Commentary

As Baseball’s Hall likely welcomes David Ortiz, a plea for him not to enter alone

Baseball Hall of Fame
The Baseball Hall of Fame will likely welcome David Ortiz to its membership this summer, but he shouldn't enter alone. Hans Pennink/Associated Press

We have been doing this since the days of Barbaro and Taylor Hicks. Since Pluto ceased to be a planet and Hank Aaron ceased to stand alone above Babe Ruth.

In January 2006, Bruce Sutter reached the Hall of Fame on his 13th shot. The splitter maven was the lone player to reach 75 percent of the Baseball Writers Association of America vote, though seven others on that ballot — including Jim Rice — eventually earned induction through various routes.

It was a grumble-heavy election by the standards of the day. Sutter was only the fourth relief pitcher to make the Hall and the first without a single start in his career. His nod before Goose Gossage, who played a decade longer and was pretty clearly more dominant, peeved off those who weren’t already, ugh, a part-time pitcher got in.

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Two months later, “Game of Shadows” came out, laying bare the story of BALCO and Barry Bonds. Two months after that, Bonds passed Ruth. And come Thanksgiving, the 2007 Hall of Fame ballots went out as the first to include Mark McGwire as a candidate.

“The voting hot potato,” the Globe‘s Bob Ryan wrote in the sort of treatise we know all too well today.

Tuesday will be the 16th election since that potato, and we’re still just out here mashing it to paste with our collective foreheads.

In New England, it figures to be a day of celebration. With roughly 50 percent of the presumed ballots publicly revealed and tabulated thanks to the essential Ryan Thibodaux, David Ortiz (84.4 percent, or 162 of 182) is the only player safely above the needed threshhold.

As my colleague Chad Finn put it, Ortiz is “one of the easiest yes votes” in recent history, the DH and PED arguments against him easily dismissed and not close to erasing his place as one of the game’s brightest lights the past 20 years. When you watched him, you knew you were watching a Hall of Famer.

Of course, such things don’t carry the weight they used to. Consider the list of highest-cumulative WAR since 1986, the year McGwire debuted, as calculated by Baseball Reference:

  1. Barry Bonds — 162.7
  2. Roger Clemens — 134.2
  3. Alex Rodriguez — 117.5

None figure to join Ortiz on stage in July. Bonds (on 78.1 percent of public ballots) and Clemens (77.1) should fade below the 75-percent line in their last cracks with the writers when the non-public ballots are included, and the first go for Rodriguez (39.1) will put him right about where the other two started 10 years ago.

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This isn’t a treatise about them: I did that last year, and it yielded me an email that began, “You are [a] disgusting loathsome human being.” (Because I’m a weirdo, I laughed, and we’ve been amiably going back and forth for a month.)

If the trio never have their day? They earned that, however you feel about them. But the loser here, similarly, remains us.

That 35-year block encompassed above essentially matches my baseball-watching career. We have seen some all-time greats. Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Pedro. Griffey. Pujols. Go on if you wish … it beats just staring out the window waiting for the next Wordle to go live.

Only one player has seven MVP awards. Only one has seven Cy Youngs. How do you tell the story of the sport without those two?

The answer, of course, is you sanitize it. That’s the Hall’s stock and trade, the “spiritual home of the game” today calling itself such because even it can’t keep perpetuating the Doubleday Myth anymore.

As the world has changed these past 16 years, my anger about this has mercifully cooled to chronic January annoyance. (Among the saving graces of a world overflowing with actual problems!) Ultimately, I am at peace Cooperstown will never be the things I want it to be.

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It can not be a small Hall reserved for the no doubters, because the political/crony inductions date just about to the birth of the place. And why tell baseball’s unvarnished story when being the game “spiritual home” has proven good enough?

“The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s mission is to Preserve History,” the introduction to the Plaque Gallery reads, in part, “which is what we seek to do throughout the Museum.”

No. Cooperstown is a myth machine first. A better one than most, mind you, and one I can’t fault a soul for getting swept up in. I just … the world needs more uncomfortable history. We are festooned with myth. We’re way too good at smoothing the edges and believing the legend.

We need better. Our little sports bubble is no different.

The time I’ve spent avoiding half-informed discussion of the lockout this winter has been filled, in part, by “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty,” Charles Leerhsen’s engrossing 2015 biography that challenges — with a clear head and abundant citation — essentially every modern recollection of a Mount Rushmore player.

Was Cobb hot-tempered and thin skinned? Unquestionably. But he wasn’t dirty and didn’t use his spikes as weapons. He wasn’t hated universally by teammates and peers. And he was far less miserly, backwater Georgia bigot, and far more well-read son of abolitionists done wrong by decades of fables.

“They loved the idea of a monster running around in the baseball world,” Leerhsen told WBUR in 2015, the latest to argue Cobb’s autobiographer Al Stump barely spoke to the legend before his 1961 death and made up stories about Cobb to boost sales.

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Nothing the BBWAA voters and Hall do today will reach that level of shame, but we will move a step closer to Cooperstown being majority hagiography. We know baseball looked the other way for far too long during the Steroid Era, unable or unwilling to fight the fight when there was so much short-term money to be made.

Some things never change, I guess. Among them: Those three are among the best we’ll ever see on a diamond. Disgust with their choices, understandable as it is, doesn’t change that.

They belong, warts and all. Don’t tell us a story. Tell us the story.

Or let that potato keep rotting until it ruins the whole bag.

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