The Baseball Hall of Fame debacle

Wednesday for only the second time in 42 years the Baseball Writers Association of America failed to elect anyone to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The 2013 Hall of Fame ballot included the game’s greatest hitter Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens the premier pitcher in baseball history. Statistically Bonds and Clemens should have been elected to the Hall of Fame; both have been closely linked to the use of performance enhancement drugs (PED’s) during their careers, ending in the doors to Cooperstown being slammed in their faces.

The New York Times made one of the strongest statements relating to the Baseball Hall of Fame debate Thursday leaving the front page of their sports section blank with the exception of a “Welcome to Cooperstown” banner adorning the top of the page.

"Wayne Kamidoi, our boundary-pushing art designer, came up with the idea," Joe Sexton the well-respected New York Times sports editor told ESPN’s Darren Rovell. "And Jay Schreiber, our baseball editor, saw the chance to capture the very old, very dispiriting story of steroids in baseball in a freshly powerful way. Yes, it was not a surprise that Bonds and Clemens didn't make it. But felt like history had spoken. How to convey that to our readers? I think we did it -- a striking, profound emptiness.”

Kamidoi offered this to Rovell:

“In what should have been a historic day for Cooperstown, it proved to be an incredibly empty day for baseball," he wrote. "That's why 11.5" by 13" of white space seemed appropriate. What a group the Class of 2013 SHOULD have been -- Clemens, Bonds, Piazza, Sosa. Their numbers and accomplishments say: One of the best classes ever. However, all that has transpired since 2007 when they all decided to retire certainly has tarnished their images and the Hall of Fame as a whole. The big names of the game were appropriately published in very small type -- a mere footnote to baseball history."

Robert W. Cohen, who wrote the 2009 book “Baseball Hall of Fame — or Hall of Shame?” spoke to the New York Times Wednesday offering an interesting perspective on the Hall of Fame.

“Baseball has always had some form of hypocrisy when it comes to its exalted heroes,” he said. “In theory, when it comes to these kinds of votes, it’s true that character should matter, but once you’ve already let in Ty Cobb, how can you exclude anyone else?”

Ty Cobb a member of the first Hall of Fame first Hall of Fame class in 1936 may have never used PED’s but as has been well documented was anything but an honorable person. Cobb according to the Times report “is portrayed as a sociopath in biographies and a Hollywood film starring Tommy Lee Jones, is without question the Hall of Famer mentioned most often whenever the integrity of the game’s top players is questioned. Known as the Georgia Peach, he was often painted a racist and had numerous documented altercations with African-Americans off the field, including one that led to a charge of attempted murder.”

In a world where athletes are held to a higher standard, Cobb’s behavior borders on being offensive and repulsive; he was a terrible human being. If the Hall of Fame had a morality’s clause, Cobb who during a major league baseball game once jumped into the stands and attacked a one legged fan who had been bothering him, would be ejected from the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

Two years ago Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson clarified the integrity clause of the guidelines for voting for Hall of Fame membership:

“Baseball has historically been held to a very high standard, right or wrong. There’s a certain integrity required when it comes to baseball’s highest honor, which is being inducted into the Hall of Fame. The character clause exists as it relates to the game on the field. The character clause isn’t there to evaluate and judge players socially. It’s there to relate to the game on the field. … The voters should have the freedom to measure that however they see fit.”

Idelson suggests baseball holds itself to a higher standard; Cobb isn’t the only immoral member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Plaster saints is not what we have in the Hall of Fame,” said John Thorn, perhaps the nation’s most widely known baseball historian and the author of more than a dozen baseball books in the New York Times report “Many were far from moral exemplars.

“Cap Anson helped make sure baseball’s color line was established in the 1880s,” Thorn said of the Chicago Cubs first baseman and manager who was enshrined in the Hall of Fame the year it opened in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1939. “He was relentless in that cause.”

Cobb a man who beat up cripples, Anson who like Cobb and fellow Hall of Famer Tris Speaker were alleged racists (Cobb and Speaker reportedly were members of the Ku Klux Klan), although that has never been proven.

When it comes to a sense of right or wrong away from a baseball diamond the Baseball Hall of Fame has its own rogue gallery as the New York Times pointed out: “illicit recreational drugs (Paul Molitor, class of 2004) or had racetrack gambling issues (Rogers Hornsby, class of 1942). And Wade Boggs (class of 2005), after an extramarital affair was exposed during his playing days, announced to Barbara Walters on national television that he was a sex addict.

“But there’s a real distinction between a player who does inappropriate things not related to his job and a player who does inappropriate things that affect his job,” said Bill James, an influential and pioneering baseball author and statistician who wrote the book “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?

“Being inducted is an honor, not a paycheck you are entitled to,” James said, defending the character clause written into the criteria on the Hall of Fame ballot. “No one is entitled to be elected. The voters choose who to honor.”

Bonds and Clemens have attracted a great deal of attention for all the wrong reasons. Baseball documentarian Ken Burns who produced and directed the Emmy award winning 1994 series “Baseball” that chronologies baseball history (ironically ending in 1990 at the dawn of baseball’s steroid era) made it clear to The Hollywood Reporter he was thrilled Bonds and Clemens will be nowhere near the Baseball Hall of Fame unless they buy an admission ticket for the foreseeable future.

“I want them to suffer for a while. Barry Bonds may be the greatest baseball player of all time, and Roger Clemens -- maybe you’d get some arguments from the [Sandy] Koufax/[Pedro] Martinez sector and the Walter Johnson segment and the Nolan Ryan crowd -- but they are two of the very, very best. And before when we think they began taking, they’re Hall of Fame caliber. But at the same time, the problem is we don’t know who didn’t at all. I mean, I know one person in all of the Major Leagues I’m absolutely certain didn’t, and that’s Ichiro Suzuki. But other than that, I have no guarantee that anyone you loved and think is way above that didn’t do it. And that is why they need to wait and wait and wait. Because it makes it impossible for us to judge excellence in this era.”

Ironically Burns makes the strongest argument why Bonds, Clemens – the entire steroid generation must be recognized and enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, unless and until baseball can definitively prove every player who played Major League Baseball during the steroid era never use PED’s, it’s wrong to exclude some players, while allowing others membership in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“The Hall of Fame is a special, sacred establishment,” Joe Torre, the former nine-time All-Star, manager, and now, MLB’s vice president of baseball operations, told azcentral sports Wednesday. “The sad part for me is obviously the things we’re going to have to live with at this point in time with the questioning of Roger and Barry Bonds and that stuff.

“That’s unfortunate but understandable with the sort of cloud hanging over their heads. It’s really on the conscience of the voters on where that goes. … You can’t change things that have happened. But baseball, with the whole performance-enhancing drug question, it’s clear we have to get the fans’ trust back. It’s something we’re going to have to deal with and continue to move on and basically prove ourselves.”

The Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens steroid era players Baseball Hall of Fame debate isn’t going to go away. Baseball as a business cannot ignore a significant historical period. Baseball as a business doesn’t have to embrace the steroid era, but it needs to accept the period and open the doors to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Baseball Hall of Fame without Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens isn’t the Baseball Hall of Fame.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom