cooperstown

The Hall of Fame gives voters a clear signal: moralize about steroids even more

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In the past couple of weeks many Hall of Fame voters expressed dismay at the dilemma they faced regarding PED users and the character clause in their voting instructions. Some — including Ken Rosenthal and Jayson Stark — have openly asked the the Hall provide guidance on the matter.  Well, the Hall did so last night. In the course of this interview with Joe Posnanski, Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson made it clear that the Hall is pleased with and fully expects writers to continue what they’re doing :

“Baseball has historically been held to a very high standard, right or wrong. 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.”

Asked if that means that the Hall is fine with keeping out Bonds, Clemens and players like Jeff Bagwell for whom there are only baseless steroid suspicions, he made it pretty clear that it is:

“When you look at the Hall of Fame elections, 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 …

… Am I worried that this era will be under-represented? No. I mean, you have a set of guidelines and rules in place. … I think we are happy with the way the voting has gone, we’re happy with the diligence of the voters who have participated, and the chips will fall as they fall.”

I think that there is a 100% certainty that voters will be citing this interview for years as a basis for being even stronger in their moral indignation at PEDs than they are now. Those who have no compunction about smearing Jeff Bagwell with both their words and their vote now have the approval of the Hall of Fame itself. Those on the fence now have the cover to join the high-horse crowd.  Those of us who find this all tremendously troubling will be shouted down with reference to Idelson’s words. We’ll be asked who the hell are we to protest when the man who runs the Hall of Fame himself has told us that he’s just fine with our playing the Morality Police. And they’ll have a good point.

But I fear that as a result of this we’ll also have a Hall of Fame on the fast track to irrelevance.  Because of the manner in which the Hall of Fame has set up the voting of the Veteran’s Committee, the Hall is now and likely forever will be without Marvin Miller, the architect of the free agency era and without Buck O’Neil, the man who did more than anyone to ensure that the Negro Leagues didn’t just disappear into the mists of history.

Because of the Hall’s slavish devotion to Major League Baseball’s official banned list, it is without the game’s all-time hit king, Pete Rose and, even if I personally oppose his induction, it is without Shoeless Joe Jackson, who many believe belongs.

And now, because it has sided with the steroids hysteria crowd, it will be without the home run king, one of the greatest pitchers of all time in Roger Clemens and countless other players who played in the 1980s and 1990s. Mike Piazza? He’s out. Pudge? Gone. Bagwell? Forget it.  And of course, given the total lack of scrutiny on the matter every other player of that era could suddenly and baselessly find themselves blacklisted like Bagwell has been. Indeed, if the voters are intellectually honest about it, they’ll have no choice but to give the entire era a miss.

What will become of the Hall of Fame if it continues down this path?  I raised that question on Twitter last night. Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe and I discussed it a while. He (and many others) believe I’m overreacting. I suppose that’s possible.  But I think the Hall of Fame is important. And it’s important not by some immutable law of the universe. It’s important only because people believe it’s important. They go way the hell out of their way to a village in upstate New York because they believe the museum represents something official and — though I cringe at the invocation of divinity — they believe it is hallowed baseball ground.

What happens when people in Texas stop believing its important because Jeff Bagwell isn’t in there? When Giants fans scoff at it because Bonds is out?  When Rangers fans — or hell, Latino fans — think the place unfairly kept out Pudge Rodriguez?

None of those exclusions is major in and of itself, I suppose, but legitimacy can be a fickle thing. I already believe that the moral standards being applied by the BBWAA and the Hall are out of step with that of most baseball fans. I think, with Idelson’s words, that trend will accelerate.  And I fear that as it accelerates, the Hall of Fame will find that it speaks to fewer and fewer people as time goes on.

UPDATE: For some more spleen on this, go check out Bill’s take over at The Platoon Advantage.  Also, the comments to this post are shaping up to be quite strong so far, so I highly recommend that you check them out below if you don’t normally do so.

UPDATE II:  Crashburn Alley takes things even further. Is the Hall of Fame [gulp] like that museum on Creationism?

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.