HOUSTON: Houston Astros hitting coach Jeff Bagwell looks on during batting practice before the Houston Astros play the Cincinnati Reds at Minute Maid Park in Houston Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
The Hall of Fame has two serious issues, both of them related to Jeff Bagwell. Until the BBWAA comes up with a smart collective policy about hitters from the Steroid Era, everyone's going to suffer.
This morning, Craig wrote a couple of compelling Hall of Fame-related posts.
In the first, he noted that attendance at the Museum is way, way down: more than 20 percent just from 2007 through 2011, and it looks ever worse if you go back to the early 1990s. Craig attributes the recent decline to the Great Recession, and the larger decline to the perhaps tempered passions of baseball fans. They're still going to games and watching on TV, but seeing Chick Hafey's Hickok Belt in a glass case just isn't on a lot of bucket lists these days.
In the second, Craig gave some Calcaterrian whatfor and whatnot to three Chicagoland Hall of Fame voters who have (again) not voted for Jeff Bagwell because of suspicions that he used performance-enhancing drugs (not including amphetamines, because hey if Willie Mays used greenies it's cool).
Craig's beef, here anyway, is this:
By definition, people either have actual information establishing that Bagwell did steroids or they do not. If they do have it, they have not published it. And given how newsworthy such information would be, the only plausible reason they haven't published it is because their newspapers would not allow them to do it because the information is thin and/or uncorroborated. So: such a stance as the one shown by these gentleman is necessarily either one taken with no information or with information that falls short of the standards to which they usually adhere in their daily work.
This is a little side-trip I hadn't meant to take in this space, but I wonder if Craig's legal background isn't tripping him up here, just a bit. He's saying, I think, one of two things (or perhaps both):
1. A voter who hinges his decision about a particular player on the use of PEDs should consider only documented evidence; there's no room for hearsay, or statistical oddities, or visual impressions;
2. If a voter does have some worthwhile evidence, he's not allowed to write about the voting decision unless he's also willing to discuss that evidence.
While I believe Bagwell should be in the Hall of Fame, I've never quite understood the argument that a Hall of Fame voter -- if he thinks steroid use is germane -- should ignore every scrap of evidence that doesn't appear in the Mitchell Report or wherever.
I mean, seriously ... Do you think Jeff Bagwell ever used steroids? I do. He was a power hitter and played during a time when most power hitters used steroids. Maybe that's not completely fair, and I hope I'm wrong. But the guys from that era sort of brought the suspicion upon themselves.
Like I said, I would vote for him anyway. There are dozens of guys in the Hall of Fame who tanked up on amphetamines before every game, and there are probably already a few who used steroids. This is how the game was (and don't kid yourself, still is) played.
I believe that it's intellectually indefensible to disqualify a player solely because you think he used steroids ... but I also believe it's perfectly defensible to decide for yourself, based on everything you've seen and heard, if a player did use steroids.
Some of that makes sense, I hope. And I really didn't intend to get into this whole thing. Really, I just wanted to express my mild surprise that Craig didn't make any connection between Hall of Fame voting and Hall of Fame visitors. The Hall of Fame derives 98 percent of it publicity from one thing: new Hall of Famers. But lately -- and for some years into the future, I'm afraid -- a great deal of that 98 percent is going to be negative. It will be about Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield and Mike Piazza and all the terrible things they did, and there might well be years when literally nobody is elected to the Hall of Fame. You think attendance has been down? You ain't seen nothing.
Maybe the people who run the Hall of Fame don't really care. There's usually a check from Major League Baseball to help out. Hell, considering that Bud Selig makes $15 million per year and spends three bucks on his haircuts, he could set up a trust that would fund the Hall and buy new shoes for every Cooperstownian ragamuffin for the rest of the century.
I think they do care, though. I think they'll eventually do something. I've seen at least one Hall of Fame voter plead with the Hall to offer some guidance regarding players from the Steroid Era. Which is pretty funny. BBWAA, guide yourself. But yeah, if the logjam of those players gets big enough, somebody's going to have to bust it up. If the Hall of Fame is smart, they'll start thinking about which explosives to use. Soon.