Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame voting results were announced this week, with David Ortiz the only player elected to Cooperstown. Following last year’s complete shutout of those on the ballot, it means that only one player in the last two years has been admitted. That in itself shouldn’t be particularly noteworthy, but it’s the players who have been overlooked that is.
Based on statistics alone, players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were absolute locks to make the Hall of Fame. Bonds is the all-time and single season home run leader in baseball, as well as a seven time National League MVP and 14 time All-Star. Clemens meanwhile was part of two World Series winning teams, won 7 Cy Young awards and shares the record for most strikeouts in a game with 20 (he did it twice). Yet they’ve missed out, failing to garner the required 75% of the vote required in any of their 10 eligible years on the ballot, for one simple reason – Performance Enhancing Drugs.
The problem is that the Hall seems caught in two minds as to what it wants to be. Its website states that the Hall “preserves history, honors excellence and connects generations.” Yet, the exclusion of Bonds, Clemens and others saddled by PED allegations only serves to try and erase a history that baseball itself created. Bud Selig, the long serving commissioner who presided over the era in question, is in the Hall himself, despite enabling a baseball culture where PED abuse was rife. After serving as acting commissioner for six years, Selig somewhat ironically ended up being voted into the full-time role in 1998, as baseball capitalised on an exciting late season battle between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Both would end up easily surpassing Roger Maris’ single season home run record of 61. Both have been excluded from the Hall of Fame because of their relationship with PEDs. Steroids weren’t even made illegal in baseball until 2005, with human growth hormone following later.
I’m not of the view that cheating in sport should be tolerated, and if the Hall of Fame wanted to only honour excellence in baseball, then I would have no issue with Bonds et al being excluded. After all, it’s hard to recognise excellence when it comes as a result of finding an illegal, or even immoral advantage. But the Hall is more than that. It’s a storytelling medium, weaving the history of baseball since its beginning in Cooperstown in 1839, through other controversial eras to the present day. It’s impossible to tell the story of baseball through the 90s and early 2000s without making reference to the feats of Bonds and Clemens, or McGwire and Sosa, or the others who have been excluded due to their PED use.
The Hall of Fame should not exclusively be about numbers, but also about narrative.
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