Despite the proliferation of Spring Training countdowns on social media these days, the news from labor negotiations in New York has been discouraging.
While some progress was reported after players returned to the table with their latest proposals Tuesday, the two sides still remained far apart on core economic issues, and ownership raised the possibility of missing games rather than ending their eight-week lockout. So it appears likely that a tactic of dehumanizing and devaluing players will, in fact, at least delay some of the rites of spring.
This was only the appetizer for the big baseball news, that of the 30 players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, only David Ortiz passed muster with the baseball writers who vote on the honor.
There’s no doubt Big Papi is a truly deserving first-ballot Hall of Famer, but it’s a shame he had to be the only one elected. While the Hall off Fame election is by its very nature an exclusive process, this year’s results, especially, continue a history of exclusion that’s almost as old as the game itself. The tactics and attitudes of the labor dispute aren’t helping the situation.
Baseball fans today can visit a league website stripped of current player images and read about a Hall of Fame that does not include the sport’s top home-run hitter and its most decorated pitcher. While different people are reponsible for this farcical reality, it’s the same concept of pettiness and exclusion that drives them.
Even the very best baseball players are people — regular human beings. Inscribing their names and images on plaques does not deify or even canonize them — it recognizes and even documents the special place each has in the histiory of the game.
Electing players to the Hall of Fame who used, or are even suspected of PED use, does not justify or legitimize their crimes against baseball. But it perpectates an even bigger crime against generations of baseball fans who will never get the complete story of the game they love from the institution that claims to treasure its history.
We can acknowledge that the best players of their era used PEDs, just like we can acknowledge that many players who are already enshrined used amphetamines, struggled with alcohol and other substances, stole signs and worse.
Keeping Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and other suspected PED users out of Cooperstown is like taking a sharpie to the story of baseball in the early part of the 21st Century and redacting their names. No exhibit on “the steroid era,” no look at the dangers of PEDs, no examinaton of baseball at any level can tell the complete story without revealing their roles and documenting their dominance of their positions during the era.
The most compelling stories are those about people, especially people who have flaws and weaknesses. Those stories can’t be told by pretending those people never existed. That only serves to obfuscate and confuse history.
The voters who would edit history and redact names operated with the same pettiness as the commissioner and owners who scrub their websites of photos and news about current players.
Such a draconian bargaining tactic continues a long hisitory of exclusion and dehumanization of players, dating back to the days of racial segregation, through the end of the “reserve clause” in player contracts and the advent of free agency.
The easiest conclusion to draw is that with Spring Training unlikely and the game’s history seemingly being sanitized, it’s current and future baseball fans who lose on both counts. The harder one is whether anyone will learn from this debacle and turn the game onto a course for a less divisive and more inclusive future.