It would be good if the Hall of Fame could reverse course and matter again, but if not, eh
It wasn't that long ago that I cared about the Hall of Fame, and those who were enshrined in its walls, quite a bit. I still do care in the present, but whatever fire for Cooperstown once existed within me has been reduced to cooling embers by this point. Opinions about who deserves entrance -- and who should be barred from Cooperstown's halls -- remain, but whether or not things work out the way I prefer is of less consequence now than it used to be. I want to care more, but instead, the whole post-holiday time frame where Twitter, the blogosphere, and the Baseball Writers' Association of America stop to take their annual turn as cause-heads for Cooperstown is just exhausting.
Not to pick on one person, but this can be traced back to when Jim Rice was elected in 2009. Now, Rice was a fine ballplayer in his own right, but personally, his career is outside the scope of what Cooperstown is supposed to represent. Given he wasn't elected until his final year on the ballot, giving the voters 15 chances to decide he was worthy, it's not as if I was alone in this opinion, either. Here's the thing, though: just because I didn't think Rice wasn't a Hall of Famer doesn't mean I think he was bad. Nuance doesn't get a lot of room (or attention) during this time of year, though, as it's those on the extremes who get the notice. Rice became something of a symbol for the old guard, who created legends about his prowess and the fear he engendered at the plate. This left his career, in many ways, with less dignity than it would have had, had he just been allowed to slip off the ballot in that 15th and final attempt. On the other extreme, Rice was presented as something less than he was in order to counter the overly glowing perception of him from many of those with a vote, an equally unfair fate.
This was problematic not because Rice's election sullied Cooperstown, or anything like that. If the BBWAA wants to go big hall and elect the Rices and Andre Dawsons of the world, that's their privilege and right. The issue was that it showed that, with enough time -- and they had 15 years of it for each player -- anyone they wanted to push through could likely be pushed through. In some cases, this can be a positive: maybe it took some advanced statistics to appreciate what Bert Blyleven acomplished in his career. For Rice, though, advanced numbers only made him look worse, and it's not as if his career improved in the 20 years after he retired.
If this were a one-time thing, it wouldn't be optimal, but it would be far from the worst offense related to Cooperstown. The thing is, we're seeing it happen again with Jack Morris. There's no need to get into the details of Morris, because at this point, you likely know it better than you know the history of your own town, state, country, whatever. But just know that Morris would represent the ultimate in big hall inductions, because, as known as he is for being a Big Game pitcher because of a couple of playoff contests, his career isn't all that interesting in a relative sense, never mind great. And again, if the BBWAA wants to make Cooperstown into a place where Jack Morris is Hall-worthy, then that's fine, even if it's my signal to extinguish whatever internal embers remain.
The problem is that electing Jack Morris is about electing Jack Morris, not about going big hall. Better pitchers than Morris (Kevin Brown, Kevin Appier, David Cone) have fallen off of the ballot already, while better pitchers in the future are scheduled to do so as well (David Wells). There are ballots that exist that vote for Morris, but not Curt Schilling, who was not only superior to Morris in the regular season, but possesses even more of the postseason legend that those who hold Morris in high-esteem credit him for. Some writers are going so far as to create Jack Morris epochs, in which he's the Greatest Active Pitcher of his time, even though that's utter nonsense. In the end, though, this narrative just might win out, and Morris will get another shot at election next year if he isn't enshrined Wednesday afternoon. I'm preemptively fatigued by the notion.
This is without getting into the performance-enhancer debate. Steroids might have improved performance, but no one knows by how much, who was truly using, or even what to do about it. A complex question has been distilled into simple answers of right and wrong, and it draws battle lines in the sand that cause even more of the "us against them" mentality that's so prevalent this time of year. The character clause is invoked by some as reason not to vote for suspected users, but there are far worse crimes against humanity committed by those already enshrined, and performance-enhancing cheaters, too. As said, it's a complex, multi-layered issue, and there could stand to be some guidelines on how to go about treating the era, rather than erasing it through non-votes.
Let's not forget how tiresome the idea that the BBWAA is a monolithic institution incapable of recognizing progress in thought is -- surprise, they're individuals with the ability to reason! -- or how equally bothersome it is when a few rotten apples in the BBWAA dismiss non-members as unimportant and uninformed. As questions go unanswered, and writers and fans on both side hunker down even further behind their personal defenses, it just gets uglier -- and more tiresome -- each year.
That's the real tragedy of it. This institution, one that's supposed to reflect history, has instead turned into a debate about what exactly history is, and what merits remembering. Rather than become a well-reasoned debate between sides, it's become a battleground, with attacks too ferocious and too incessant for the disputed territory in question. Cooperstown is going to become even more of a bland high-school-history textbook than it already is, distilled to names, numbers, and nothing more, with prominent figures and events removed to keep the idea of sanctity alive and well, rather than risk telling a story someone might not want to recall. That, more than anything, makes it difficult to care once more about what direction things inevitably go.