemens out of the Hall can become much more detrimental than this short-term “fix” the league and writers are attempting to do.

No longer will I have stories to tell my children of fabled legends of the past.

The games were played, the events happened, the effects were felt. Let’s not take away from our future because we are scared of our past.

CJC

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