There’s plenty left to believe in. Just maybe not today, when neither seven MVP awards nor seven Cy Young awards could justify the alleged means.
Not 762 home runs or 354 wins, not public hangings or courtroom acquittals, not hundreds of millions earned playing the game or tens of millions subsequently spent defending the methods, none of it rose to the rather fluid standards of baseball’s Hall of Fame.
On a day when 569 voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America could not agree on a single worthy candidate, Barry Bonds, the greatest hitter in the game, fell short by 221 votes. Roger Clemens, the best pitcher of his generation, missed by 213.
The outcome will be viewed as overdue justice or an outrageous injustice, depending on your heart and timeline. The system worked or it is irretrievably broken. The ballot was a statement. Or an exercise in mass confusion, coupled with dereliction of duty.
Near the end, Hall president Jeff Idelson, a good man in a difficult spot, withdrew a white piece of paper from a serious-looking envelope, arched his eyebrow and announced the result: bupkis. I’m paraphrasing.
We knew we’d get here. The tepid candidacies of Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro told us so. We didn’t know the degree to which it would leak into the wispier areas of innuendo, and neither Jeff Bagwell nor Mike Piazza cleared 60 percent. (Bonds and Clemens were under 40.)
[Related: Scrubbing of character clause among first reforms Hall of Fame needs=]
Some worthy candidates took a hit. Presumably some clean players were splattered by their era. Plenty of it is unfair. And I’m here to say, don’t blame us, boys. The mess is yours. We’re just trying to separate the real from whatever the hell your generation turned itself into.
This day was coming the moment the vials showed up on the doorsteps of ballplayers all over the league. The commissioner was a tad slow on the trigger. The union boss took his job a touch too literally. The players lived to the clubhouse code. The ball writers were asleep at the wheel. That all happened.
But Idelson is going to have a near-empty town come July not because some 600 voters couldn’t decide how far to stretch their consciences (though that doesn’t help), but because one man and then another and then – who knows – hundreds more chose to cheat their game. It’s terrible for the clean players who may have lost votes in the commotion, in the distractions of the past couple months. It’s worse for the clean players who navigated the game without chemical crutches. There’s no metric for that. Yet.
But, we’re here. And when Idelson announced that for the eighth time in history the BBWAA had thrown a shutout (and for the first time since 1996), the day struck me as one for accountability, for authenticity, for integrity. Maybe it lasts forever, soothed by the coming class of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Jeff Kent, augmented by the holdovers Craig Biggio, Jack Morris and Fred McGriff. Maybe we’ve mistakenly lost Dale Murphy in the shuffle, and maybe that’s not acceptable. Maybe it’ll always cost Bagwell and Pizaza votes.
Hell, maybe the whole thing is broken and the BBWAA ought to get out of the Hall of Fame business entirely. Plenty think so.
In the meantime, we have this transformative moment. This – pick one – measured, spiteful, agonizing, regretful moment of, it turned out, deferral.
“It’s a tough period for evaluation,” Idelson granted. “That’s what this is chalked up to.
“I’m not surprised we had a shutout today … given how volatile the era has been.”
The commissioner’s office seemingly commiserated with the writers, saying, “We respect the longstanding process that the Hall of Fame has in place and the role of the BBWAA.”
The union wasn’t as understanding.
Its chief, Michael Weiner, called the ballot, “Unfortunate, if not sad.”
He continued, “To ignore the historic accomplishments of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, for example, is hard to justify. Moreover, to penalize players exonerated in legal proceedings – and others never even implicated – is simply unfair.”
[Related: No players admitted to Hall]
After more than a year in which his account was dormant, Clemens took to Twitter: “After what has been written and said over the last few years I’m not overly surprised. … To those who did take the time to look at the facts … we very much appreciate it.” He signed off, “Muchie Peachie, Rocket.”
Bonds was spotted Tuesday night at a hotel in Maui.
I’ll miss Cooperstown this summer. The thing about Cooperstown, there was – is – always something to believe in. If not the numbers, then the man. Something. We’ll get back to that, but first there was this. Yeah, this day was coming.
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