What does the Hall of Fame mean to you? It’s a straightforward question, but as recent voting is beginning to reflect, one that has a variety of answers. Some believe the Hall of Fame should commemorate only the most prestigious, deserving, by-the-book players. For others, the lines fall in grayer areas, where it is impossible to distinguish where raw talent ends and unfair advantage begins.
This year, Cooperstown welcomes Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar into its hallowed hall. Both men have patiently waited their turn for induction (in Bert’s case, 14 years), and both are worthy candidates. Alomar, sons of Mets bench coach Sandy Alomar Sr., was born into a family of baseball stars–from his father’s legacy in New York to his brother’s catching career. Over 17 years, Roberto built a batting average of .300, with 210 home runs, 474 stolen bases, and 12 consecutive All-Star games. Between 1991 and 2001, he won 10 Gold Gloves for outstanding work at second base, and 4 Silver Sluggers in only eight years.
Bert Blyleven, on the other hand, made his mark with a killer fastball, ranking 5th in strikeouts at 3,701. His interest in baseball blossomed as a young Dodgers fan, and his major league career began at the age of 19, with a draft by the Minnesota Twins. Over 692 games, Blyleven recorded 287 wins and 250 losses, with 60 shutouts and one no-hitter. Alomar and Blyleven will be joining notables like Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, and Cal Ripken Jr.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that those who reach Cooperstown do so on their own merit. However, writers responsible for voting players into the Hall of Fame are not primarily concerned with merit. In two years, famed hitters and pitchers of the Steroids Era will be up for nomination, players whose accomplishments are nearly as publicized as their scandals. I can only imagine writers want to be fair. No one wants to hand even more fame to those who have reached their stardom with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs.
Still, cheating is not limited to this generation of ballplayers, whether through illegal drugs or juiced balls or stolen signs. Since the invention of baseball, teams, players, and umpires have played outside the rule book. Bobby Thomson was accused of stealing signs on his “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” Eight White Sox members started the Black Sox scandal by trying to throw the 1919 World Series. 104 players are on a blacklist for steroid usage.
This is not to say that taking steroids should be condoned or honored in any way. I fully respect writers whose moral standards prevent them from recognizing players who build their records on talent and growth hormones. In a recent article
on Yahoo!Sports, sportswriter Ronald Blum quotes Hall chairman Jane Clark: “In Cooperstown, what we do [...] is preserve the history of the game. We tell the story of the game, and whatever controversy it is [...] we tell the story. We don’t opine about it. We just do it very factually.” If, however, the Hall of Fame focuses more on preserving baseball history than memorializing deserving players, Cooperstown may not be able to shut out the Steroids Era much longer.