Friday, January 11, 2013

A few thoughts on Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame

Yesterday (or was it the day before? time is running together for me!), the word came out: NO one would be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY in 2013.

The most obvious first-year inductees would have been Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, except for the strong suspicions that they were using steroids (or other rule-breaking, performance-enhancing drugs) during their careers.

I've been a huge baseball fan all of my life.  The whole steroid-era saga makes me so sad. There's so much there that's sad.  It's sad that players felt pressured to take drugs to play better, in spite of the many dangers of these drugs.  It's sad that the formerly magic record numbers (like Hank Aaron's 755 homeruns) have been broken with the help of drug-enhanced performances... and there's not much that can be done to "fix" it.  It's sad that Major League Baseball looked the other way for so long, though it was obvious that performance-enhancing drugs were widespread.

But it's sad in other ways, too.  To the left is a picture of my childhood hero, Steve Garvey.  In spite of the fact that he was one of the dominant players of his era... in spite of the fact that he went to the World Series five times in his career... in spite of the fact that he was an All Star many, many times... in spite of him being the MVP of all sorts of things -- the National League, the All Star Game, the National League Championship Series, etc.... in spite of all his Gold Gloves.... in spite of a decade where he basically never missed a game (he has the National League record for consecutive games played), batted .300 with 200 hits a season, had about 25 homeruns a season, about 100 RBIs a season... in spite of all of this, Steve Garvey will likely never be in the Hall of Fame.

There are a few reasons for this.  One is, though he had one of the all-time squeakiest-clean reputations during his years as a player, just after he retired he was hit with the scandal of having had a few girlfriends at once, and impregnating a couple of them at essentially the same time (and then marrying a third girlfriend).  Not that womanizing is a big scandal by the standards of Major League Baseball, mind you -- but it seemed so out of character for Garvey that it really hurt him; it made him a fallen angel.

But the other reason Garvey will probably never be in the Hall of Fame is that his numbers -- which seemed impressive during his career -- started to look tiny shortly thereafter.  Garvey retired just before the steroid era.  When he played, his 25-ish homeruns every year was solid, seemed impressive. Just afterwards, in the steroid era, 25 homers (especially for a first baseman) seemed anemic.  Same with his 100+ RBIs. 

So Garvey, and some other players from the era just before steroids, is being penalized for not being drug-enhanced.  And even his image has been (literally) diminished.  Remember, Garvey's forearms used to be considered "huge" -- commentators would often remark on his "Popeye" forearms.  But after the steroid era? Nothing about Garvey looks big.  Which is strange and sad, because from 1974 - 1984 (if not longer), everything about Steve Garvey was larger than life.

And so, the victims of the  steroid era of baseball are many. And baseball, at least for me, will never be quite the same.