Who will be the first openly-gay baseball player? I don’t know, but I know what he looks like

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To coincide with the gay marriage cases being argued before the Supreme Court yesterday and today, USA Today features a discussion among several athletes about when various sports, particularly baseball, will have openly gay active players and how accepting their colleagues will be.  It’s an interesting enough piece and follows more or less the contours of previous discussions on the matter.

My thinking, though, informed by some reader comments a couple of years ago and which makes total sense once you think about it: baseball’s first openly-gay player isn’t going to be an active major leaguer who comes out in the middle of his playing career. Rather, it’s going to be a high school phenom with a can’t-miss baseball pedigree who is openly gay at age 17 or something because high school kids these days have way fewer hangups about this stuff than people my age do.

It’ll be a story around draft time. Then, every year when he comes to spring training or reaches the next level of the minors someone will write a rehash column about him. By the time he makes the bigs it will be old news. The entire time his quotes will be polite versions of “whatever, it’s just how it is” as though you were asking any other baseball player about hunting in the offseason.

It’ll be great because it will deflate all of the “Wow, this is big!” hype from people who grew up in and were conditioned by the culture wars to think that someone will have to break through a barrier of bigots in order to be a gay major leaguer. Instead, it will just be a thing that no one the player’s age thinks is all that controversial, and something which the bigots in the player’s midst — due to how quickly attitudes about homosexuality are changing in our culture — will be afraid to make a big deal out of because to do so will almost universally be seen as shameful. If there is blowback from a teammate it will be handled in the same way as if a player today complained about sharing a clubhouse with black or Latino players: he’d be disciplined and/or cast out, not because he’s a bigot as such, but because he’s a crappy teammate and a jerk.

At least that’s my hope. A hope buoyed by what has been an encouraging and quite extraordinary evolution in the discourse about such matters in the just the past few years. An evolution that will create a state of affairs which will make it quite difficult for me to explain to my perplexed children why, when I was younger, people gave a crap about who people loved.

No, New York players do not get an unfair bump in Hall of Fame voting

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Angels owner Arte Moreno said something interesting yesterday. He was talking about the retired former Angel, Garret Anderson, and said “If he would have played in New York, he’d be in the Hall of Fame.”

The initial — and, I would add, the most on-point — response to this is to note that, for however good a player Anderson was at times, no definition of the term “Hall of Famer” really encompasses his legacy. He was OK. Pretty good on occasion. Nowhere near a Hall of Famer, and I don’t think you need me to go over the math to establish that. The only way Anderson would ever sniff the Hall of Fame one day is if we sent Tony La Russa back in time to manage him for several years and then brought him back from the past to strong-arme the Veterans Committee.

The more interesting question to me is the matter implied in Moreno’s comment: that players in New York get an unfair boost when it comes to the Hall of Fame.

I get why he might say that and I get why people might believe it. New York gets all the press. If you can make it there you can make it anywhere and, my God, people in New York will not let you forget it for a second. East Coast Bias™ and all of that.

Except it’s baloney, at least as far as the Hall of Fame goes.

I think it’s fair to say that, yes, if you play in New York, your reputation gets elevated more than if you played elsewhere, but I think there are limits to that what that elevation gets you. You’re more famous if you knock in 100 as the third-best guy on a Yankees team or if you are involved in a notable game or series or controversy as a Met, but it doesn’t mean you get some extra helping hand from the BBWAA five years after you retire.

At least one guy I know, Adam Darowski, has taken a rough look at this on the numbers. He has determined that, by at least his measure, Yankees players are the fourth most underrepresented contingent in Hall of Fame voting. Red Sox are fifth. Mets are in the middle of the pack. It may be more useful to think of this without reference to any numbers, though, and look at it in terms of who is and who isn’t getting some sort of unfair bump.

If there was a New York Premium to Hall of Fame consideration, wouldn’t Bernie Williams, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry, Elston Howard, Don Mattingly, Roger Maris, Jorge Posada, David Cone, John Franco, Keith Hernandez, Andy Pettitte and a bunch of other guys of that caliber get more support than they’ve historically gotten? I’m not saying all of those guys deserve to be in the Hall, but they all have better cases than Garret Anderson and none of them got in or appear to be getting in any time soon. They are close enough on the merits that, one would think anyway, an aura of New Yorkness surrounding them would have carried them over the line, but it never did.

Meanwhile, almost all of the most borderline Hall of Famers are old, old, old timers who were either poorly assessed by the Veterans Committee or who had the good fortune of being good friends with Frankie Frisch. Again, not a ton of Yankees make that cut. A whole lot of Giants do, but I suppose that’s another conversation. The questionable Hall of Famers of more recent vintage represent guys from all over the big league map. The only Yankee I can think of in relatively recent years who raised eyebrows was Catfish Hunter, and I suspect more of that was based on his legacy with the A’s than with the Yankees, where he really only had one great season.

Here’s what I think happens, practically, with New York players: If you play in New York, merely good and notable performance makes you huge in the moment and in casual remembrance, but your historical legacy is often written down a bit as a function of overall team success. Also — or, maybe, alternatively — it’s a matter of every good Yankees era being defined by such a big meagstar — Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, Reggie, Jeter — that the really good, even Hall of Fame-worthy guys who played with them are overlooked to some degree. Which, when you think about it, kinda sucks even worse for them because their megastar teammate is, thanks to the rings, in some ways getting elevated by team success while the lesser stars are denigrated because of it.

Which is not to say that we should cry for New York players. Paul O’Neill will never have to pay for a steak dinner in Manhattan for the rest of his life and, thanks to all of his friends in the press, Andy Pettitte’s obituary won’t mention his PED use at all while Barry Bonds’ obit will mention it in the first graf. It’s getting to the point where if you can simply avoid infamy and not suck for a five-year stretch you can get your number retired and a place in Monument Park.

But New York players aren’t getting unfair consideration in Hall of Fame voting. Indeed, I think they’re probably getting graded a bit too harshly.