By REED NELSON
Today, 5,077 RBI and 1,954 HR (29.8 percent of the home runs walloped by the top ten home run hitters of all time) were categorically rejected from the Baseball Hall of Fame, once again, in what has now become an annual mission to destroy my childhood.
See, as a 24-year-old, I came of age as a baseball fan during what now might as well be known as “The Era That History Must Forget.” It’s as if the Hall of Fame voters, and by extension the Baseball Writers Association of America, are dead-set on alienating any baseball fan in their twenties by reducing our formative fan years to nothing more than a bunch of lab creatures lurking within a murky pool of bad decisions and juked stats.
The numbers above weren’t the total output of the potential 2013 class — a class that ended up not existing — they were the total output of three players. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa struck fear in the hearts of more pitchers than a ceramic floor, but because history, in the case of baseball, is controlled by old men with short memories for their own actions yet long memories for the actions of others, these three amongst others will cease to be real things within the Hall of Fame.
I’m not standing up for what these guys did. They cheated, they sort of got away with it and now they’re paying for it. But thing about that is, so am I. Every kid who grew up with me grew up with our own set of Sultans of Swat; a group of sluggers who looked to be from a different time putting up numbers not seen since Prohibition.
Now those guys are more toxic than weapons-grade Uranium. And not only those guys, but the moments they contributed to as well.
Wearing a McGwire jersey today is tantamount to endorsing drunk driving while cheering for Hezbollah, a notion that 10-year-old me would have considered blasphemous. But as of this morning, of the 22 signed McGwire jersey’s available for purchase on eBay, exactly zero of them have a bid. It’s like the guy existed only within the walls of St. Elsewhere.
The oldest voting generation still gets to hold onto Willy Mays’ catch, Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off, Don Larsen’s perfect game, Roberto Clemente’s perfect 3,000th hit and Hank Aaron’s 715th home run as ironclad events, while conveniently harnessing the ability to gloss over the not-so latent racism that still clouded baseball during the ’40s, the ’50s and most of the ’60s.
The middle-aged guys, they get to hold onto the Carlton Fisk hope-and-a-prayer, and the Bucky Dent soul-crusher, and Kirk Gibson pumping his fist around the bases in a manner that only a mustachioed slugger from the ’80s could. They get to keep Bo Jackson and Kirby Puckett and even (again) somehow, someway the early years of the Bash Brothers.
But when it comes to us in our twenties, the relatively “new” baseball fans, we get to keep very little. The most important non-biased — meaning non-Yankee — enduring baseball images and moments of my childhood go, in order: McGwire breaking Maris’ record, Sosa and McGwire dueling after the record was broken, Ken Griffey Jr.’s swing, the 1994 Strike, Bonds hitting number 71, Griffey making the “Other Catch“, Griffey’s swing, Griffey’s backwards cap, watching a young Alex Rodriguez, BALCO, the Mitchell Report, the outing of A-Rod, a blithering McGwire, Torii Hunter robbing Bonds in the All-Star Game, some lies Palmeiro told, some lies that Roger Clemens told, the recalibration of power hitting and Derek Jeter.
There are only three things on that list that still hold up in a positive light: Jeter, Griffey’s swing and Griffey’s catch.
Roy Halladay threw the first post-season perfect game since Larsen and no one noticed.
Jim Thome passed everyone on the Home Run list under 600 and got as much publicity as the Singing Hot Dog Guy in Detroit.
Baseball is a generational game. Fathers teach it to sons, who in turn teach it to their sons. My 95-year-old grandfather talks about Hank Greenberg and Jimmy Foxx and Lou Gherig like they were more than human. My father talks about Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale and Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente as if the ground that they walked on magically turned to spendable currency.
But me? I have my Yankees, I have Derek Jeter, I have Griffey’s swing and not much else. I could talk about other things that happened outside of the millennial power surge, but anyone who was really there would know I was lying. They would know that the biggest, most important baseball events of my childhood are no longer relevant. They would know that the events I was expounding upon are mere fill-ins, implanted by Leonardo DiCaprio to make me forget about the all those things that weren’t supposed to happen.
Only they did. And they were fucking awesome.
The Hall of Fame, as Bill Simmons pointed out in 2007, and then again today, is a place where the history of baseball is supposed to be recognized — all of its history, in its entirety — and is not supposed to be, as it appears to be now, a cloth-covered table just outside a Las Vegas buffet line where writers and members get to simply dine on the careers of the good, the righteous and the altruistic veterans who come along every once in a while.
But it is.