10:30 am Jan. 10, 2013
The first time I visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, I was six years old.
It was 1986, and it had been a fantastic summer for me. I'd been attending baseball games for several years, but had only just begun to immerse myself in box scores and, really, to understand what was going on on the field.
And the team my father and I rooted for, the New York Mets, managed to win twice as often as they lost that year, played thrilling extra-inning playoff games, and completed the most improbable comeback in any game in World Series history.
And then we went to Cooperstown, and I saw, definitively, how baseball had gotten to be such a great sport. The museum illustrated the good, the bad and the gray area that makes up much of human experience.
Ty Cobb, a vicious racist who was violent, if not homicidal, was in the Hall, just as surely as Christy Mathewson, a great gentleman of early twentieth-century American life. Jackie Robinson was there, and so was Cap Anson, whose bigotry helped to delay Robinson's breakthrough for decades.
My dad showed me all of them. I noted all of them. I took pictures in front of Hank Greenberg's plaque and Duke Snider's, and not Cobb's. But it was all there for me.
Shoeless Joe Jackson's absence was notable precisely because of the singular tragedy of his omission. Learning about the Black Sox scandal was learning a rule, and that was it. Even Pete Rose was recognized by the Hall the first time I visited, for his Ty Cobb-record-breaking hit.
There was no was of knowing that in just a few years, Rose himself would be barred.
By the time we returned in the summer of 1995, I was about to enter high school, and baseball had been through a strike. The givens had disappeared; even a World Series could be canceled. The Mets had never come close to replicating what they did a decade earlier, when I first started caring about baseball, and thought my team would win every year.
But the Hall of Fame was a respite from all that. It was bigger.
Someday, I plan to take my daughter to Cooperstown. But if the Hall of Fame doesn't alter its current course, it will not exist for her as it did for me when I was little.
By failing to elect anyone this year, despite a ballot including arguably the game's greatest hitter (Barry Bonds) and pitcher (Roger Clemens) in history, the best-hitting catcher this side of Josh Gibson (Mike Piazza), was well as numerous other elite players from Craig Biggio to Tim Raines, the Baseball Writers' Association of America is taking the Hall of Fame, the definitive museum of baseball, and making it into something else.
Barry Bonds was a cheater, but he dominated baseball over a period of years. The Hall needs to account for him. And then when my daughter and I pass the Barry Bonds plaque without posing in front of it, I can tell her about the time I saw Bobby Jones induce Bonds to fly out weakly to preserve a one-hitter at Shea Stadium in the 2000 National League playoffs.
I don't even know what I'll tell her if Mike Piazza hasn't gotten in by the time we go. Who wants to have to explain to a little girl how innuendo alone can keep the best-hitting catcher in major league history from being recognized?
Some of the giants of baseball journalism understand this, that the Hall of Fame needs a course correction.
Cooperstown isn't exactly close to lots of things. People go there because it is a necessary place to visit in order to understand the history of baseball. To sacrifice that in pursuit of some mythical standard of purity that baseball never actually met would be a shame.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Carmelo Anthony's pursuit of further conversation with Kevin Garnett will cost him; he's been suspended for one game.
St. John's dropped one it shouldn't have, at home to Rutgers.
Seton Hall played Louisville tough, but faded late.