We can allow that honesty to seep into the gallery in all sorts of ways -- in the kind of informational posters Bob Costas has proposed, even in the wording of the plaques themselves. If we're going to allow Barry Bonds and Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame, the world should know everything they did, not just the good stuff. That would, and should, be a mandatory condition.
But is that what we want? Or would we rather have a Hall of Fame that allows such gaping holes in history that it's willing to pretend all these men who towered over their sport never even existed?
Maybe we would. You tell us (email@example.com). But as one friend of ours put it: "Go to any history museum. You see guys like Genghis Khan in there. It's not all good guys."—Jayson Stark, 4/16/2011
I don't think much about the Hall of Fame. Granted, I'm not the biggest baseball fan in the world; I love it, I love my team and I love great pitchers, and I love its history and stories, but for some reason, I don't often think about the Hall of Fame.
When I do, I think of it as the place where a special bat goes, or this guy's pair of cleats, or the scorecard from a perfect game. That's usually when I think of it, after a perfect game; maybe not the most special event in baseball, but the one that's most legendary to me.
Jayson Stark, when he wants to, can bring up questions worth pondering. Until he pointed out this dichotomy—museum vs. shrine—I never realized what I considered the Hall of Fame to be.
As someone who has noted the decline of religion in the West, and as someone who follows the movie industry, I've sometimes commented on the similarity between the grief and nostalgia of those who wish more people attended church, and those who wish more people went to the movies. They're both looking for the same atmosphere, the same security, that of many people coming together to worship. In some ways it's the same for baseball, and the Hall of Fame is the refuge of a certain kind of sanctity.
I'm not the first person to observe the religious nature of sports, or to use the phrase "the church of baseball." (I'm looking at you, W.P. Kinsella.) The urge to admit only the exemplary to the Hall of Fame is the urge to have a canon of saints to admire and emulate. To revere. But reverence is a construct of the one who reveres. I'm not a supplicant to the church of baseball; I guess my religious impulses are all spent on religion. I don't dream, as Stark says many do, of making a hajj to Cooperstown and meditate on the records of the immortals. But I do go to a ballgame.
I once debated with a friend about the importance of the so-called Holy Places in Jerusalem. I argued they were significant and worthy of reverence, but not truly important, let alone essential, since the true locus of worship is local, even personal. I think similarly when it comes to baseball. Cooperstown is not the location of that love; my local ballpark is.
So I say, let Cooperstown be a museum. Or, if that seems too irreverent, a monument. Nixon's presidential library just recently unveiled a well-reviewed in-depth exhibit on Watergate well beyond the whitewashed wishes of its namesake and subject. Put in Bonds, and Clemens, and yes Ramirez if you have to, and Rose and Jackson too; tell the whole history of the game, and keep collecting the artifacts, which to me are more important. The lineup cards from perfect games. Aubrey Huff's thong. The integrity of the Hall of Fame can only be strengthened by the integrity of the whole truth.