Thursday, 6 January 2011
Less a Snub, More a Serbonian Bog
And they have a right to be angry. Firstly, the baseball writers and columnists of the 90s are just as culpable as the owners and players for allowing the sorry state of affairs to continue for as long as it did.
Secondly, the sort of steroid suspicion is so selective that many writers seem to be just using it as an excuse for not justify voting for players they do not like, instead of actually coming up with reasoned arguments. This might be possibly down to the amount of flak some writers get for their decisions nowadays, and it is not surprising, when Barry Stanton voted for B.J. Surhoff, but not for Bagwell, Edgar Martinez and Tino Martinez and Don Mattingley and Morris, but not Alomar or Blyleven.
This double standards practice is easy enough to explain, as sluggers make an easy target. They gained muscle, they hit home runs, ergo, they used steroids and they must have cheated. Hence Bagwell, and probably a few others will get lumped in with the real cheats, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmiero.
If steroids use were more prevalent than that, and legends of the game such as Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken Jr., Rickey Henderson in fact cheated too, then their concept of the game and its' history would crumble and we wouldn't want that. I picked those three, because of the recent hall of famers, they are at least partly contemporaneous with Bagwell, and like the Astros' number five, were not linked with steroids (Henderson is a misnomer, since he played in Oakland).
I'm not saying I believe they did do steroids or that they should be suspected, but where was this cloud of suspicion that hangs over Bagwell, but didn't when these guys came on the ballot for the first time?
When Ken Griffey Jr. comes on the ballot, or Derek Jeter, where will these nay-sayers, be? Will they be withholding Griffey, or Jeter's name from their first ballot because they played in the steroid era? Not a chance.
Having marched, almost in toto, onto the plateau, they will find it harder and harder to escape as the weight of their own contradictions and hypocrisies make them sink lower and lower, until they disappear out of sight, and hopefully leave their HOF ballots to writers more set to reason. As Anthony Castrovince points out today, they have set themselves a precedent, and to go back on it. This is the Serbonian Bog they have created for themselves, and good luck getting out of it in one piece.
One writer called him a guinea pig, but he is in fact a sacrificial lamb, offered up to heal all wounds from a difficult period, a way of allowing writers, by condemning him as guilty or at least tarnished by the cloud of suspicion, to clear their conscience of wrong-doing, and make it seem like they are the good guys in this fight. They, the writers, were always 100% against steroids usage, and did their best to root it out of the game, and would never condone its' use throughout the game because no proper drugs testing was in place.
By offering Bagwell as a guilty man, they can allow themselves to back-track, and embellish the innocent even more when they roll around. Griffey Jr., the darling of the media, will be lauded as a Steroid Era saint, a man who stayed clean while those around him cheated.
And why are sports writers allowed to do this, because they don't even get called to account by any of their own. When Jeff Pearlman called into question the intregrity of the entire franchise for the better part of a decade, decrying it as a hotbed of cheats and steroids users, not even the Chronicle's own beat-writer, Zachary Levine, had the inclination to stick his head above the parapet and neuter Pearlman's ridiculous and outlandish claims.
Despite heartfelt pleas, Levine responded with "Sorry, I appreciate all the passion, but I'm not going to get involved in anything with other writers."
The third fallacy cooked up in recent days, spelled out by Pearlman, is since Bagwell was part of the union that did nothing on drugs testing, he bears some of the guilt for what followed, and because in his comments he has expressed his sympathy for those who were pushed into taking steroids, he might have been a user.
Sad as these insinuations are, I believe Bagwell's comments, at least in relating to substance abuse, probably have something to do with Ken Caminiti who he played with in Houston for six seasons.
And even more ludicrously, because he has denied using steroids, he probably did use them. "The Lady doth protest too much," you can hear them saying. Although I do not have much sympathy for Mark McGwire, it really makes you wonder, when on the one hand, writers scream for honesty on the topic, and now that McGwire has finally come clean, the writers reward him by a drop in his HOF vote percentage.
The BBWAA is an all boys club anyway, who spend most of their time watching the Yankees and the Red Sox, or the teams on the coast, east and west, and care little for the mid-marketers such as the Astros. But even then, the franchise seems to bring out the worst in other writers, as they look at it with a mixture of scorn and dislike, sneering at what Bagwell, the greatest slugger in the franchise's history, did at the Astrodome, and then at Minute Maid Park (and briefly Enron Field).
Jack Curry, of New York Times, and YES Network fame had this to say on Bagwell: "on Wednesday I spoke to one of Bagwell's former teammates. The player didn't want his name used and didn't want me to write about our conversation, but he gave me some pertinent information on Bagwell. That information will be part of my assessment as I make a decision about Bagwell in 2011."
So, a day that really should have been about Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven, turns into a day spent defending Bagwell from numerous character assassinations from left, right and centre. In the end, is it all worth it? Usually I wouldn't give a damn, as the need for a Hall of Fame is as flawed as the selection process, but this is our guy, the guy who was going to be the first wearing an Astro cap. The unwarranted biased coverage he receives feels like a reflection on the Astros, the Houston area, and even Texas itself (even though I am not of course a resident of the Lone Star State).
With no sense of Larrikinism, some writers have now afforded themselves the un-official title of baseball's custodians, as well as the keepers of the moral conscience of the game. If, at least for a minute, they took themselves less seriously, and took a look at themselves in the mirror, they would see they have already failed baseball. And for no good reason, they've put Jeff Bagwell to the sword.