That sound you hear — besides crickets chirping — is the rest of the world moving on.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is going to render itself irrelevant by refusing to acknowledge some of its greatest players, and it may happen sooner rather than later. By the time the sanctimonious sportswriters guarding the Hall get off their high horses and realize their mistake, it might be too late.
Attendance at the Hall of Fame is in a slow, steady decline, according to numbers published by the Sports Business Journal, and has been for several years. Somewhere between 265,000 and 270,000 people are expected to have walked the hallowed halls in 2011, a far cry from the 400,000-plus who would visit during the late 1980s and early 1990s. But with the coming storm of Steroid Era players inching closer to eligibility, shutting out PED users will only serve to quicken the Hall’s demise.
Larkin was a great baseball player, for sure. But people don’t tell their kids that they got to see Barry Larkin play. No, that honor will belong to the giants of the sport, the ones who may never get the recognition that they deserve until years from now, when the honor will have lost its luster.
Mark McGwire is a good place to start. I can tell you for a fact that people told their kids about seeing McGwire, because when he broke Roger Maris‘ home run record, I was 9 years old. I was told about him. I followed his race with Sammy Sosa for No. 62 every night during that long summer, racing out to the mailbox every morning to grab the newspaper to see if he had hit one the night before.
McGwire, to me, will always be somewhat of a mythical figure, a behemoth of a man who sent towering home runs into the Fenway night at the 1999 Home Run Derby. The same goes for Barry Bonds. That’s what baseball is to me and my generation. Our memories are what they are.
I couldn’t care less that McGwire or Bonds used steroids, I really couldn’t. Yet somehow this has become a life-and-death issue to some voters, that allowing Big Mac into the Hall of Fame is an affront to all that is right and holy about baseball. They’re wrong.
Baseball’s allure has often been wrapped in its history and the fun of comparing one generation of stars to another. That line of thinking has been rendered moot in today’s age of instant gratification and shortened attention spans and every news cycle churning out another “best of all time.”
The knock on my younger generation is that many “kids these days” couldn’t be bothered to remember what happened 90 seconds ago. So now we’re expected to care about the records of baseball players from 90 years ago? It doesn’t add up.
The history of the game is an integral piece of what makes a Hall of Fame, but you can’t pick and choose when to opt out and what to cherry-pick. The Steroid Era happened. We were all there for it, and for some of us, it is all we know. Choosing to ignore that time period does a disservice to the players that excelled during that time and is an insult to the fans that grew up in the middle of it.
There is a generation of fans out there who grew up in the Steroid Era, and there is a generation of players out there who played in it. One day, those fans will want a place to be able to show the next generation their childhood memories and what it meant to them to see a great baseball player.
The Hall of Fame should be that place. If it isn’t, then what’s the point?