Monday, February 23, 2009

These Are Not The Roids You're Looking For

Like Scottish tartans and Christmas all traditions are fake, but one of the things I like about America is how transparent the country has always been about the fakery. The Thanksgiving Parade in NYC is about marketing a department store. Saint Patrick's Day was invented by German-American beer companies as a way of getting their loyal customers to drink even more. But sometimes people forget that these traditions are completely bogus and solemnity descends like ether before a Civil War amputation. One of the most solemn and talked about occasions every year is the election to the Baseball Hall of Fame which gets treated like a Presidential Election when really it should be seen as something like the Academy Awards or better yet the Golden Globes or my favourite, the Razzies.
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The closed shop of the Baseball Writers Association of America or BBWAA (apparently these literary geniuses can't spell the word baseball) and the Veterans Committee and other special committees elect players (and also managers and, yawn, umpires, journalists and officials) deemed worthy to stand next to Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Christy Matthewson and Walter Johnson - genuine superstars who were the first inductees. The motto of the HOF is: "Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations"; but the steroid era has made a farce of that. We now know that at least a fifth of all players were taking steroids up to 2004. How do you compare the numbers of a steroid player to a non steroid player of this or another era? (Or come to that today's players to players of the segregated era?) You can't.
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It's impossible to say when the steroid years began except possibly by examining photographs of Barry Bonds's head over the decades, but my guess is the early 1990's and that means you're going to have throw out twenty years of data if you really want to "honor excellence." Though they won't will they? They'll sweep it all under the rug and pretend everything is fine. But thats ok, we should let them do that but we should also stop pretending that it means anything. The Baseball Hall of Fame was set up in Depression Era Cooperstown as a tourist attraction on the, at best dubious, claim that local boy Abner Doubleday "invented baseball." Like the Oscars, which appeared at roughly the same time, the whole thing was a wheeze to drum up business. It still is. The HOF is a private organization, only tangentially connected to Major League Baseball and who it puts it in its hall of heroes should not concern us in the slightest. The Babe was great because he was the Babe, not because he has some ridiculous plaque in a silly museum in an out of the way town in upstate New York.
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Remember Mr. Blackwell's list of the worst dressed women in America? It used to be a one line AP story that would raise a titter from the anchors during the "happy chat" portion of the local news. That's the way we should treat elections to the Baseball Hall of Fame. "Mary, I see that A-Rod is in the baseball HOF." "Oh, really, well now we have Dan with the weather."