The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Monday, June 16, 2003

HALLS OF FAME: HONORING THE PLAYERS OR THE GAME?
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Eric McErlain at Off Wing Opinion had a little something to say today about Roger Clemens and his desire to be inducted into Cooperstown as a Yankee, or else not at all. I added my two cents in the comments. Since then, the subject has been on my mind, and rather than make a pest of myself with another comment posting over there, I'll present my further thoughts here.

I'll start off with the caveat that most of what I'm going to talk about is not really a controversy at this time, and may never be; Clemens isn't retired yet, and his feelings might change over time. Plus, I'm not aware of anyone else having a major problem with how the Hall runs things. This should go under the "food for thought" file.

As I noted, my feeling is that if Clemens does get inducted (and as things now stand, he'll certainly be), it'll be his little corner of the Hall with his name on it, just like every other Hall member. That being so, I think he has every right to decide for himself which team he'll represent when he gets there. It's not like he's going to be misrepresenting himself; his career stats aren't going to be selectively edited to omit his tenure in Boston (or Toronto). The whole story of his baseball career is going to be available in the Hall. But of course, there is a symbolic impact connected to which cap the player has on, it being the first image someone sees when viewing the exhibit.

The surface argument, that he spent over half his career with the Red Sox and so logically should go in the Hall as a Boston player, is not really the main issue here. In fact, I don't consider that an issue at all, since it's irrelevant. Since the player is the one getting the honor, I don't see why he should be denied the option of being immortalized as a member of the team of his choice (with the only requirement being, obviously, that it be a team he actually played for).

Why should the Hall be the authority on which years of a player's tenure in the league best encapsulate his career? The notion at work here is that allowing the players to pick their own caps would denigrate the Hall's hallowed nature, because they might choose teams with which they spent little time with but want to represent for sentimental reasons (i.e., the Wade Bogg-Devil Rays thing). In this sense, the Hall has a point. But as I mentioned in my comment at Off Wing, there's a real simple way out of this mess: Get with the times--which are now over quarter of a century old, by the way--and stop making the team designation a part of Hall induction. Sticking to it didn't make sense anyway, since even future Hall of Famers got traded; now that players can move around more readily than ever, it makes even less sense. It's an antiquated idea from the 19th, not the 20th, century.

Really, at root here is an arrogance from the old-line baseball establishment that says, "Hey, we don't really want you in the Hall, we just want your achievements". Screw what the player wants, we're going to honor him the way we want. In other words, just feel lucky that we're letting you in, shut up and smile.

I think what would get people most worked up over this is that Clemens should dare to challenge an institution that's considered so venerable as the Hall of Fame. Eric himself alluded to this by saying "No one person is bigger than the Baseball Hall of Fame..." I'm not sure how asking that you be presented the way you'd like makes you "bigger" than anything; who's getting honored here? But that's devotion to the Hall for you. The Hall is a place that's often seen as the last sanctuary of "purity" in a sport that seems preoccupied by money/business issues. I'm not even going to get into the faulty logic there...

Last thing on this rant... It occurs to me that another, more radical way around this is to induct entire teams (championships, dynasties, record-setters, whatever) into a hall of fame, rather than individuals. Everyone always insists that it's a team game first and foremost; this elevates that idea from mere platitude to enshrined honor. Plus, it would bring untold numbers of role players the recognition they'd never otherwise get. Of course, player movement during the season puts a wrinkle into this. This is a tongue-in-cheek suggestion, but something to consider.