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Sports

The Baseball Hall of Fame Is the Worst Thing About Baseball

How can a museum in sleepy upstate New York inspire so much noise?

by Patrick Sauer
Jul 30 2014, 3:10pm

Photo by Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

At some point during last Sunday's Mets/Brewers tilt, the great Mets play-by-play man Gary Cohen asked fame Seinfeld sideman Keith Hernandez if he'd heard that Tom Seaver said that Derek Jeter should be the first player to get unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame. They bantered about it, whether Jeter should be feted in a way Ruth, DiMaggio, Mays, and Musial never were, which led to a discussion of guys they wished were in Cooperstown. Keith threw out Al Oliver—which I liked solely because nobody ever talks about "Scoop" anymore—and Don Mattingly, which led to Gary saying he viewed Donnie Baseball's career as parallel to Keith's and if one was going to be inducted than the other should be as well. I love the Mets' booth—it's often the only reason to tune into the team's broadcasts—but this way too insidery, too self-complimentary, so I turned off the game. The Cooperstown chatter, conjecture, and straight-up blabber had made it a wearying weekend to begin with and I couldn't take anymore. If nearly four decades of being immersed in baseball have taught me one truth, it's this:

The Hall of Fame is a stupid, pointless, soul-depleting waste of time.

Why are pitchers getting mad at David Ortiz for flipping his bat? Read more.

As you probably know, the Hall of Fame class of 2014 was given the keys to the Cooperstown castle on July 27. Even a Brave-hater like myself has to admit it was a mostly likable group: Tom "Not as Bad a Met as People Remember" Glavine, fart-loving Greg MadduxFrank "the Big Heart" Thomas, and Uncle Joe Torre, who may have had his finest moment ever when he didn't thank George "Ratfuck" Steinbrenner. Oh, and Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox were there too. An estimated crowd of 48,000 showed up in rural New York to hear these six men give speeches, because loving baseball makes people do strange things.

I'm sure it was a wonderful afternoon for the inductees, their families and former teammates, fellow HOF members, and fans who enjoy baseball but don't care much for those pesky games. A great day was had by all—I mean, probably. I have no idea. But from an ordinary fan's perspective, the HOF is a monument to pointlessness, a circle jerk where no one even gets off. Baseball dorks (and I say that with love) dig their numbers, so let's throw some out to explain why Cooperstown isn't worth a Joe Tinker's damn.

1: As in a single word. Deserve. Does player X deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? It's a guilt-inducing term that should be reserved for parents of wayward teens. "Son, do you deserve to go to prom after you got drunk in the parking lot and passed out in chem lab?" The word implies moral authority, something no member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America should be able to claim. Horrible people have been getting inducted into the HOF from day one, which is as it should be. We shouldn't be handing out sports awards based on morality, and nobody deserves to be judged by a panel of people who get paid to write about a kid's game for a living.

3,000 and 300: As in hits and wins. In discussing Glavine on Sunday, Keith Hernandez said something to the effect of, "300 wins to me is like 3,000 hits, it's an automatic in." Except it's not. Rafael Palmeiro and Pete Rose aren't Hall of Famers (for very different reasons) because of the morality police, and Craig Biggio isn't in because... a benchmark that let certain guys in and kept others out is no longer a benchmark? I guess. But only 24 players have won 300 games, so that number should be a lock, right? Nope, Roger Clemens sits home at his ranch, frosting his tips and waiting for the call.

213: As in the number of career wins by active career leader Tim Hudson. He's not getting to 300, but is he a Hall of Famer? Three hundred was always a major milestone, but in today's game, with its five-man rotations, pitch counts, overused middle relievers, etc., it's hard to imagine anyone getting there again. For instance, current best-in-show ace Clayton Kershaw will need to average 15 wins a year until he's 40 to get there. Possible? I suppose, but at some point, don't the powers-that-be have to lower the bar to, say, 250? No? Right. Benchmarks never change—unless your name is Clemens—because it's always been 300 and things are exactly the same as they were when Pud Galvin was hurling the egg.

612: As in the number of home runs that came off the bat of Jim Thome. Well, he's a shoo-in, because the magic cutoff is 500. Oh, right, that number no longer stands because steroids make "play the game the right way" dads cry. You know, the kind of dads who think Field of Dreams is a better movie than Bull Durham and would rather "have a catch" with old-ass John Kinsella than "have a sex" with Annie Savoy. Offensive production did explode in the 90s, that's for certain, so maybe we do need a new benchmark—how about 763, one more home run than supervillain Barry Bonds hit? Or we could just have a speculative debate over whether certain players used steroids and arbitrarily determine who the good guys were and only let those dudes in. (That debate led to a Sporting News scribe penning this line: "To ignore Thome is to give up entirely on baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie." Ughhhhhhhh.)

9/7/95: As in the day avuncular grandfather Bobby Cox was arrested for battery after a domestic violence incident with his wife. He left a mark, but not a black eye...on his Hall of Fame chances! But Mike Piazza would apparently taint the HOF because he had back zits.

