To me, the Hall of Fame candidacy of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are open and shut cases. Both are arguably the best players of all time at their positions – Bonds is the all-time home runs leader, has 514 stolen bases, and won eight Gold Gloves, twelve Silver Sluggers, and a whopping seven NL MVP awards. Clemens won seven Cy Young Awards which compliment 4672 career strikeouts and a 3.12 ERA in his 354 wins. Both of them need to be inducted on their first year of eligibility, and if they're not the Hall should be burned to the ground as a fraud. Oh, what, are you going to attack them on account of them being cheaters and terrible role models? Well, too bad, because for every argument you can make against the infallible credentials against Bonds or Clemens, I can yank at least three names out of the Hall of Fame which I can use to say "He's in there, and he did this! Why NOT Bonds or Clemens?" I have no respect for the Hall of Fame voters who are attacking Bonds and Clemens because, all things considered, their entire argument usually boils down to one simple idea: "I don't like him!"
It's cases like that which cause me to be as openly dismissive of the Hall of Fame as I am. I figured out a long time ago that this institution is about as sacred as a flag in an anarchist convention. It tries to get away with lying about baseball's origins, its admitted dozens of people who have been detrimental to the game at some point or another, admitted countless people of dubious morality while claiming that character is essential for induction, and the people who do the voting aren't exactly shining beacons to humanity themselves. If the Baseball Writers' Association of America includes such blowhards as Woody Paige or Jay Mariotti (who was arrested last August for domestic abuse – after decades of calling for the heads of any athletes who were accused of that themselves) they better be praying with all their might the public doesn't find out.
Cooperstown Confidential by Zev Chafets is an ugly display of just how deep the corruption can run. Chafets makes a deeper case against the Hall of Fame, one that goes far beyond the standard questions of eligibility. The players themselves are merely tapping fouls in Cooperstown Confidential.
Of course, with the players being involved here, Chafets does attack the question of just what good character can be. Everybody gives Ty Cobb a hard time because he was a racist, but his particular brand of racism was very common in America at the time, one could actually bestow Cobb a pass for that if you consider that Tris Speaker and Rogers Hornsby were both members of the KKK. Hornsby, in fact, could easily rival Cobb for the spot of supreme prick of baseball. Chafets also points out that a good example of exemplary character changes from generation to generation. And the character attacks take a few unexpected angles – Chafets also writes about sportswriters who keep various players out of the Hall because players like Steve Garvey, who were genuinely well-liked, clean characters, turned out to have secret dark sides. The issue of racial politics – specifically the image of the "bad negro" – is addressed for the part they may have played in keeping players like Dick Allen out of the Hall.
Those, however, are not attacks on the Hall of Fame so much as they are the standards and a few of the players and voters. They comprise only two of the eleven chapters in Cooperstown Confidential.
One of the more interesting chapters deals with the amount of money a public engagement is worth when a player becomes a Hall of Famer. The amount goes up significantly, which explains why so many players are so intent on receiving induction into the Hall. There are some a-list baseball stars like Yogi Berra and Sandy Koufax, Chaferts explains, who will always reel in a good profit for a public appearance. But for a b-lister like, say, Paul Molitor, that right to put the initials "HoF" next to a signature can be a real meal ticket. Money, it turns out, is also suggested to be a huge factor in why the Veterans' Committee so rarely votes new people into the Hall – since profits are split evenly among the committee, it means less money to go around for the vets.
Chafets also tells the tales of the story of baseball's origins – which was corrected by the Hall in the absolute loosest possible context – and the tale of Marvin Miller, who helped instigate the fight for free agency when he backed Curt Flood. He later led the players' strike of 1972, and his contributions to the rights of the players basically put him on the unspoken blacklist – even the Veteran's Committee keeps voting him down. Miller himself has no illusions about ever being enshrined, despite his contributions to the rights of players to go from one team to another and create bidding wars for their services.
Chafets never loses sight of what his point is – to take the Hall of Fame to task for all of the ugly politics that are hidden behind it. He constantly criticizes its owner, Jane Forbes Clark, and he hits the Hall for a number of the relics that it contains, citing that there is a lot more memorabilia in the Hall than is on display. At times, though, his writing can really blind him to a truly objective viewpoint. He suggests that inane politics is what is keeping Pete Rose out of the Hall. Now, I'm okay with cheaters and people of low character appearing in the Hall, but the exclusion of Pete Rose is completely justified. Many players cheat, but even then, there is very little incentive to prevent players from playing their best, or cheating at their best in an attempt to win. Gambling comes with the implication that you're going to do stupid things on purpose. More importantly, gambling with the wrong kinds of people can tie baseball up to seedy underworld characters and nasty legal waters. The sport really isn't that pure as it is, but bringing the underworld or the government – or both – into it could mean bad things for those who play and manage the game. It would involve bringing hell onto people who got into baseball just to be close to it, and allowing them no real safe exit if things got too hot.
Chafets also takes the Joe Jackson-is-completely-innocent belief, which is a little redundant nowadays. Jackson didn't perform quite as well in the 1919 World Series games the White Sox lost. Are we really to believe he was just that inconsistent? Or at least the Cincinnati pitching was that inconsistent?
On racial matters, Chafets seems to bite off more than he can chew. Race is always harsh territory, and the vast majority or people who wade into racial waters do it more guided by their outrage than clearheaded thinking on the issue. Even a lot of prominent academics abide by a definition of racism which is blurred, broad, and flexible. Chafets attacks the Hall for including Jackie Robinson for being an all-time great player, instead of on recognition of his achievement breaking the race barrier. It would seem to me that taking this approach would demean Robinson's accomplishments as a ballplayer and simply designate him as "that black ballplayer." Is placing an emphasis on color more than baseball accomplishments something Robinson himself, a fierce proponent of integration, really would have wanted? Chafets also explores the Hall's idea of inducting Negro League players in proper proportion to their counterparts from the pre-integration AL and NL.
When Chafets is consistent, he's on and insightful. When he's not, his criticism just flares out in all directions. Either way, you'll learn a lot of interesting facts about the real – and very questionable – character of the Hall of Fame.