From the number of days until pitchers and catchers report back to Spring Training to the number of days until the first Spring Training games and the the regular season itself; now we’ve left last year behind they seem to tick down all the more quickly.
It’s a shame therefore that at the stage when we should be getting more excited by the day, we’ve just had a week that was so depressing.
The announcement of the next Hall of Fame class should be a time of celebration; instead, it was swamped by bitter arguments and negativity. There was a brief moment when happiness for new inductees Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas shone through, but it didn’t last long. Even Maddux’s rightful overwhelming election at the first time of asking left the focus on the 2.8% of voters who didn’t tick his name, rather than the 97.2% that did.
Debating the merits of players has always been a lively and, at times, vociferous activity in every sport and it’s popular because it’s normally so much fun; however, you’d have to be a masochist to have considered this year’s voting debate as anything resembling fun.
Plenty of columnists and bloggers have reflected on the debacle with thoughts on how the process could be improved, which would seem a more constructive development were it not dulled by the knowledge that the same reaction happens every year with little to show for it.
The harsh reality is that the problems are caused by something that can never be fixed: an era of alleged considerable drug-use during which no drug-testing was conducted. None of the possible solutions – voting for no one from the era, voting for everyone or voting based on rumours and gut instinct – are particularly palatable. It’s a mess and it’s one of our own making.
Whether through active involvement or a decision to look the other way, everyone in baseball played a part, from the MLB Commissioner’s Office to the players, writers and fans.
Through sheer chance I happened to start following baseball in 1998 and whilst my natural cynicism made me look at bodies of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa with a raised eyebrow, I shrugged my shoulders and allowed myself to get swept up in the incredible drama and excitement created by their ‘run for 61’. Had I not, perhaps the spark of curiosity at this new sport would not have developed into my love of baseball that has provided so much enjoyment ever since.
When I weigh up all the factors – even that the lack of drug-testing gave a measure of quiet endorsement for those that wanted to follow that path – I still would feel uncomfortable at someone receiving the accolade of a Hall of Famer when they had deliberately tried to gain an advantage over others through drug-use. And yet, I recognise the hypocrisy of that position. Do I have the right to hold players to that standard now when I pushed aside suspicions and enjoyed their achievements at the time?
The other main ‘drug news’ of the week – Alex Rodriguez being suspended for the entire 2014 season – shows that the difficulties are not over yet either.
The case against Rodriguez – his admission of drug use from 2001 to 2003 and now this latest unseemly Biogenesis affair – has likely already sealed his Hall of Shame fate, but if the voters are cautious about the candidacies of the likes of Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza because they don’t have years of ‘clean’ drug tests to point to, how does that tally with the fact that Rodriguez has had nothing but ‘clean’ results since the full drug-testing programme came into effect in 2004?
On that basis, if you don’t want to risk voting for a potential ‘drug cheat’, it could be argued that you cannot vote for anyone anymore. Clearly that would be an untenable position so what’s left is either voting people in irrespective of any drug-use doubts or taking a stance on every individual case based, in the vast majority of cases, on nothing more than rumour and suspicion.
With those being the options available, you can expect the Hall of Fame voting process to be an annual heart-wrenching argument for years to come.