The Insignificant Hall of Fame

At Baseball Daily Digest last year, I wrote an article by the same title in which I expressed the reasons why I no longer cared about the Hall of Fame. Last night, I was a guest on Steve Keane’s (of the Kranepool Society blog) podcast, and we discussed the Hall of Fame at the end. I expressed similar sentiment about my finding the Hall pretty much irrelevant.

Update: Craig Calcaterra, Jason Rosenberg, and Bill from The Platoon Advantage have tackled the issue as well. Click on over for some more anti-HOF sentiment.

Today, after Roberto Alomar and Saberist-favorite Bert Blyleven were elected in the Class of 2011, Joe Posnanski wrote a column that includes some eye-opening quotes from Jeff Idelson, president of baseball’s Hall of Fame. Those are excerpted below:

“Baseball has historically been held to a very high standard, right or wrong,” he says. “There’s a certain integrity required when it comes to baseball’s highest honor, which is being inducted into the Hall of Fame. The character clause exists as it relates to the game on the field. The character clause isn’t there to evaluate and judge players socially. It’s there to relate to the game on the field. … The voters should have the freedom to measure that however they see fit.”

[…]

It seems clear to me from what he says here that the Hall of Fame has no problem with the exclusion of known steroid users or even strongly suspected steroid users.

“When you look at the Hall of Fame elections,” he said, “you see that those who are elected are representative of that era. The Hall of Fame election is a continuum. And the standards have upheld the test of time. We believe they work. We believe the voters have exercised a great understanding about the candidates in the Hall of Fame. I think when you look at who the writers have voted into the Hall of Fame, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t belong there.”

[…]

“You know this … as you walk through Cooperstown, you have the history museum where every facet of the game is represented,” he said. “That will not change. That’s the celebratory nature of the Cooperstown experience. But when it comes to players inducted, we feel strongly that the rules for election need to be where they are. … There’s no question that in many ways, this is an odd time. But at the end of the day, we want to maintain the high standards of the Hall.”

When baseball fans traverse to Cooperstown, New York, they are going to an institution called the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. What is the purpose of a museum, you ask? The International Council of Museums defines it as a:

permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment, for the purposes of education, study, and enjoyment.

A typical jaunt to a museum may include browsing the history of the universe, or taking a gander at dinosaur fossils. You don’t go to a museum to receive a biased point of view on history, whatever the subject may be; you go for a learning experience, to gather enough facts to make your own interpretations.

Museums have been that way for a long time. That is, until the Creation Museum. The Creation Museum takes the story of the Bible and forces it backwards into the history of our planet — in essence, the exact opposite of what a museum should do. PZ Myers of the science blog Pharyngula visited the Creation Museum in August 2009 and wrote a recap of the experience:

We were asked to sign a document before we entered that required us to be “respectful” of their facilities, which apparently meant more than simply appropriately regarding their building as private property. One of our atheists was in an entirely friendly conversation about evolution with a creationist visitor, when one of the guards came up and asked them to stop, saying that we had signed an agreement not to even discuss anything in the building where others could hear. (To his credit, the creationist said that he welcomed the discussion the guards wanted to silence, and they continued outside.) They knew we disagreed with them, and they were clearly on edge…and they knew that their beliefs could not stand up in the face of free speech.

[…]

They have a script you’re supposed to follow. There is a single route that snakes through the building with a series of exhibits with a linear agenda. You are supposed to get their Sunday School lesson plan of the 7 C’s (creation, corruption, catastrophe, confusion, Christ, cross, and consummation). Exploration is not an option. You will follow their track. There is no interactivity, either — it’s a chain of displays, dioramas, and little scenes, supplemented with frequent videos that tell you what to think.

I am deeply concerned that the baseball Hall of Fame is going down this sad path that the Creation Museum paved. Rather than simply providing information for passers-by, Idelson is fine with the Baseball Writers Association of America using incomplete — and often completely biased, hypocritical, or even nonexistent — information which is used to pass judgment on individual players, their teams, and the era in which they played.

In essence, Idelson doesn’t give baseball fans enough credit to make their own judgments about the so-called “steroids era”. Instead, he needs to fill in the gaps with what he believes are the correct answers. The problem is that he has no way of knowing, much less proving, that his point of view is correct and thus that it should be the official view of the time period heretofore.

So what should we do about this?

First and foremost, we need to be very vocal about how objectively wrong Idelson’s stance is, that it is unfair to use such questionable information to make firm judgments. The Internet does a great job of this, but we need more than snarky blog posts.

Secondly, stop giving the Hall of Fame your patronage. As much as it may sting to not take that annual trip to Cooperstown with your family, find another fun venue where your money will be put to better use.

Finally, we can ignore the Hall of Fame entirely. In reality, it doesn’t matter at all, even ignoring Idelson’s comments. You don’t need the Hall of Fame’s validation to recognize that a player was among the best of his time, or that a player was chronically overrated. The off-season is boring enough that the Hall debates are great time-fillers, but they are ultimately meaningless.

Baseball does not need a Hall of Fame. When the institution is run properly, it can be a great asset that people can use to better understand the various time periods and cultural mores. However, it is not a necessity. In fact, the Hall of Fame needs us a lot more than we need it.

If Idelson’s comments struck you as intellectually dishonest and offensive, make yourself heard. As Myers suggests regarding Ken Ham’s Creation Museum:

Don’t give it [respect] to him. All his carnival act deserves is profound disrespect and ridicule. Go to his “museum” as you would to a cheap freak show, and laugh, laugh, laugh…and go home to publicly mock and heap scorn upon it.

Irreverence is our answer, not dumb humble deference.