I’ve been a fan of the Atlanta Braves for as long as I can remember, and probably as long as I could walk or talk. So today should be a big day for me, given that the Baseball Writers Association of America announced that the two men who anchored the Braves starting rotation throughout the 1990s, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, had earned election into the Hall of Fame. That means they’ll both go in alongside longtime Braves manager Bobby Cox, who was elected by the Veterans Committee earlier this year.
I should be celebrating, maybe even booking my trip to Cooperstown for the induction ceremonies.
But I couldn’t care less.
I’ve cared in the past, sure. I was a big fan of Deadspin’s effort to mock it. I made a stink about Marvin Miller getting rejected again. But I’m not going to care anymore, and the reason why isn’t all that complicated: the Hall of Fame is there to tell a story about baseball, and yet the people who run it insist that story be told only partially.
Yet again, the Baseball Writers Association of America, the people who vote people into this place, have decided that the players most closely identified with the Steroid Era don’t belong (there are, it should be said, writers who think they do, though not enough of them). That’s Barry Bonds, the game’s all-time leading home run hitter, and Roger Clemens, who is arguably, with a nod to Maddux and future Hall of Famers Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, the greatest starting pitcher of his generation, and maybe one of the best all-time. That includes, so far, players who weren’t even definitively linked to steroids, like Mike Piazza, maybe the greatest offensive catcher to ever play, and Jeff Bagwell, a guy Grantland’s Jonah Keri calls “a blatantly worthy Hall of Famer.” And it includes people like Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, who may be borderline candidates on their own merits but aren’t even receiving debate because of their links to steroids. Some of the voters have come up with some contrived way to decide it all: Frank Thomas, for instance, was voted in this year because everybody’s certain he didn’t juice. Ken Griffey Jr. will make it on the first ballot for the same reason. How are they sure? No one knows. It’s quite a system some have developed for sniffing out the cheaters.
The debate over whether everyone should or should not vote for guys tied to steroid use has been litigated in the media plenty already, and there are valid points on both sides. But even though I firmly support including players like Bonds and Clemens, I now find the debate useless. That’s because it couldn’t matter less to the history of the game.
The Steroid Era happened, and it isn’t going to go away simply because we’re supposed to feel bad about it or because some baseball writers have decided that it’s a period of time we should all forget. We don’t need the Hall of Fame to remember the way watching Barry Bonds hit a baseball or Roger Clemens blow fastball after fastball by some poor sap made us feel. We don’t need it to look back at the way the summers of 1998 or 2001 captured America’s attention or to remember that all of those years were corrupted by drugs. We don’t need the Hall of Fame to tell us who was great — are Bonds and Clemens less a part of history because they won’t make it? Are Glavine and Maddux better pitchers now that they have? — or what we should know. Whether the Hall of Fame and the Baseball Writers want us to or not, we will remember the Steroid Era the same way we remember the other ugly people and periods of baseball’s past. We remember baseball as a segregated game and the people who worked tirelessly to keep it that way. We remember the Black Sox. We remember the fact that Pete Rose has more hits than anyone else. We will remember Bonds and Clemens and everyone else.
It isn’t shocking that Bonds and Clemens didn’t make it this time around, but the entire episode has made me realize that the Hall of Fame is at best an incomplete version of baseball history. Trying to forget the Steroid Era is only a continuance of that, an effort to tell us a partial version of a story we already know, an attempt to convince us that something didn’t happen when we watched it unfold. Such a place doesn’t seem worthy of as much effort as I’ve devoted to it in the past. To tell the truth, I’d rather spend that time and energy debating how baseball should move forward in the way it treats performance enhancing drugs now.
No group of fans cares more about the history of its game than baseball fans, and no group understands its history better than baseball fans either. It’s why we crow about stats, look for new ways to compare different generations of stars, and remember that our perfect game is made up of a bunch of imperfect people and eras. And I love baseball for that, so I will continue to discuss those eras and argue the greatness of different players from them, maybe even in the context of whether they belong in the Hall. But I’m no longer going to get outraged that Bonds probably won’t ever make it to Cooperstown, or that Clemens, Shoeless Joe, and Rose probably won’t either. I’m not going to care that Major League Baseball and the Baseball Writers, at different times, have insisted on taking pencil erasers to ink stains in the hopes of purifying a game that isn’t pure and memories that aren’t either, or pretend that the Hall is some hallowed place of baseball history. I hope someone feels that outrage, if only to fix this process and this place for the people who do care. And I’m not telling those who do care not to. But I don’t need the Hall of Fame to help me remember or judge this game, so I see no purpose in feeling any emotion, one way or the other, about it.