Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Burn Down the Hall of Fame

All round good-egg and thinking-man's jock Stephen Brunt commented on the Clemens/Steroid/Hall of Fame issue yesterday, saying "Halls of fame aren’t churches. No one is asking anyone to declare Clemens a saint."

But the problem is, it is. MLB and baseball writers have made it that since the beginning. Although the Hall may be full of cheats and bums, they are cheats and bums whose dark sides were often hidden from the public during their careers. The writers, at least until Jim Bouton's 'Ball Four', conspired to protect fans from the truth about ballplayers, because it was deemed too corrupting to our sensitive souls.

American Heroes with Feet of Clay
The Hall of Fame was designed to be a Hall of American Heroes who happened to be successful athletes as well. That's why Shoeless Joe is not there; that's why Pete Rose is not there. The movement that will try to keep out Bonds and Clemens out (and I suspect eventually fail) is the last dieing gasp of American Baseball Hero-worship, whereby a player's moral cleanliness was as important as his athletic performance.

The writers have always known it was baloney - they were always complicit in covering up the cheats, drug abusers, philanderers, peeping-toms and drunkards. But as long as that was all hidden, everything still worked. Players were exemplars for American youth, symbols of moral and physical purity and the American Way, and the myth that anybody can achieve their dreams if they just try hard enough. Was any baseball journalist surprised or appalled that Alex Rodriguez visited a strip club in Toronto? I doubt it. They were surprised and appalled because it was reported.

The players have never been hypocrites. From the dawn of baseball they've done what humans do - they've cheated and striven for success at any cost; they've been human and frail and weak; they've combined incredible physical success with awful personal failures. When faced with a sport that preferred to turn a blind eye, they've done what competitive people will always do - made the most of it.

The real sinners here are in the Commissioner's Office and the Baseball Writers of America - just as they have been ever since Baseball became a symbol for America. It's their collective work of fiction - the Baseball Hall of Fame - that is the problem. Burn it down.

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