Gene Collier: Baseball Hall of Fame means more than just statistics
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Dialogue on baseball's Hall of Fame used to be rather quaint in America, a gentle trifle for people sitting on porches on summer evenings, a breezy rhetorical avenue that ran purposefully toward the vast memory fields of the national pastime.
Someone might say, "Ya know it's funny Dick Groat isn't in the Hall of Fame. Some of his numbers are better than Maz's, especially his batting average, .286 to Mazeroski's .260."
And someone might respond, "Well yeah, but he hit about 100 fewer homers, won about eight fewer Gold Gloves, and that wasn't Groat rounding second and waving his helmet on Oct. 13, 1960."
Then they'd chuckle and go to bed.
Because they had lives.
Or at least that's how I remember it.
By contrast, if you so much as whisper the name of someone you think should or shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame today, you are immediately subject to a blistering social media onslaught that describes the complete idiocy of your adult life.
If you happen to be a Hall of Fame voter, as am I, well, that's when things start to get nasty. That's when people start screaming for "justice," as if there is justice in baseball, a game where you can hit a scorching 400-foot liner that winds up in someone's glove one minute and then fist a bases-clearing bloop double into the unattended grass of shallow right field in the next.
So I'm officially out of the business of revealing my ballot, always a cheap column anyway, as it's simply no longer worth the aggravation. I routinely plead guilty to various idiocy-related charges on a weekly basis anyway.
This all came up because of Barry Bonds, who this week gave his opinion on his own Hall of Fame credentials during an interview with MLB.com.
Bonds thinks he should be in the Hall.
No surprise there; he thought that when he was 21.
Bonds said he really, really respects the Hall of Fame.
Big surprise there, since it would appear he respects a small-town New York museum more than he respected Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth, whose records he assaulted under the head-growing influence of a variety of pharmaceutical muscle builders.
"If the voters want to put me in there, so be it, fine," Bonds told MLB.com. "If they don't, so be it, fine."
I learned about 25 years ago that trying to understand what Barry Bonds is saying is a true fool's errand. He often starts with some deluded premise, wanders tantalizingly close to logic and even insight, then goes full circle back to what-the-hell-is-he-talking-about.
But that last quote pulled me back in.
Why is it "fine," and why say "so be it" if voters want to keep you out of Cooperstown?
When has any affront to Bonds been "fine?"
Was it fine when the Giants put ropes around the batting cage area in San Francisco due to the overflow of media wanting to see Mark McGwire take batting practice in the summer of 1998?
It was most certainly not, which is why Bonds knocked the ropes down and, according to the authors of "Book of Shadows," used that unintended slight as the starting point on a voyage of steroid and human growth hormone discovery.
So why is it now "fine?"
Because Bonds knows what he did.
He can accept that the voters will deny him what is statistically his. When the first ballot with Bonds' name on it arrives in December, more than half will be returned with no check next to his name. That's my sense of it.
The roadblock for Bonds, McGwire, Sammy Sosa, et al., is substantial and reinforced. Many voters resent that these guys put their own personal glory ahead of the game's integrity. What's more, voters are specifically instructed to consider integrity, sportsmanship and character in addition to statistics, ability and contributions to the team(s).
If you want voters to ignore intangibles like integrity, that's fine (so be it, fine), but if that's what you want, why are there voters in the first place? You could write a software program overnight that would tell you definitively who is and isn't a Hall of Famer if it's merely a statistical question. Or you could ask Pete Rose.
Just about every number associated with Barry Bonds would put him in the Hall of Fame. He won eight Gold Gloves. He won seven MVP's. But what about this number: 2?
Two is the number of times, at the minimum, that Bonds allegedly threatened to kill his mistress.
"He said he'd chop my head off and leave me in a ditch," Kimberly Bell told the jury in Bonds' perjury trial last year. "More than once."
"He said he'd cut out my breast implants because he paid for them."
Kimberly could have been lying, but at least she knew how to answer a question better than Barry. Barry got convicted on an obstruction of justice charge mostly for his answer to one question. Asked yes-or-no if he'd ever received drugs that required the use of a syringe, the former future Hall of Famer launched into a soliloquy that included, "I became a celebrity child of a famous father."
The good news for Barry is that even though he has been convicted, even though he let his personal drug mule Greg Anderson go to federal prison three times to keep his cover, his media supporters appear to be multiplying.
Plenty of voters I have great respect for are willing to vote for Barry, and that's their prerogative. But it's not just the vote, it's the message. A vote for Barry tells baseball's subsequent generations, "Look, we don't care what you do, who you offend, what drugs you take, who you send to prison, what you're convicted of, whose breasts you allegedly threaten to slice, whose head you allegedly threaten to chop off or in what ditch you allegedly threaten to throw the remains. Just hit, baby. Hit 'em long."
Is that the game you want?
Was that the game Groat and Maz played, the game Aaron and Ruth played?
Is that the game Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen play?
I don't think so.
First Published August 10, 2012 7:58 pm