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With No New Inductees In 2021, Is It Time For The National Baseball Hall Of Fame To Take A Long Look At Itself?

Photo Courtesy of A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images.

Earlier this week, it was announced that there would be no new inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame for 2021, marking the first time since 2013 and just the ninth time in history, there won’t be any new additions to Cooperstown. There were 401 ballots submitted, with 14 just left completely blank.

The closest to becoming the 334th member of the Hall of Fame was former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who gained 71.1% of the votes, just short of the 75% necessary for a player to be inducted.

Each year, when the Baseball Writers’ Association of America casts their votes, many wonder what the actual process is and how these writers reach their conclusion.  Better yet, what is the criteria players have to meet that, in the writers’ opinion, will be good enough to be considered Hall of Fame worthy? Because we all know it’s not just about the stats – it’s about fame as well.  It’s about the fame and glory they brought to baseball. What does their name symbolize when you think of putting a plaque with their likeness on it in the halls of Cooperstown – were they famous or infamous? 

The BBWA have held players’ final career destiny in their hands since 1936 — to be enshrined or not to be enshrined in the annals of baseball greatness. And since that time, a character clause has been a criteria of emphasis. The character clause continues to be a major point of debate as each year passes and, in particular, years like this one, where no one will be inducted, yet a fair amount of the candidates seemed more than worthy — at least from a statistical standpoint — to be inducted. 

Baseball has always sort of stuck its nose up to those who don’t adhere to its retrograding beliefs. The sport has a superiority complex to both other leagues and it’s own players. It claims it’s all about class and rule following, yet it hypocritically fails, by wide margins, in upholding its sought after statue, failing to follow its own guidelines.

Take for instance the constant feud between the owners and the union.

Just this week the league and the Players Association once again couldn’t come to a sensible agreement about adding the universal designated hitter and the expansion of the playoffs, both of which became the standard in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. The players and the union want the DH, while the owners want expanded playoffs. And they all want money, so it’s a never ending cycle of greed and bickering.

After the Cactus League sent out a letter asking Commissioner Rob Manfred to delay Spring Training due to COVID-19 in Arizona, it was rumored that the league actually asked that the letter be leaked. In doing so, it’s believed to be an attempt by the league to get back at the union for not wanting to expand the playoffs and shorten the upcoming season because of fear of games being potentially delayed or cancelled.

The disagreements have gone so far as being touted, at least passively, through social media and other outlets since last year, where the league and union was up in arms as to how to start the season in the middle of a worldwide pandemic — but couldn’t even peaceably figure that out. I know we’re dealing with a billion dollar industry here, where negotiations are never going to be easy, especially when it comes to finances, but when does the league and all those involved, including the BBWA, finally look in the mirror as to what and who this league is and has been? 

Anyone who remembers 1994 knows that fans have never really wanted to trust baseball ever again for what they did by packing it up in the middle of the season and going on strike. Since that time, it seems the relationship between the league, its owners, the union and the players it represents has been hostile, mistrusting one another – and it’s really only been costly to the league, as well as the fans.

The MLB proudly waves a flag that says it represents prestige, class and sportsmanship, not to mention character – but sadly, they are out of the strike zone whenever the character of the league seems suspect, at best, and it comes to dealing with the inner-workings of the league.  So, if the league can’t pitch a perfect game, how can its players?

The steroid era is both famous and infamous. If you are old enough to remember, you’ll remember how fun baseball was then, how you’d wait to see guys come up to the plate just to see what could happen. That’s what it was famous for, the fun of witnessing history. It was fathers and sons finally returning to stadiums on hot summer days, bringing their gloves in hopes of snatching one of the many historic home runs out of the sky. But because of performance-enhancing drugs, it was about as fake as Astroturf. That’s what it’s infamous for, it’s falsehood. We all felt lied too, and even foolish, for believing in something so counterfeit at the time. But, retrospectively viewing it, we should be grateful for it, as we didn’t know any better at the time – and so should the league, by allowing the players of that era inside their Hall of Fame.

If it weren’t for the steroid era of baseball, where players like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds, one of the players on this year’s ballot, hitting artificially-infused moon shots, there’s no telling where the state of baseball would be right now. The McGwire and Sosa home run race during the 1998 season alone took the league out of hollow bleakness and into the most thriving time of the sport’s existence. 

It’s still history – it can’t be erased. All the records, including Bonds’ career home runs, single season home runs and career walks are still in the record books. And yet, he’s not in the Hall of Fame due to steroid allegations. McGwire and Sosa the same, however, the former admitted to steroid use for “health purposes” while the latter has never admitted to any use – but it’s not just about steroids.  

Schilling is certainly controversial, especially in today’s age. He’s made many of what is considered politically incorrect posts on his social media pages in regards to current political affairs. But as for his baseball career, he pitched for 20 seasons, had 216 career wins, with a 3.46 ERA and 3,116 strikeouts. He was just shy of making this year’s class and will have one more year of eligibility remaining, though he wants to be removed from future ballots.

Not that I am a proponent for any sort of cancel culture, but if you were to really look at the character of some of the past greats and those already inducted — like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, two players from the first class in 1936 — in the view of today’s climate, I’m not sure they would be so highly regarded and most likely never inducted. However, the historical context needs to be considered.

The idea of  “character” certainly changes as our world changes and the definition becomes skewed and altered – but shouldn’t the league at least attempt to change with it? This is the same league that says to snarl at a player for staring at the home run he just hit 500 feet but gives the go-ahead sign to beam the guy next time around or the guy after him in the lineup with a 97 mph fastball because “that’s baseball.” Where is the good character in that? Maybe, just maybe, those character issues lie deep within, between the league and union, where things like hostility, greed, bias and indecision still continue to be major issues. 

The National Baseball Hall of Fame, without a doubt, has some of the sport’s most prestigious names covering its coveted halls. However, for all the great ones it does have, it’s about to leave out a certain era full of memorable ones that were extremely beneficial to the sport in their time. Of course, this is the same Hall of Fame that doesn’t have Pete Rose in it either. But if we’re looking at character, the league needs to really look long and hard at itself for how it’s conducted itself in the past, how it will in the present and certainly in the future.