Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and the Moral Scolds of the Baseball Hall of Fame
I've been to the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. It's a nice place, tucked in the middle of a small, picturesque town in a hard-to-get-to part of New York. You can get lost for hours in the museum, looking at the artifacts of the game's past, being amazed at how the game's grown, modernized.
The actual Hall of Fame's just a small part of the facility, and it's one of the last things you come to. It's not as majestic as you think, you expect. It's just a big room full of plaques. And while you can spend hours gazing at the faces and reading the stats, the odds are that you'll search for your favorite players, read about them, remember the times you saw them play.
Here's the thing. The plaques don't mention that Babe Ruth played in a segregated era and thus didn't face some of the day's greatest players. Ty Cobb's plaque doesn't mention his racism or his gambling on baseball. Mickey Mantle's says nothing of his alcoholism or adultery. There's no mention that Gaylord Perry admitted to throwing the spitter (an admission he made while still pitching) and there's no mention of the amphetamine use of Willie Mays and Henry Aaron.
These are the greats of the game. Many of them broke laws, were creeps. Some cheated. There's no mention on any plaque of any of this, and yet the Hall of Fame does not feel diminished in any way possible the inclusion of these players.
But for some reason the moral scolds of the Baseball Writers Association of America have taken over. They say that PED use ruined the game. That PED using players cheated the game, cheated the fans, cheated the hallowed history of the Hall of Fame. And for this they must be punished.
It's funny in a way. They didn't feel cheated when they wrote glowing profile after glowing profile of these men they now condemn. The fans didn't look cheated when they paid extra money for early admittance into stadiums so they could watch Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa take batting practice. About the only time I think fans felt cheated was that time Larry Dierker was met by loud, merciless booing by his home fans for daring to walk Barry Bonds instead of pitching to him so he could hit home runs.
And it's these same writers who are keeping Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame. Biggio was just denied by two votes. Two votes. One voter, Murray Chass declared that Biggio and Bagwell used PED (without offering evidence) and refused to vote for them. Another voter, Ken Gurnick, stated that he was refusing to vote for any player from the PED era, then voted for just Jack Morris, a pitcher who played the majority of his career in the PED era. Without them, Biggio's in the hall.
It's just not about Biggio or Bagwell. Barry Bonds is one of the greatest baseball players ever. It's taken as a given that he started on the PEDs after the 1998 season when the press and fans put McGwire and Sosa on the pedestal of all that was right about baseball. Bonds was a far superior player, hitting for power, for average, stealing bases, a great base runner with good range (and so-so arm) in the outfield. But the fans and media made Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa the stars, the faces of the game, so Bonds started on the PEDs to be like them, to win the adulation, and now the moral scolds are punishing him for trying to meet the standards of success they set.
It's never been proven that Jeff Bagwell used steroids. It's not been proven with Roger Clemens either. There was a trial that took months over whether Clemens lied to Congress about PED use. Clemens won the trial. So the writers need to back the hell off and do their jobs. Either they need to produce definitive proof that Clemens used (and Bagwell too) or they need to put him in the Hall because he is one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. And it shouldn't even matter if he did use PEDs. I thought winning games and helping the team was what mattered (Gaylord Perry is celebrated for winning and cheating) and Clemens did that. He won games and helped his teams achieve success.
Yes, there's that whole morals clause to be considered, that bit about playing the game with integrity and character. But seeing as how Cobb, Perry, Whitey Ford and a whole of bunch of other guys who probably couldn't spell morals if they were spotted the m-o-r-a-l are in the Hall the question is, why have the writers turned moral scolds now?
The Hall of Fame's a building. Inside the building are plaques saluting and honoring the greatest players of the game. Some of these guys lied. Some cheated. Some broke the law. Some used illegal substances. The building's still standing. The records are still records. The game of baseball is still the game of baseball. So spare me the sanctimonious indignation.
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