Commentary

What is the Hall of Fame now?

Baseball's 'museum' must decide how it will acknowledge the game's tarnished stars

Updated: April 15, 2011, 8:16 PM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Every once in a while, it's almost spooky how the forces in the universe converge to make you step back and think about where it's all heading. In baseball, this has been one of those weeks.

It was the week Barry Bonds got convicted of a PED-related felony in a federal courthouse in San Francisco.

It was the week Manny Ramirez took his positive test results, pulled the plug on his career and headed home.

It was the week baseball's banished Hit King, Pete Rose, turned 70.

[+] EnlargeBarry Bonds
AP Photo/Jeff ChiuIt's hard to overlook Barry Bonds' home run records, regardless of his steroid use.

So it was a week made for reflection about this great sport and its tarnished heroes. And, especially, it was a week that should inspire all of us to ponder what to make of a special museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., where those heroes once were destined to shine.

Here at World Rumblings Headquarters, we love the Hall of Fame. Like so many people we know, we have indelible memories of the first time we walked through the Hall, of the memories and emotions that day stirred, and of the thrill of sharing those memories and emotions with our kids.

But the Hall of Fame is in trouble now. Big trouble.

We've talked and written about this before. And our buddy, Tim Kurkjian, spoke eloquently about it again this week all over the airwaves after the Bonds verdict had crashed down on a sport that had long ago pronounced him guilty of way more than obstruction.

We are heading for a day when the Hall of Fame might be more famous for the players who aren't in it than the players who are. And we all need to ask ourselves: Does that make any sense?

The man who got more hits than any other player who ever lived (Rose) won't be in that Hall of Fame. Neither will the man who hit more home runs than any player in history (Bonds).

The guy who broke Roger Maris' home run record (Mark McGwire) will be missing. So will the second-winningest right-handed pitcher since World War I (Roger Clemens). Not to mention a fellow who might wind up atop the all-time lists in a dozen offensive categories (A-Rod). And that's just the short list.

So we ask again: Does that make any sense?

We've pleaded in the past for the folks who run the Hall of Fame to give all of us confused voters some guidance on this issue. But the question we're raising now is a larger, more powerful question, and it isn't about us:

What is the Hall of Fame, anyway?

And what do we want it to be? Do we want it to be a museum? Or do we want it to be a shrine?

The easy answer here is "shrine." Obviously. We'd love to live in a world where we could walk through that gallery, gaze on every plaque and hear trumpets blaring as tears fill our eyes. Hey, that would be great. Sign us up for that.

But do we really live in that world? Really?

If you do your homework, you know there are already plaques hanging in the Hall that glorify players who doctored baseballs, corked bats, gulped amphetamines and worse. There are Hall of Famers who have been arrested, Hall of Famers who went to jail, even a Hall of Famer (Tyrus Raymond Cobb) who is rumored to have killed a man.

Amazingly, the voters who elected them, the Hall of Famer players who welcomed them and the fans who parade through that gallery are willing to overlook all of that.

But not this?

Why are steroids different? Why are steroids worse? Because they dumped Babe Ruth out of the record books? Because they ruined the most hallowed records in sports?

Who among us isn't outraged by that? It's sad. It's tragic.

But it's also reality. The people who run this sport allowed it all to happen, every bit of it. Can they close their eyes now and wish it didn't happen? You bet. But it's too late.

The '90s happened. That was reality, like it or not. It's all right there in the books, right there in the box scores.

So another important question we ask today is: Is it time for the Hall of Fame to get real, to reflect that reality?

[+] EnlargePete Rose
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswirePete Rose might never be enshrined in Cooperstown despite being the career hits leader.

We don't have a good answer. We certainly don't have an answer that will make everybody happy. We know that when we try to imagine Barry Bonds' induction day, or Roger Clemens' induction day. Hoo, boy.

"You know who'd be standing behind him?" one Hall of Famer once told us when we asked how Bonds' induction day might go. "His family. And that's it -- because there wouldn't be any Hall of Famers there."

It pains us to think of that day, to imagine that scene. The magic of induction day, the outpouring of affection for a beloved figure in the game, has long been something every baseball fan should experience.

But not all induction days include that same magic because not all inductees inspire the same sort of love. So why does every induction day have to be a celebration?

Why can't some induction days also be a cause for reflection?

We can go on pretending that no bad stuff ever happened in baseball until the steroid era. Or we can be honest -- about all of it.

