I love the Baseball Hall of Fame, of course. But there is something about the Hall of Fame that bothers me … and it has bothered many, many friends who have visited the museum: The Plaque Gallery is a major letdown. It just is. The room itself is nice enough. There's a bit of reverence wafting in the air. People talk in hushed tones for whatever reason. There are a few cool statues around.
But you go in there and you see all these plaques on the wall in the order of year inducted and … yawn. I mean it's nice. Yawn. It's fine. Yawn. Look: It's boring. And I say that as a zealous fan of baseball and history. I'm sure some people will disagree, but everyone I know will say their favorite part of the Hall of Fame was the movie room, or the stats room, or the art room, or just seeing one of the amazing artifacts like the bat Bobby Thomson used or the glove Don Larsen wore or whatever. I never hear anyone say their favorite part was looking at the plaques. It's nice, it's pleasant, you've got to do it. But it just kind of just sits there.
And it is with this in mind that I have this proposal for the Hall of Fame. And I think this proposal will not only make the plaque room the highlight of the museum, it will help the museum deal with both its own split personality and the approaching storm of steroid users and suspected steroid users and possible steroid users ...
The idea: The Golden 100.
It's a two-part plan. Before getting into the two parts, let's just say first that the Hall of Fame RIGHT NOW, like Congress, is split up into two houses. I just wrote about this. In one house are the greatest players who ever lived -- Joe D. and Jackie and Tom Terrific and the rest. In the other is a mishmash of owners, managers, umpires, pioneers, contributors, Negro leaguers, old-time players, controversial selections and so on.
Since the beginning, all these people have been treated the same way: They're all just regular old Hall of Famers. Tom Seaver, voted in with 98.8 percent of the vote, is a Hall of Famer. And so is Jesse Haines, a blandly good pitcher from the 1920s and 1930s who never even got nine percent of the writers' vote (despite appearing on the ballot 12 times) and was voted in by a Veterans Committee dominated by Haines' longtime teammate Frankie Frisch.
That's fine … but those two are clearly not in the same class. They should not be in precisely the same Hall of Fame, either. Ernie Banks and Dave Bancroft … Joe DiMaggio and Jake Beckley … no. You should not be looking for Tom Seaver and just happen upon Jesse Haines any more than you should be wandering through Disney World looking for Space Mountain and instead come upon a teeter-totter.
Bill Simmons, of course, has his Basketball Hall of Fame Pyramid, and what I'm suggesting is something of an offshoot from that and other ideas I've heard through the years.
Step 1: Create a special room in the Hall of Fame for the 100 best players in baseball history.
This is the Golden 100 … or the inner circle … or whatever you want to call it. This Hall within the Hall brings so many advantages. Just at the start, it would be amazing fun to do and would be a huge promotional boost for the Hall of Fame. I'm just throwing around ideas, but I could see them dividing the vote into three parts:
1. A fan vote on the Internet (30 percent)
2. A special BBWAA vote (40 percent)
3. A specially chosen panel of experts (30 percent).
Wouldn't this be amazing? They would vote for the 100 best players in the Hall of Fame, and those 100 plaques would get put into this incredibly cool room with cool music and lighting and interactives and whatever else the museum curators can come up with. THAT would be a showstopper. THAT would be the room every visitor would remember forever. And MAN would that create some great arguments.
But I think the way to make it even cooler is this: You make it a living Hall of Fame. That is to say every so often -- every five years? -- you have the vote again. Greg Maddux gets inducted into the Hall in 2014. Well maybe in 2017 you have the next Golden 100 vote. Where does Maddux rank on that list? Who leaves the 100? I mean, this would be incredible and news-making every time.
There's one other point I want to make about why I love the Golden 100: There are some people in the Hall of Fame who really don't belong there. I don't mean that to be cruel; I mean they just happened to have lucky timing or they were elected in a way we no longer see as viable or details have emerged since their election that make their Hall of Fame candidacy questionable. That's only going to continue. I suspect that at some point we will find out that someone in the Hall of Fame -- maybe more than one person in the Hall of Fame -- used steroids. It seems kind of inevitable … steroids have been around for a long time.
Well, what can we do about that? What can we do about any of it? I'm totally opposed to taking back awards or throwing people out of Halls of Fame or denying history. I haven't voted for the Heisman Trophy since Reggie Bush was pressured into giving his back. But, with this Golden 100, you aren't doing anything of the sort. Once you're in the Hall of Fame, you stay in the Hall of Fame. But you might no longer be in that inner circle. I think this would keep the Hall of Fame vibrant and current and in the present.
But I don't think just adding the Golden 100 is enough. There's another step.
Step 2: Redefine the standard of the Hall of Fame itself (a.k.a. "Make It Bigger").
What fun is a Hall of Fame without Buck O'Neil? Without Gil Hodges? Without Dick Allen? Without Tommy John? Without Billy Martin? This is especially true when there are so many players in the Hall of Fame who were not as good, not as valuable, not as worthy, not as interesting. You can list off a bunch of players who would make the Hall of Fame so much more fun, so much more lively, so much more interesting and controversial and spirited and perhaps most of all so much more FAIR.
Look: Lou Whitaker was probably better than more than half the second basemen in the Hall of Fame right now. I don't think you can look at the list of second basemen and then look at Whitaker's career and think otherwise. His career WAR, just as a starting point, puts him sixth among the 17 qualified second basemen in the Hall, right between Frankie Frisch and Charlie Gehringer. His blend of power, excellent defense, ability to get on base -- rare and excellent.
