I blame the room.
If you've ever been to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, you know what I mean. The Room. The Hall calls it the Plaque Gallery, and it's right off the entrance from Main Street. It's the room with all the plaques of all the hall of famers.
It's immaculately clean and softly lit. The Class of 1936 - the first class into the Hall of Fame, the immortal class of Ruth, Young, Cobb, et al - sits set back in a special location.
It feels almost like a church. It feels like it is meant to be a sacred place. The baseball holy of holies.
It's a wonderful room. The Hall of Fame is one of my favorite places in the world. My dad and I used to take annual summer trips there . The Plaque Room is one of the highlights of every trip.
And it's also the problem. I believe that room, what it feels like, what it's meant to convey, is one of the reasons the annual Hall of Fame debate - the results come out today - has gotten so contentious, so fierce, so ... tiresome.
I hate saying this, because I love the writing that Joe Posnanski has done on the Hall of Fame. I love seeing the debate over the PED era and how that is playing out. But the whole "Who's a Hall of Famer, who's not" debate, the annual push and pull, the yelling, the opining ... it's just grown tiresome.
It feels like baseball has this problem more than other sports. The football hall of fame has its annual "who got snubbed" complaints, but that's quickly swallowed by the season. Basketball and hockey don't have this problem, at least it doesn't feel like it to me. Part of that is, no doubt, the process. Basketball and hockey have committees that vote which include former players, executives and media members. Football voting is done by a committee of writers, but at least it's done in a meeting where everyone talks face-to-face. But baseball, any BBWAA member of at least 10 years is eligible to vote. At last count, 581 voters submitted ballots. That's a lot of opinions to account for.
We can argue all day over whether it's the role of journalists to be bestowing honors like the Hall of Fame onto people they used to cover. That's a post for another day.
But to me, a big part of the problem comes back to that room. Baseball, as has been often pointed out, is the sport with more of a direct connection to the past. It's the one sport where we think that the past was better. Baseball, more than any other sport, is built around mythology.
The high altar of baseball mythology is that room in Cooperstown.
When voting for the hall, it's got to be easy to be influenced by that. It's got to be hard not think that enshrinment in that room is the sporting equivalent of sainthood. You get elected, you're in the room with Babe Ruth and Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson* forever. That's the hall of fame we have in our minds. That's the hall of fame that makes us pause over guys accused of using performance-enhancing drugs. That's the hall of fame that makes us think that certain players should be relegated in that horribly named "Hall of Very Good." That's the hall of fame we argue so vociferously about.
But as Posnanksi points out, the Hall of Fame that actually exists includes a bunch of guys you've never heard of who were not the best of the best. They were voted in by the veteran's committee, they were umpires and club owners, they were racists and bigots and cheaters in their own rights.
So which hall of fame does a voter keep in mind? The Hall of Fame that exists? Or the Hall of Fame they believe in?
I actually have no opinion on the Hall of Fame ballot. I don't have a mock ballot. I don't have a strong opinion on Clemens or Bonds or any of the steroid guys. I feel like their numbers warrant induction. I feel like many writers are using this chance to condemn guys after the fact, after they (and the rest of the sports media) missed out on accurately covering the steroid era.
But having them in that room, with Ruth and Robinson and Mays ... honestly, there's something about it that doesn't feel right.
I blame the room.