In reading the results of the recent Hall of Fame balloting, I was reminded of the Groucho Marx quote, “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.”
It’s actually a twist on that quote that I was thinking about. It’s obvious that, through the years, a certain percentage of those voting for the Hall have created a similar quote that reads, “We are accepting people for a club for which nobody is truly acceptable.”
It’s obvious that nobody–and I mean nobody–who has ever drawn breath is worthy of being elected unanimously on the first ballot. There are those whose sworn duty, sort of like the Knights Templar with the Holy Grail, is to keep interlopers at bay. No soul shall enter the shrine in a state of total grace. All must be tinged with the blood of imperfection. That is, the imperfection of not being totally accepted. In order to pass through those sanctified gates, one must be humbled while being honored.
What else are we to assume when, year after year since the very concept of the Hall was made a reality, players of clear qualification and, in some cases, monumental stature, are denied access by one and all?
What else can we assume but a conspiracy to humiliate? Otherwise, how, exactly, does one pose a defense of not voting for Wade Boggs for the Hall of Fame?
- He didn’t hit .300 three times?
- He didn’t hit enough home runs?
- His career-high in RBI was only 89?
- He was helped too much by Fenway Park?
- He came up too late?
Look, I don’t know. You tell me.
Looking back, how else can we explain the fact that not a single one of these all-time greats–all who became eligible after the ballot had been cleared of the early glut of candidates–got every single possible vote without playing the conspiracy card? If it’s not a grand, ethereal conspiracy, then rationales such as these must surely have been used on these “inner circle” Hall of Famers:
- Mike Schmidt: Started and finished poorly.
- Steve Carlton: Moved around too much.
- Reggie Jackson : Alleged “Mr. October” couldn’t answer bell for ’72 World Series.
- Tom Seaver: Never pitched a perfect game.
- Joe Morgan: Peculiar batting stance and extremely small glove visually off-putting.
- Johnny Bench: Allowed injuries to get in the way of progress.
- Carl Yastrzemski: Just the one Triple Crown.
- Brooks Robinson: If he was so good in the field, why wasn’t he a shortstop?
- Willie Mays: Basket catch too unorthodox, fundamentally unsound.
- Hank Aaron Not as good as Willie Mays.
- Frank Robinson: Not as good as Hank Aaron.
- Bob Gibson: Pitched in great pitchers’ era and didn’t even whiff a man per inning.
- Eddie Mathews: If he was so good, why’d the Braves have to leave Milwaukee?
- Ernie Banks Barely squeaked over 500 home runs.
- Mickey Mantle: Injured too much.
- Whitey Ford: Didn’t pitch nearly enough.
- Warren Spahn: 13-29 two-season finale besmirched career.
- Sandy Koufax: Quitter!!!
- Yogi Berra: Didn’t steal enough bases.
- Roy Campanella: Stole even less than Berra.
- Stan Musial: Didn’t make it to 500 homers.
- Ted Williams: Where are the 3,000 hits, Mr. “Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived?”
- Bob Feller: Too cocky.
Jackie Robinson: Troublemaker in the army.
- Joe DiMaggio: It’s like this: you can either have sex with Marilyn Monroe or be a unanimous Hall of Famer. You don’t get to do both in one lifetime.
- Mel Ott: Just one World Championship in over 20 seasons.
- Jimmie Foxx: Should have and could have had more of everything.
- Lefty Grove: Wasted too much time in minor leagues.
A part of me wants to say that the men who didn’t vote for Mr. Boggs in 2005 or for the men listed above when it was their first turn don’t deserve to vote, but I will say they don’t have a clear understanding of this thing we have come to call “baseball.” Unless that is, I couldn’t be further from the truth. What if they know it better than us all? What if they possess knowledge of mystical secrets to which the rest of us are not privy? What if one of those secrets is that, someday, the world will be blessed with a player pure of essence who shall eclipse every known record? What if these men–these voters, these gatekeepers to that holiest of places–what if they know that when this great baseball messiah comes, then, and only then, will they all be so permitted to vote for him on his first Cooperstown ballot?
Does this not sound plausible? Indeed, what other explanation can there be?