The most awkward thing to come out of yesterday's Hall of Fame vote wasn't the plethora of players that should have gotten in but didn't. Regardless of where you stand on Clemens, Bonds, Sosa, Palmeiro, and McGwire, there are still a cluster of players who have legitimate arguments for Hall of Fame consideration that were pushed aside by a vainglorious population of deluded voters.
We are told that they didn't get in for various reasons. It is "part of the process"; a lot of voting members of the BBWAA will simply not vote for players the first year they are eligible on the ballot. "Why?" you may ask. Well, Joe DiMaggio had to wait. Cy Young had to wait. Many players of the vaunted Golden Age simply didn't get in on the first ballot, and it would be a travesty to vote in, say, Craig Biggio, who is clearly not Joe DiMaggio, in his first year of eligibility. Never mind that the apparatus determining players admitted into the Hall of Fame has been completely uprooted, transplanted, and changed since that time. Never mind that there's a Veteran's Committee that was founded implicitly to make up for the faults of the previous system. Joe DiMaggio had to wait, and so will everyone else.
Never mind that players who deserve further consideration will continue to drop off the ballot due to personal vendettas and delusions of grandeur. Never mind that players who have never been linked to performance-enhancing drug use may be denied admittance because of suspicion, hearsay, and such meticulous arguments as "Just look at him." Never mind that there is a glut of eligible players coming onto the ballot in the next three years, many of whom deserve first-ballot, if not unanimous, induction into the Hall of Fame, thus adding to the difficulty of admitting worthy players passed over this year. Never mind that Jack Morris received the second-highest vote percentage based solely on a narrative constructed a decade after he stopped pitching, or that Jeff Bagwell rates higher than a great deal of players already in, or that Mike Piazza is perhaps the greatest offensive catcher ever. Never mind that players like Rondell White, David Segui, Nook Logan, and Neifi Perez were either named in the Mitchell Report or failed subsequent drug testing, muddying the waters of understanding how steroid use translates to on-field production.
This was a statement by the BBWAA, a metaphorical chiding and slap-on-the-wrist to the whole "Steroid Era". In essence, to paraphrase Alan Moore, they wanted to make this class afraid of them, for they have seen its true face. The dugouts are extended gutters and the gutters are full of discarded syringes and when the drains finally scab over, all the steroid players will drown. The accumulated filth of all their hubris and drug use will foam up about their waists and all the power hitters and pitchers of the era will look up and shout "Save us!" ...and the BBWAA writers will look down and whisper "No". They had a choice, all of them. They could have followed in the footsteps of good men like Edward R. Murrow or Bil Gilbert, who wrote about the prevalence of drug use (amphetamines and steroids alike) in professional sport as early as 1969. Decent men who believed in a day's work for a day's pay. Instead they followed the droppings of sluggers and flamethrowers and didn't realize that the trail led over a precipice until it was too late. Don't tell me they didn't have a choice. The whole baseball world stood on the brink, staring down into bloody Hell, all those writers and intellectuals and smooth-talkers who built the reputations of all of these players, lauded them, heralded them, gave their feats a mythic quality, described them in terms often reserved for gods and generals, only to have revealed that it was all built upon the machinations of a system they themselves were almost fully aware of...and all of a sudden nobody can think of anything to say other than, "Shame on them."
They had a message, aimed straight at the heart of their own complicity in over two decades of corruption. In some twisted form, the voters believe that they have vindicated themselves from a situation of their own construction. All they have accomplished is to highlight their own hypocrisy as they ignore the indiscretions of earlier generations and continue to vilify latter-day sins. The very same transgressions that gave them an endless stream of copy material, column inches, and padded wallets.
This isn't to say that all of the voters are guilty in-kind. In truth, many of them are not. But how can they expect us to treat them any better than they treat the players they covered? Matt Sussman said it better than I ever could:
--For more vitriol spat at surely undeserving persons, follow along on Twitter @JoshuaKWard.