95.13: As in the percentage of HOF votes Babe Ruth got, which ranks him 11th among Hall of Famers. That's thanks to an insipid "tradition" of sweaty assholes deciding that the best of the best don't deserve their spot in Cooperstown, or want to delay inducting certain players because getting in on the first ballot means you're a higher class of Hall of Famer. Jackie Robinson, arguably the most important athlete of the 20th century, got 77.5 percent of the vote. I just wonder what could have kept people from checking the "yes" box...

We could go on and on about this stuff until the end of time, and, most likely, we will. The numbers are nebulous, the votes are arbitrary, and there's no consistent standard for what deplorable human behavior is allowed for HOF candidates. If the yearly Hall of Fame "debate" was simply something that didn't interest me, then I'd ignore it and let others have their fun—the same way I do Nascar, ballet, horror movies, or the Phish canon. But the annual public Cooperstown Witch Trial flagellation is increasingly futile and tiresome, and it's only getting worse in the steroid-years-rehashed-on-Twitter age.

This week, Jack Moore had an interesting column at Sports on Earth about how the changes in the rules will hurt the HOF chances of present-day stars, many of whom never took PEDs. Moore argues this is unfair to those who grew up with the game in the 1990s and 2000s. On its face, I agree with Moore's argument, but he lost me with this sentence: "We have our heroes, and when our children grow up, we will want to pass on their stories." How will keeping Barry Bonds, A-Rod, or Jeff Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame stop fans from telling their stories? 

Moore's kicker is that he, and other millennials may end up not taking their kids to Cooperstown. I'd argue that they'll come out ahead.

Have you been to Cooperstown?

All of that energy, moralism, and fuzzy math adds up to is a room filled with plaques.

Growing up, I was one of those nerdy kids who totally bought into the mystique of baseball. I was all about book reports on Jackie Robinson, Topps complete sets, Fleer All-Stars carefully placed inside vinyl, Strat-O-Matic, The Baseball Bunch, and countless hours playing a living-room game we invented where we'd hit a marble with baseball cards then suffer severe rug burns diving from base to base. I was all in, and I dreamed of Cooperstown.

Years later, in 2002 an exhibit called "Baseball as America" came to the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. It was the first time collections from the HOF had ventured outside Cooperstown's cozy confines. All told there were about 500 items, including, if memory serves, Robinson's Brooklyn Dodgers uni, handwritten lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," a bit about the science of curveballs, and even a ball found in the 9/11 rubble. It was succinct yet thorough, and took less than two hours to walk through.

A few years later, my wife and I road-tripped it for a weekend in Cooperstown. It's beautiful up there in Last of the Mohicans country. We had a brilliant time camping out in Glimmerglass State Park, hanging out in town and sampling Ommegang beers. Of course, we dropped in and spent the better part of afternoon at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Nice little weekend.

The museum part is fine for what it is, but it's a bit like the first time you visit the Met and get fired up to see swords from the Middle Ages only to realize, "Oh, you meant all the swords of the Middle Ages." Itchy old-timey wool uniforms are funny, and old cigarette advertisements are always a hoot, but maybe 40 mitts in the "mitts throughout the ages" area would suffice, rather than the current complement of 478? Mitts aside, the museum is acceptable. If you're in the area, it's a decent way to kill time. There's some interesting stuff like the "forgive us our sins" room dedicated to the Negro Leagues, a Garfield the Cat selling peanuts for the little ones, and a modern locker room featuring artifacts from every team that somehow doesn't include a single can of dip. And if that's what Cooperstown was all about, I'd tell every dad in American to drag your kids to see Harmon Killebrew's laundry. The Hall of Fame part, though? BOR-ING.

All of that energy, moralism, and fuzzy math adds up to is a room filled with plaques. That's it. Small square bronze nameplates that are marginally more interesting than the "Employee of the Month" one hanging in your office lobby. Give me Big Mouth Billy Bass any day—at least that dude sings.

Keep in mind that the men who receive these coveted wall-hangings have already been honored many times over with All-Star selections, MVP trophies, Cy Youngs, World Series rings, and retirement ceremonies. The HOF is simply another feather in their feather-studded caps, ostensibly the purdiest plumage of all, but the real reason these plaques and the debate surrounding them exist is to convince a bunch of self-appointed Keepers of the Game that they're all very, very important.

The HOF could be livened up and freed from a lot of self-righteous posturing simply by writing the players' particular brand of degradation beneath the plaques. Mickey Mantle was an alcoholic, Bonds was a horrible asshole to everyone he met... Better yet, use emojis to draw in the youngsters: Mantle gets a bottle of gin and a bowl of greenies, A-Rod gets a syringe and a minotaur.

Perhaps the HOF wouldn't be so unctuous if it wasn't sold as as some important birthright for Fathers and Sons and (lately, at least) Fathers and Daughters. If a kid is fascinated by the history of the game and you want to share baseball with him or her in all its shame and glory, the museum has got you covered. I should add that most of the kids I saw on my visit seemed nonplussed by the whole thing, like every kid in every museum ever. They'd rather have been outside playing baseball or eating ice cream than hearing about some dead dude's wicked changeup from dad again. But what's often being sold to kids isn't history, it's nostalgia, the feeling of what baseball meant—or more accurately, what it's suppose to mean. And if you think kids today need to accept your codified version of nostalgia, when athletes cared enough not to flip their bats or disrespect the game with that infernal reggaeton, well, welcome to Cooperstown. The HOF is just right for you.