And yet, because the writers have their own standard (Whitaker, amazingly, got just 15 votes his one year on the ballot) and because the ever-shifting veterans committee has ever-shifting values, and because of quirks in the system … Lou Whitaker has no way of even being CONSIDERED for the Hall of Fame at the moment, must less a way of being elected.
More and more, I want a bigger Hall of Fame. I don't mean a lesser Hall of Fame, just a bigger one -- and I don't think the two have to be confused. If the Hall of Fame has Andre Dawson, it could (and should, in my opinion) have Dwight Evans. If it has Kirby Puckett, it could (and, in my opinion, should) have Tim Raines. I'm not talking about lowering standards. I'm talking about maintaining them. If Bruce Sutter is a Hall of Famer, Dan Quisenberry is too. If Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer, what about Dale Murphy? And so on.
And so I would work at expanding the Hall of Fame in a smart and fun way. There are many, many ways you can do it. Would you lower the required Hall of Fame vote from 75 percent to a simple majority? I'd be good with that. Could you clarify or even eliminate the character clause, which I think does way more harm than good? I'd definitely be good with that. Could you create a panel of smart baseball people to nominate a bunch of Hall of Fame candidates who have been overlooked and give them a real shot at getting in, rather than coming up with new and confusing veterans committees? Absolutely. And there are plenty of other ways to go about it. I think a bigger Hall of Fame would be a win on so many fronts. It would make the Hall of Fame experience as a fan better.
But it only would work, I think, if within it we still have that extreme standard, that Golden 100, that living and breathing room with the 100 greatest players ever -- which is what I think most people would come to think of as the REAL Hall of Fame.
As mentioned, I think this also could help provide an answer to the question of steroids and the Hall of Fame. See, here's the problem: Right now I think the writers feel that if they vote Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or Mark McGwire or whoever into the Hall of Fame, they are voting those guys into the mythical place of Ruth and Gehrig and Mays and Aaron. Obviously, they don't want to do that.
Of course, they don't care so much about the Hall of Fame of racist Tom Yawkey and confused Bowie Kuhn and organized-crime figure Alex Pompez and dubious curveball inventor Candy Cummings and mediocre-hitting first baseman George Kelly and ball-scuffing Don Sutton and spitter-throwing Gaylord Perry and "Win Any Way You Can As Long As You Get Away With It" whirlwind Leo Durocher. Nobody could say they don't want Clemens in THAT Hall of Fame.
And this gets to the heart of things: THAT Hall of Fame exists. It's real. It's open daily. Look, pure baseball performance -- purely what the eyes saw and the record books show -- says Barry Bonds is obviously a Hall of Famer. Roger Clemens is obviously a Hall of Famer. Mark McGwire, through some combination of natural strength, unnatural strength and hitting prowess, was the greatest home-run hitter the game has ever known (one homer per 10.6 at-bats … well ahead of Ruth, Bonds, and the rest).
I think the Baseball Hall of Fame is emptier without them. At the same time, I understand why so many voters don't want to enshrine them into Joe DiMaggio and Roberto Clemente's Hall of Fame.
And that's the final and most subtle beauty of the Golden 100: You don't induct players into the DiMaggio, Clemente Hall of Fame. You induct them into a big and bold and flawed and fascinating Hall of Fame where baseball is celebrated. Dwight Gooden was probably the best young pitcher in the history of the game. Maybe he's in this big Hall of Fame. Roger Maris his 61 homers in a season when no one thought that was possible. Maybe he's in this big Hall of Fame. Joe Jackson … Pete Rose … I don't know, maybe there's room for them too. It would be a place for the people who tell the story of baseball.
Then, beyond, there's this deeper and utterly exclusive place that features only the greatest players, only the players who rose above their time, capped at only the 100 best players who ever lived. And maybe Barry Bonds never gets into THAT place. Maybe Roger Clemens never gets into THAT place. That would be something the voters would determine over time.
This way we don't have to pretend they never happened and were never great. I think that's what bothers me most about the way Hall of Fame voters respond to the steroid users. Why would you not vote Barry Bonds into the Hall of Fame? As punishment? Is that what the voting is about now? Because he cheated? Is that consistent with the Hall of Fame voting history? Because he would not be a Hall of Famer without steroids? Does anyone believe that? Because it would be unfair to the players who didn't cheat? Where were those players' voices during the steroid era?
Because he brought shame to the game? Is that really it?
See, the current Hall of Fame voting procedure puts sportswriters in position of moral arbiter … judge and jury … and I don't think most sportswriters are qualified for the job. In the millions of discussions about steroids, baseball and the Hall of Fame, I almost never hear anybody ask the really hard questions:
• How much did steroids improve their performance?
• What percentage of players do we think were using?
• What is the culpability of baseball for looking the other way and capitalizing on the huge offensive numbers being rung up?
• What is the moral difference between amphetamines and steroids?
• How much should a person lean on vague suspicions and statistical oddities when determining if a player used steroids?
And so on. These are all really hard questions … and I don't think we have particularly meaningful answers to any of them. I think that if the Hall of Fame would put in the Golden 100, we'd have a better chance of dealing with the questions.
And in the meantime, we wouldn't have to pretend that Roger Clemens doesn't have a place in the same Hall of Fame as Tammany Hall politician and prohibition era brewer Jacob Ruppert.