Tomorrow (Monday, January 9th) is the day we’re supposed to hear the results of this year’s Hall of Fame voting. It has traditionally been something that I’ve looked forward to every year, finding out which great players would be inducted, and trying to figure out why others got snubbed. This year, of course, is especially exciting for Mariners fans because Edgar Martinez make his debut on the ballot. But more on that later.
The Hall of Fame is about to enter a difficult period. If the last two decades are forever branded the “steroid era” (a silly name that collapses a complex set of issues into a simplistic good player/bad player cartoon), then the decade to come might be called “the hangover era”. And one of the worst symptoms of the hangover will be the endless argument about who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame and who doesn’t. It starts this year with Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. Now, I’ve never been a really big Mark McGwire fan, and it has nothing to do with steroids. But I don’t see how anybody can say, with a straight face, that he doesn’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. 12-time all star, 583 career homers — you can look up the rest of the stats for yourself.
If we want to pretend that baseball has always been “pure” and that suddenly these guys came along with their steroids and corrupted it — then we’re going to have forget that Ty Cobb was a jerk who deliberately stabbed people with his cleats (taking a couple out of baseball permanently); that there are many stories about Babe Ruth’s drug use, including reports that he injected himself with extract from sheep’s testicles to enhance performance; and that many of the legendary players of the 70’s used amphetamines. (That would include Hank Aaron, by his own admission.) Should we re-open all of their candidacies too, or put asterisks next to their records? These are the issues that baseball has to grapple with as the stars of this era become eligible for the HOF.
Certainly, there are borderline cases (although none spring immediately to mind) — there must be players we can look at and say, it was only the artificial boost that pushed him over the line from very good to great. But those probably aren’t the players we’ll be agonizing over. The one’s that will cause us all the most pain are the likes of Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Is anyone going to seriously make the claim that Clemens doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame? Really?
So with all of that looming on the horizon, you would think that we’d have enough of controversy, enough of infighting and turning on our own. You’d think that we’d want to put aside our differences and honor those players who clearly deserve it. But that’s just not the way it works in the sports world.
Which brings us back to Edgar Martinez.
Lew Friedman, over at Call to the Pen, wrote a very good article recently where he argued that Edgar Martinez is the test case for whether any “pure” designated hitter can be elected to the Hall of Fame. After all, he is universally recognized as the greatest DH of all time (the second greatest, arguably, being Paul Molitor, who is already in the Hall of Fame) — he is the person after whom the award for his position is named, a distinction he shares with the likes of Ted Williams and Cy Young. If not Edgar, who?
Friedman goes on to write, “… there is little doubt that a Martinez candidacy is inextricably mixed up with a referendum on the designated hitter. A voter who disdains the DH rule is not going to reward the man who proved how valuable it can be. A voter who doesn’t see a DH as a “real player” because he doesn’t play the field is not going to be swayed by Martinez’ superior record.” He’s probably right. And I really have only one thing to add
I mean, in the first place, this is 2012 and the American League has had the designated hitter rule since 1973. For the record, I was not quite ten years old when that season ended. For most of us — including a lot of professional sports writers — the DH rule has always been there as long as we’ve been seriously watching baseball. People who live in National League towns or like to present themselves as purists (see above on the absurd myth of baseball’s “pure” past) still like to groan and cry over the DH. Well — GET OVER IT. It’s going on forty years now and baseball has not crumbled, the Republic has not fallen, the end of the world (Mayan prophecies and the occasional radio evangelist notwithstanding) has not come about. The DH has not harmed baseball — it’s been good for it. The American League has thrived. Let’s move on.
Those of us who live in Seattle — Mariners fans — don’t need to be reminded of Edgar’s achievements: Two AL batting crowns, seven All Star Teams, .312 lifetime average, the Roberto Clemente Award, five Silver Sluggers, etc. etc. What I want is for anyone to present a serious argument why Edgar Martinez should not be in the Hall of Fame that does not begin with “he was a designated hitter.”
Ultimately the responsibility of those who vote for the Hall of Fame is not to pass judgment on the Leagues’ rules. It’s to enshrine those players whose excellence at the game deserves to be remembered and honored. To me, that’s a clear responsibility. If you cast your vote for any other reason — because you don’t like the DH rule, because you don’t like the man himself, or whatever — you’ve broken trust with baseball. Your responsibility is to choose those players who’s caliber of play and contributions to the game set them apart.
And Edgar Martinez — Designated Hitter — is Hall of Fame caliber.