About steroids. About the Hit King and his gambling. About segregation. About decades of amphetamine use. About life -- real life -- and how it has colored baseball through every generation, not just this one.

We can allow that honesty to seep into the gallery in all sorts of ways -- in the kind of informational posters Bob Costas has proposed, even in the wording of the plaques themselves. If we're going to allow Barry Bonds and Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame, the world should know everything they did, not just the good stuff. That would, and should, be a mandatory condition.

But is that what we want? Or would we rather have a Hall of Fame that allows such gaping holes in history that it's willing to pretend all these men who towered over their sport never even existed?

Maybe we would. You tell us (uselessinfodept@yahoo.com). But as one friend of ours put it: "Go to any history museum. You see guys like Genghis Khan in there. It's not all good guys."

But is this museum different? Do we even consider it a museum at all? The Hall of Fame can be anything we want it to be, we suppose. But what should we want it to be? It's a very difficult, very complicated question.

This was one of those weeks, though, where it has felt impossible not to ask it.

Ready to rumble

• One AL exec says he expects the Orioles to be "one of the most active teams" at the trading deadline -- but probably not the way you think. If their hot start doesn't last, they could be the most popular sellers in either league. By loading up on players in the last year of their contracts, they could potentially dangle Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, J.J. Hardy, Luke Scott, Koji Uehara, Mike Gonzalez and possibly Jeremy Guthrie. "If they decide to sell," the exec says, "they've got a lot of attractive pieces."

• One of the biggest mysteries hanging over the Phillies' season is the future of Roy Oswalt. He's hinted he could retire (at age 33). Or he has the right to opt out of his $16 million option for next year. Either scenario would blow up 25 percent of the fabled Four Horsemen rotation. But what is Oswalt thinking? He'd never let on.

"He's happy as a lark," one longtime friend of Oswalt tells Rumblings. "But you never know with Roy. He's one of those guys who's liable to do exactly what you don't think he'll do. But I don't see him retiring. I'll tell you that. Not for at least two or three years. So I think he re-signs [with the Phillies]. I have a hard time believing they're going to let him walk."

• There's nothing the Mets would love more this spring than to have Carlos Beltran play well enough to make himself tradeable in July. So scouts are already bearing down on him just in case. But when we asked one of those scouts if he could see himself recommending that his team trade for Beltran, his answer said it all:

"Noooooo. I'm rooting for him, because I feel bad for him, seeing a guy who was once a great player limping around with a brace on his knee. … But would I recommend him? No -- because I don't want to get fired."

Jose Reyes
Reyes

• Another NL scout on whether he'd recommend his team trade for Jose Reyes: "I'd take him as a rental. I wouldn't want to commit to him long-term. But I'd trade for him for two months."

• We still hear people speculate about Chris Carpenter's availability at the deadline in the unlikely event the Cardinals are out of all forms of contention. But that's not what most clubs expect to happen. "If you look at the makeup of their club, why would they not pick up his [$15 million] option, unless he's hurt?" wondered one NL executive. "And if he's hurt, why would you want [to trade for] him?" The one dissenting vote came from an AL exec who thinks the Cardinals will need to clear money to sign that Albert Pujols guy.

• Why you should never pay attention to spring training stats for pitchers, example 9,846: Jaime Garcia allowed 40 hits and 25 runs in 23 innings this spring. Brett Myers allowed 33 hits and 18 runs in 18 innings. Then the real games started. Garcia has a 1.35 ERA after three starts. Myers has a 1.77 ERA. So about those Grapefruit League panic attacks? Uh, never mind.

• Visionary Rays manager Joe Maddon raised a great point Sunday after umpires huddled, reversed a safe call at first base and wiped a Tampa Bay run off the board: Why was it OK to undo that call but not the infamous Jim Joyce call during the Armando Galarraga imperfect perfect game? For the answer, we checked in with ESPN umpiring consultant Jim McKean.

"The difference is, Doug Eddings [the first-base ump Sunday] wasn't sure if he saw the play right," McKean said. "And if he thinks he didn't see the play, he has the right to go ask for help. In the Galarraga game, Jim Joyce thought he called that play correctly at the time, so you've got to live with it."

Here at Rumblings, we don't think the other umpires have to live with anything if they're sure a call is wrong. But that's modern umpiring protocol -- until the replay system moves us into the 21st century, anyway.

• Maybe Kevin Millwood will ride to the Yankees' rescue at some point. But we heard this review of his work so far in extended spring training: "He looks terrible. Here's a guy who used to throw 94-95 [mph]. Now he's throwing 86."

