What do Barry Bonds, Roger Maris, and Pete Rose have in common? None is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and all are saddled by a good ol’ boy approach to revisionist history.
In this regard, Cooperstown shares a dubious bond with many of our recent former leaders from Gary Hart to the newest pariah Mark Foley. No wonder public apologies have become a national sport — fact, fiction and fame have become inextricably blurred.
A pandemic of drugs and deceit hangs over our national game, destined to get worse before the cloud lifts while baseball backpedals. The game failed to mount a meaningful assault on its drug issues in time to stem the continued tide of revelations and accusations from Canseco to Bonds and now perhaps Roger Clemens and others. The fraternal Baseball Hall of Fame also seems guilty of taking itself too seriously and baseball history too lightly, embracing form over substance at the expense of consistency and credibility, if not outright truth.
But does anyone really care about baseball honesty or Hall of Fame credibility? Should anyone care?
Yes. Hypocrisy is a fundamental issue of culture and truth. Baseball is now wrestling with dirty drug laundry precisely because it swept the issue under the carpet until the carpet ripped apart. Now the Hall of Fame faces a related dilemma, mired in an Alice-in-Wonderland myopia that insults our national intelligence and is clearly part of a larger malaise. Cleansing loftier institutions like Capitol Hill is a daunting thought for any era, but ridding hypocrisy elsewhere, like in baseball, would be a worthwhile step.
Bonds is still active and not eligible for admission to the Hall, but his career numbers are a no-brainer. Yet the latter part of his career seems to have suffered from a no-brainer of a different sort, hence the issue of his eventual admission to Cooperstown.
Pete Rose gambled, bet on baseball, apparently bet on his own team the Reds, lied about most of it, then told some of the truth about lying about it. Along the way, he also spent time in jail for tax evasion, which essentially means he lied to the Feds, too. Rose would be eligible to run for political office in many jurisdictions, but is Cooperstown really unattainable or just too self-righteous?
Roger Maris, whose 61 home run committed no crime except to bruise history’s delicate ego, is certainly eligible for admission, but he is absent because a cabal of self-important gurus supposedly feel his contributions were less deserving than, say, such enduring icons as Zack Wheat, Rabbit Maranville, and Dazzy Vance, all in Cooperstown.
Maris appeared in more World Series games than any other player in the 1960’s including, for example, Bill Mazeroski who won many gold gloves but is chiefly remembered for one home run in one World Series game. Already in the Hall, Mazeroski had the identical career batting average as Maris (.260), drove in about the same number of runs (851 for Maris to 853 for Mazeroski), but yet hit only about half the career homers of Maris (138 to 275) and appeared in far fewer World Series games. Yes, Mazeroski was an All-Star more times and won more gold gloves — but does that trump breaking the most revered home run record of all time?
America needs better examples in the truth department, and post-steroid baseball could use a makeover in the public eye. The game could accomplish some of both with a different approach by its Hall of Fame, a separate entity not directly governed by major league ball. Baseball has enjoyed a special place in American culture because of its influence over our national language, humor, personality — and even identity — so the game is specially suited for a renewed national embrace of integrity.
Denying Maris’ due is an arbitrary act of sabotage against history, perhaps invoked by a fraternal order that still blames Maris for besting the icon Ruth and for beating the fair-haired boy wonder Mickey Mantle to the punch. But continued revisionist approaches for Bonds and Rose would be just as arbitrary — and wrong. Why?
The Hall is already full of cheaters, gamblers and other miscreants—and is missing many others who should be there from Maris to Buck Weaver. The Hall sometimes purports to be a hall of honor, a noble cause, but it acts more like an enigmatic museum with little regard for history. Yet it is unacceptable to rewrite history to suit our own subjective standards in baseball, politics or government. The candid solution for baseball is to admit all deserving players to the Hall of Fame, tell the whole truth about all them, and hold the Hall accountable to history. Maybe one day that idea will even spread to Washington.
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