Road to Cooperstown sometimes muddy

Next week, major league baseball writers will announce which player(s), if any, are going to Cooperstown. That’s where the Baseball Hall of Fame is, with a membership probably more exclusive than any yacht club or Augusta National, home of golf’s Masters.

Players are dying to get into Cooperstown. In fact, many have. Most posthumous additions make it via what is called the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee.

I have a problem with sports halls of fame, especially the one in Cooperstown, because of the word “fame.” If only it was called the Baseball Historical Society.

“Fame” takes it to another level.

If a player is “famous” for what he does on the field, he belongs. Period. Many years ago, I was mystified why Hack Wilson of the Chicago Cubs wasn’t there. He held the National League home run record (56). He still holds the major-league record for runs batted in, 89 years after he retired. The record was 190 until some historian years ago found another one, and it became 191. Maybe that’s all Hack needed to become famous enough — one more RBI — because they let him in three decades years he died.

Then there’s Pete Rose.

Lots of us don’t like Rose, for a myriad of reasons. But among his 23 major-league records were more games, more at-bats and more hits (4,256) than any player, ever. He was a key component of Cincinnati’s championship Big Red Machine. However, he’s not famous enough to be in the Hall of “Fame” because he gambled. Curious, isn’t it, that baseball now happily markets and sponsors its game with gamblers — partnered with sports books?

Rose the ballplayer belongs in Cooperstown.

So do Barry Bonds, Roger Clemons, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, all of whom did time — 15 years on the list of candidates — and all of whom have been denied because they’re suspects from the steroid era. Another performance enhancing drugs prospect, Alex Rodriguez, may benefit from the distance between his alleged PED past and the vote (he’s currently at 34.3 per cent).

But baseball writers clearly have long memories, and a 75 per cent “yes” vote is required. Getting there is laborious. Canada’s best player, Larry Walker, was at just 11.8 per cent after five years on the ballot. Five years after that, 2020, he was at 76.6 per cent and headed for Cooperstown.

“It’s like you’re a better player 10 years after you retired than you were when you played,” Duke Snider used to say. The former Dodgers’ star and Montreal Expos broadcaster, whose induction I attended in 1980, required 11 years of eligibility.

Like most famous players, Snider’s closet was relatively skeleton-free. The same cannot be said for Rose, Bonds, Clemons and friends. There is no doubt they all brought a degree of disrespect, or worse, to their chosen sport, and rewarding any illegal activity is always wrong.

So here’s my suggestion…

Take all the players who qualify for the hall because their performance — on the field — made them famous and put them in a special room. It could be Cooperstown’s Hall of Shame. It could be in the basement, or the dungeon. Call it a jail. At least they’d get what they deserved…on two counts.