James Loney
Loney

• Here's a question you hear all the time these days: What happened to James Loney? Last July 17, he was hitting .309/.360/.441, with 26 doubles and six homers in 381 plate appearances. In 315 plate appearances since: .201/.271/.316, with only 16 doubles (one this year) and five homers (one this year). You wonder how much longer the Dodgers can live with that little production at a premium offensive position.

• The Rangers wouldn't have moved Alexi Ogando into their rotation if they didn't have three starters on the disabled list. So naturally, he became the first pitcher in the live-ball era to work at least six innings and allow no runs and no more than two hits in each of his first two starts in a season. But can he keep that up? One NL exec is skeptical: "His delivery says `relief pitcher' for me. He's got kind of a rough delivery to be a 200-inning starter."

• The same exec on Aaron Harang (2-0, 1.50 ERA, so far for the Padres): "He's my comeback pitcher of the year. He's looked like the old Harang. He's staying tall in his delivery. He's using his legs. He's got that good angle on his fastball. And his slider's got that good late tilt to it that it used to have. If I'm setting his over/under, I'm going with 14 wins."

Kyle Drabek
Drabek

• What's the best father-son pitching combination in history? The Stottlemyres? The Trouts? Well, one scout is already on record -- after seeing Kyle (son of Doug) Drabek do his thing -- as saying: Watch out for the Drabeks.

"He's got better stuff than his father," the scout said of Kyle. "He's got the four-seam and the two-seam fastball. He's got a real good curveball. He's got a cutter. He pitches inside. He's not up there with the great power guys, but this guy can pitch. He'd be our No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 starter. I know that."

• Finally, the legend of Zach Britton grows. Buck Showalter reports that when he told Britton late in spring training that he wasn't going to make the team, "he had one of best exit conversations I've ever had. He said, 'I can't believe you gave me this opportunity to pitch,' like I was doing him some big favor. And he said, 'I'm going to do everything I can possibly do to get back here one day.'" One day, huh? Turned out he was a little off. He was back in four days.

Five astounding facts of the day

1. Poor Matt Thornton has had four save opportunities for the White Sox this year and blown four out of four. In his very own division, Joakim Soria has had 60 save opportunities for the Royals since Aug. 24, 2009 -- and blown four out of 60.

2. Carlos Zambrano launched a 428-foot home run Wednesday. Across town, Paul Konerko pounded 39 homers last year -- and not one of them went that far, according to the home run sleuths at hittrackeronline.com. And while we're on this roll, none of Nick Swisher's past 65 homers have traveled 428 feet.

3. Roy Halladay has thrown more complete games (59) than any active pitcher. But Wednesday was the first time in any of those complete games that he struck out the final two hitters he faced -- on three pitches apiece, no less.

4. Loyal reader Trent McCotter reports that the very next night, Halladay's cohort Cliff Lee became the first pitcher in at least 20 years to strike out 12 hitters in a complete game while throwing under 100 pitches. Pitch-count data for teams other than the Dodgers gets sketchy before the '90s. But the last pitcher known to do that in a complete game was Sandy Koufax, in a 97-pitch, 12-K no-hitter in 1964.

5. We've seen relievers save games without throwing a pitch. We've seen relievers win games without throwing a pitch. But ESPN Stats & Information genius Doug Kern reports that Tigers reliever Brayan Villarreal just became the first pitcher in this millennium to record a "hold" without throwing a pitch. Strolled in Tuesday. Picked the Rangers' Julio Borbon off first for the final out of the inning. Then exited without ever firing a baseball toward home plate. Gotta love the "hold."

Tweets of the week

• From our favorite new hilarious tweeting machine, @Tony_Plush, after his alter-ego, Nyjer Morgan, ran over Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit to score a run:

"Plush thinks there's nothing so bracing as a home plate collision. It's as vitalizing as a brisk November breeze on the cheek, a life-force."

• From that wacky @FakeBarryBonds, as jurisprudence was unfolding this week in the courthouse:

"Hey - If you want to see a real crime, watch the Boston Red Sox!!!!"

Headliner of the week

Finally, this just in from those lunatics at Sportspickle.com:

Bartolo Colon's Headshot Weighs 185 Pounds

Shameless book plug dept.

Have I mentioned lately that the new paperback edition of "Worth The Wait," including an all-new preface (cue the trumpets), has rolled off the presses this month? Well, I have now. And I'll be signing copies at the beautiful Barnes & Noble store in Willow Grove on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. Please stop by!

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

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Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com