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I love and cherish the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Nothing pleases me more than wandering among its displays and glass cases, making sure that Cool Papa Bell's sunglasses and Shoeless Joe Jackson's shoes are still there.
My devotion only deepens every time I amble through the chapel-like gallery, marveling at the variety of talents (Keeler, Kiner, Koufax) and eras (Mathewson, Mathews, Molitor) represented by the bronze plaques. And then I'll walk outside onto Main Street of Cooperstown, one of the most beautiful places on earth.
It's a reverie I keep with me 364 days of the year. As for No. 365, that's the day -- today -- that the voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America is announced. It used to bring me outrage -- the F in HOF stood for Fallacy, I used to think. Even in the pre-steroid era, I was baffled by who got the call and who became the recipient of that old country song lyric: "When your phone don't ring, it'll be me."
But nowadays, that fury has been replaced by fear. I want the HOF to mean something, to bring out the best in the people who vote for the best. But when one voter puts Jack Morris on his ballot and nobody else, and another writes down Rafael Palmeiro and not Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens and yet another makes a mockery of the privilege by selling the vote to Deadspin (which turned out to be Dan Le Batard), I realize the HOF vote is no longer about honoring baseball. It's about arguing over it. Some boob voted for 148-game winner Aaron Sele last year. Another stooge voted for Jacque Jones this year. What if the Jacque-backer didn't vote for Craig Biggio, who came up two votes short?
The dysfunctional and anachronistic voting process has rendered the institution irrelevant. Surely, there were more than three worthy inductees on this remarkably rich slate. And here's where my fury gives way to fear.
What if there were another shrine to the game? What if an entrepreneur came along and decided to erect a temple that better reflected reality, made history more readily accessible, catered to a new generation of fans?
|What if holograms instead of plaques entertained visitors?|
What if this new place -- call it National Pastime -- were built in a warm-weather destination near other attractions and a major airport?
What if it celebrated Ruth and Rose and Ryan and didn't bother with Faber and Ferrell and Flick?
What if it relied not on the subjectivity of writers bearing agendas, or on the strictures of moralist scolds (like myself), but on the objectivity of numbers, like 300 wins, 500 home runs, 3,000 hits? Roger Clemens, come on in. Candy Cummings, not so fast.
What if it held its induction ceremony in a sweet spot like February, when not much is going on, or better (worse) yet, what if it went head-to-head with the HOF, offering appearance fees to upstage Cooperstown?
What if another year comes along when someone like Deacon White is the sole HOF player, and Legends Park, or whatever, goes deep with Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa?
What if it waived the five-year wait, knowing that it didn't need a bunch of writers to tell people that certain players -- Derek Jeter, for instance -- were worthy of inclusion?
What if instead of plaques, it had holograms of the game's legends? What if it made use of technology and creativity to put visitors right in the dugout to sit beside Casey Stengel and watch Mickey Mantle play?
What if its tribute to the game were less like a mausoleum that honored the dead and more like an interactive theme park that could show you what it was like to face Sandy Koufax?
What if on any given day, a famous ballplayer or manager were there to tell stories, answer questions, sign autographs? (Now Appearing: Mike Piazza.)
There would be problems, of course. Major League Baseball would surely fight such a venture, wielding copyright laws and making its displeasure known to the baseball stars tempted by the venture. But hey, a critical mass of pariahs has already been assembled.
Don't get me wrong. Truth be told, I don't want to see such a palace -- Home Plate? -- built. The Shangri-La we have is Shangri-La enough.
But I do want the so-called guardians of baseball to realize that they are hurting the game by turning it into an internecine War of the Nerds. Don't deny Biggio because of some arcane reason or twisted math. He had 3,000 hits, for heaven's sake. Don't let another worthy like Ron Santo die without giving him his day.
Don't turn the game from a timeless passion into a moot court.
Make the F about their Fame and not your Folly.
And ask yourself: What if paradise gets lost because of your reluctance to change?