Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hall of Blame

The Hall of Fame has become a disgrace.

But it's an interesting case study in the creation of historical records.

Herodotus is widely credited with writing the first history book when he wrote about the wars between the Greeks and the Persians in The Histories, but it was Thucydides who wrote the first account of history in which an author attempted to verify facts. His History of the Peloponnesian War is the best account we have of Greece destroying itself (it's actually a pretty good read, too.) He described incessant warfare, greed and the concept of profits over people, people thinking they can interpret religion any way they want, yada yada...same shit that's happening in America as we see our nation fall.

The fact is, before Herodotus and Thucydides, no one ever thought of writing down what happened in their world, and when the two historians did write something down, there was nothing before them to show them how to write it. These were thoughts that had never been thought before, ideas never ideated, processes never processed.

For some people, the concept of this is too much for them - they can't imagine what it was like when it didn't occur to people to write things down. Even though it did occur to Thucydides, he still wrote as too many do today, without thoroughly reading and citing other documents, which is the foundation of all modern historical writing. He did quote a few books, and he interviewed people, which were novel ideas at the time, but although he was aware of the value of documentary evidence, he did not take full advantage of it. We are left with having to rely on what he wrote, with all his personal biases; therefore, we cannot take his text and his history as gospel.

When hotel owner Stephen Carlton Clark conceived the baseball Hall of Fame, the country was still reeling from the Great Depression, and Prohibition had wiped out the hops industry, devastating the local economy (who cares who you hurt as long as you're moral, amirite?) The civil-war-hero-Abner-Doubleday-invented-baseball-in-Cooperstown propaganda was essential to the cause (you know, the story Albert Spalding made up so the Spalding Company could sell baseball equipment?), and the baseball Hall of Fame was born. Clark and company decided to give the Baseball Writers Association of America the vote, because back then, baseball writers were scholars of a sort. You had to know how to write to be employed as a baseball writer, rather than simply purchasing a journalism (or worse, a communications) degree.

A free and fair press is essential to a stable democracy. You absolutely cannot be a stable country if you are oppressing journalists. This is not debatable. We are not living in the era of Thucydides. We have the researched and true historical records to back it up. We have seen oppression. We have seen what the most heinous of rulers have done to journalists who have done nothing but report the truth. Journalists who report the news should be held with a degree of reverence. I should mention that I hold journalists in the highest regard, as I have worked with journos from across the globe who are risking their lives to report the news. (I supported CPJ before Meryl Streep made it cool.) Journalist is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

That being said, a sportswriter is not part of this class. Sports are entertainment. They don't matter.

Well, that's not true, either. Writing is part of the humanities, of humanity. Reading - the act of processing writing - is essential to a healthy human spirit, and healthy human spirits are necessary for stable communities. Writing is vital. It keeps our perspective in check. Perhaps it could be described as the guardian of our humanity. People who don't read aren't healthy people, and healthy people do unhealthy things. If you have a bunch of mentally ill people running around, they're going to do bad things, like shoot up schools and nightclubs or lynch people based on skin color or religious differences and other evils of that nature. As Herodotus said, If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it. Sports ARE important to a healthy community, and good sportswriting is important, just not in the same way as reporting global events.

This is the essence of why sportswriter egos drive me crazy. They're writing about sports, not saving the world. Yet many think that as journalists they are somehow better than others, more enlightened, that they are part of the fourth estate and therefore perform a vital democratic function. It's this kind of egoism that is destroying the sanctity of the Hall of Fame. Too many baseball writers make it about them and their "morals." The accomplishments of the players are secondary. Sometimes they are lost entirely. I can't stand it. I just can't stand the whole process. It's like watching pigeons fight over scraps of food, all puffed up, pretty feathers shining in the sun, when they're really just big poop bags. If you've ever been to Venice, you've been to St. Mark's Square, and you know about the pigeons and the big beautiful church, the sacred church, and how it's just covered with pigeon poop. The Hall of Fame selection process is like that.

St. Mark's - Not my photo, as mine were taken with a film camera and are not in a digital file.

I don't like this new "transparent" ballot process at all, because it just gives them another stage to self aggrandize. Oh look, here's MY ballot, and this is why EYE chose/did not choose these players.

Look, not every baseball writer is like this. I apologize to the good writers and those with whom I am friendly. But too many are, and they are, unfortunately, the loudest.

Great deeds are usually wrought at great risks, said Herodotus. Barry Bonds was the best baseball player in history, and you're writing like Herodotus if you're ignoring everything but PED use.

What you're doing is basing everything on "what if." How many homers would Bonds have if he hadn't taken PEDs. How many strikeouts would Clemens have had he not taken PEDs. How much shorter would Barry's career have been had he not taken PEDs.

But you don't ask What if PEDs had been available in Babe Ruth's era? Would he have taken them? The answer is most likely yes.

What if Ruth had faced pitchers like Clemens? How many bases would Ty Cobb have stolen if he faced catchers like today? Would Walter Johnson have been a third or fourth starter if he played today? What if Honus Wagner had access to weight training and video like players today? How many more seasons would Sandy Koufax have pitched had Tommy John surgery been available to him, or Don Gullet, or Mark Fidrych. What if Bonds had faced the lower level of pitching that Ruth faced?

We don't even know if performance enhancing drugs are even performance enhancing. We can see they probably prolong careers, but if you're going to punish guys for that, then you should punish guys for getting Tommy John surgery, too, because that heals guys and prolongs their careers.

What PED HOF omissions really boil down to is keeping guys out for character flaws. If you're going to do that, you're going to have to take out most of the players, and sure as hell don't vote for that racist asshole Curt Schilling.

What started as a tourist site and a marketing gimmick has become a part of our nation's history, a history that we are supposed to hold sacred. It was sacred once. The hallowed Hall. But, like the country itself, narcissism has destroyed it.

What isn't sacred is profane by definition.

The fact is, Bud Selig, who permitted steroids for profits, is in the Hall. I hate double standards. I hate hypocrisy. I hate self-aggrandizing egos. I hate that these narcissists are willfully destroying my childhood memories because some players wanted to be the best they could be. These players weren't kicked out of baseball for their deeds. They went to court and there wasn't enough to punish them, either. So we're left with the biases of the sportswriters and their subjective opinions, without any documentary evidence to back up their thoughts. You might as well be telling me about the golden ants the size of foxes in Persia or the gold hoarding cyclopes and griffins that Herodotus wrote about.

I don't even care anymore. I'm not going to bother making a trip to Cooperstown until the best players are enshrined and the era of moralizing bullshit is over.

I might never make it there.

Herodotus was full of it, too.

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