Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Cooperstown Confidential: Heroes, Rogues, and the Inside Story of the Baseball Hall of Fame by Zev Chafets

According to author Zev Chafets, the trustees of the National Baseball Hall of Fame mean well, but they like change in small doses. They take their cues from conservative Singer Sewing Machine heiress Jane Forbes Clark, who also controls much of what goes own in her rural community, Cooperstown, New York, a place that clings to its past. Chafets is less kind to the journalists and veterans committees who vote players into the Hall of Fame. In the author's view, the men of the media (almost all male and some with little real knowledge of the game) are petty and self-important. An "HoF" beside a retired player's name means "popular with journalists" more than "great player." In Cooperstown Confidential: Heroes, Rogues, and the Inside Story of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Chafets explains how the Hall of Fame became so out of touch and the impact this situation is having on baseball.

A big stumbling block is that there have never been good rules for admission and that the rules keep changing. Not only have the journalists had their chance to elect (and reject) players, various small veterans committees have added overlooked players, often the friends of the members of the committees. Some not-so-great players have gained plaques beside the immortals as a result.

Each year a representative of the Baseball Writers Association of America sends out ballots listing eligible players, who have been retired five years after playing ten years or more. Electors are asked to consider what is known as Rule 5:

Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.

The "integrity, sportsmanship, character" portion of the charge is of particular trouble these days. In olden times, without 24-hour news and the Internet, it was possible for voters to ignore the bad behavior of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Grover Cleveland Alexander, etc. and know there would not be a great outcry from critics. With the precident that Pete Rose has already been banned from baseball for gambling and thus from the Hall of Fame, it is possible that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both suspected of steroid use, will not be elected. Many journalists have already been saying that they will not vote for "cheaters." Admitted enhancing substance user Mark McGuire who once looked a likely inductee is getting insufficient votes. Unfriendly-to-journalists players like Dave Parker have been passed over. Chafets says the situation is a mess.

Chafets discusses the severe drop in the number of black players in the major leagues, the shunning of player's union leader Marvin Miller by the Hall of Fame, and the money retired players can earn from endorsements once they are elected. The book also tells about the long overdue election of Negro League players to the Hall.

If there are book discussion groups that focus on sports books, this is a good candidate for their consideration. I can imagine many hot debates, just like on sports talk radio.

Chafets, Zev. Cooperstown Confidential: Heroes, Rogues, and the Inside Story of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Bloomsbury, 2009. ISBN 978159615459

No comments: