I want to preface my remarks by saying I am not angry at anyone. However, I find recent actions – or more appropriately, lack of actions – by the National Baseball Hall of Fame to be worthy of analysis and discussion.
Most recently, it has come to light in the context of cap logos of Hall of Fame inductees. Specifically, two of the six in the Class of 2014 have opted to enter Cooperstown logo-less – Tony La Russa and Greg Maddux – with their apparent wishes honored by the Hall.
Back to that in a moment.
The disinterest of the Hall in helping to deal with thorny issues comes into brighter light each year – as more and more of the Steroid Era stars appear on the ballot. The vague “character clause” is all the eligible members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) are given as voting guidance. As a result, some believe the scribes have been set up with a hopeless assignment – to be the sole arbiters of an entire generation of players cast under a cloud of suspicion.
A number of BBWAA members, including voters like Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports and younger members such as Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star (still three years from being voting eligible), have come out in favor of the Hall scrapping the character clause entirely, providing the voters direction regarding PEDs and/or simply letting them select the best eligible players without restriction.
Others, like USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale, aren’t waiting. Nightengale says to just “forget” the character clause. Nightengale clearly did that when he cast his 2014 ballot to include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and even Sammy Sosa.
The Hall could choose to try to clarify matters, but to date, has left everyone involved twisting in the wind.
I am first to admit that logos on Hall of Fame plaques lack the importance of voting criteria. Yet, there is again controversy which festers because the Hall seems unwilling to stand up and be counted.
For years, the Hall simply accepted the wishes of new inductees regarding their cap logo. However, by the late 1990’s there were persistent rumors that several teams had bought their way onto plaques and more were trying. That came to a head in 2001, when Wade Boggs was voted in.
Amid persistent rumors the third baseman had cut a deal with his current employer, the Tampa Bay Rays, to depict the upstart club’s insignia on his plaque, the Hall was forced to act. It reinforced its authority to make the decision, rather than leave it to the players’ discretion. Boggs went in as a Red Sox, as it should have been.
Yet, here in 2014 in the case of Maddux, the Hall sidestepped a clear opportunity to do what I believe most observers would think is right – both today and I believe over time as well.
Regarding his two primary clubs, the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves, Maddux says “it’s impossible for me to choose one of those teams for my Hall of Fame plaque…”
Then, in this case, the Hall should have exercised its right to make the call. I am not going to cite chapter and verse of Maddux’ illustrious career, but the scales of balance by any reasonable measure are heavily tipped in Atlanta’s direction.
It appears that instead of enforcing its own rules, which state the logo decision should be “based on where that player makes his most indelible mark,” the Hall took the easy way out. They apparently honored Maddux’ view while most everyone else is left scratching their head.
Perhaps Maddux and the Braves parted on less-than-perfect terms and some unhealed scabs remain today. I don’t know if it is true, but I cannot think of any other way to logically explain what happened.
La Russa’s case is different, I believe. While his Chicago days do not stack up in the “indelible” test, the Oakland and St. Louis phases of his career could each stand on its own. Further, La Russa clearly explained in advance why he wanted to be logo-free. I think most impartial observers can understand and accept it.
Even if the Hall had an issue, and I have no evidence whatsoever to support such a contention, would they really risk alienating a high-ranking executive of Major League Baseball over his logo preference?
It seems that in every case, the Hall takes the path of least resistance. Now and then, as in Boggs’ case, baseball as a whole would be better off if it took a stand.