Wednesday’s Book Review: “Cooperstown Confidential: Heroes, Rogues, and the Inside Story of the Baseball Hall of Fame”

Cooperstown ConfidentialCooperstown Confidential: Heroes, Rogues, and the Inside Story of the Baseball Hall of Fame. By Zev Chafets. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009.

I have enjoyed the National Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (HoF) for many years, having visited there several times. This book promised to reveal something about the gang of superb baseball players ensconced there; many of whom were also rogues while only a few were heroes. What I really learned here was what I already knew. There are a lot of great players who were not so good at life. Everyone knows about Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. Both drank, caroused, and gambled with the best of them. Cobb was an unreconstructed rebel whose racism was legion. Ruth’s appetites were so base that they would shock even those who were close to him. Rogers Hornsby and many others were best characterized a dicks; bunches of them, including Joe DiMaggio, had ties to gamblers and organized crime. Many great ballplayers have not been equally great at life. Other players, such as Cal Ripken Jr., Stan Musial, and Christy Mathewson, have squeaky-clean images. Their actual lives seem to match their images.

One of the most important themes of this book is that there are many rogues in the HoF; of course we already knew that. Some great ballplayers that have been exposed as less than stellar human beings have been barred from entry. Chafets profiles Steve Garvey, who has been denied entry despite his comparable statistics to many already in the hallowed Hall. Others, such as former MLB Players Association executive director, Marvin Miller, were repeatedly denied election to the hall for no reason other than that his superb leadership of the players ticked off every owner for a quarter century. There is no doubt that Miller had a profound impact on the game, perhaps the greatest impact of anyone in the latter half of the twentieth century, yet he ended his life still outside the HoF.

Chavets, of course, covers all of the various ironies of the Hall. This includes the pricks who are ensconced, the large number of marginal candidates admitted by the veterans committee, the attempts to overcome the racism of the past by inducting several great Negro Leagues players, the special case of Pete Rose, and especially the really difficult problem of PED use and how it will affect future voting. Through all of this the Baseball Writers Association, the group that votes on inductees with virtually no guidance from the MLB, looms large as a fickle, petty, and poorly prepared group to vote on the HoF.

Already we have seen players whose statistics are clearly Hall caliber passed over because of the suspicion of PED use. Never mind that many of the steroids used were neither illegal nor banned by MLB when the players were using. Never mind that there is no evidence implicating some of the players passed over. I could start with Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, and Jeff Bagwell but there are several others for which there is really no evidence other than hearsay, third-hand reports, and no attempt at a legitimate investigation. I could go much further, especially concerning Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, and Roger Clemons, to say nothing of many others yet to be a part of the balloting process.

Chavets believes that the HoF should eliminate a clause in his charter that discusses a player’s character. I agree. Someone got all of those hits, homeruns, and chalked up all those wins. Those people rise to the level of a HoFer and should be inducted on into the Hall on that basis. If we want to enforce a morals clause on those inducted, the Hall will hold only a very small group.

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