I wrote this article in April 2011, following a trip to the HOF with my family. Following the news of the upholding of Pete Rose's permanent ban, I thought it might be interesting to repost this. Originally published on ESPN here. --Jason
This past weekend, I visited baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. This was not my first time there, but it was my first trip with my two sons, now ages 11 and 8. I was curious to see the Hall in a different way, through the eyes of my children.
I left thinking about the official name of the building -- the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I left realizing that the official name of the building -- the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum -- has a very big word in the middle of it that most people seem to ignore: "and." Mostly I write about the building from a distance, and when I do, I focus on the first part of the building’s name, about who should be admitted into the Hall and who should not. But when I am inside the building, it's the museum part that takes over. I enjoy the plaques, but for me the real interest lies in reliving the moments that first drew me to the game and those that have kept me in its clutches since.
On the other hand, I paused at the museum’s display of the hate mail directed at Jackie Robinson and was left slack-jawed. The violence expressed in these letters is a part of our history, a tragic part, but a part that needs to be remembered. These were not proud moments for America or for baseball. However, we need to see and remember the good and the bad.
It’s wonderful that the Hall of Fame documents the history of baseball, even the worst parts. This is the part of the mission of the Hall that we don’t talk much about. We talk about how Pete Rose should or should not be in the Hall of Fame, but Rose already is represented -- in the museum. So is Manny Ramirez. So is Barry Bonds. Their memorabilia feature prominently in exhibits in the museum, even if their plaques aren't (and won't) be hanging in the Gallery. I was able to point my boys to Rose’s jersey in an exhibit and explain to them who he was, what he did on the field and the things he did off the field which keep him otherwise outside this institution.
As I walked through the Hall, I thought about whether this is the best way to remember players who had Hall of Fame-quality careers but whose involvement with performance-enhancing drugs will likely prevent them from being inducted into the Hall. I won’t argue here whether this ban is right or wrong; I simply assume that the ban will continue for quite some time. So long as the ban is in place, players like Bonds and Ramirez are represented by the bats they used, the balls they hit, and the helmets they wore. If you want to see Manny’s 2004 tarred-up helmet, it’s there on display but it doesn’t tell Manny’s whole story.
I think if we’re going to ban the better part of a generation of baseball players from admission to the Hall of Fame, then the Hall should dedicate permanent exhibit space to an explanation of the ban. If it’s cheating we mean to condemn, then let’s have the Hall devote exhibit space to condemn the cheaters -- of all the cheaters, not just the guys who took drugs, but the guys who bet on baseball and threw baseball games, even the guys who scuffed up the baseball when no one was looking. If we mean to condemn the misuse of prescription and recreational drugs, then let’s devote exhibit space to this, too.
It might be that we don’t agree on the reasons for the ban, or whether there should be a ban at all. We’ve said for years that it would take time to develop the perspective necessary to understand the so-called steroids era. Well, we’ve had time. Let’s present all views and let the museum-goers reach their own conclusions.
If we’re going to ban the better part of a baseball generation from the Hall, it’s going to leave a gaping hole in the Hall’s gallery of baseball greats. Perhaps the big names from the Steroid Era will never be elected to the Hall. That doesn't mean their stories and stats and memories should be struck from the baseball consciousness -- we still need to tell their stories. You don’t leave a hole in an historic site without an explanation. An exhibit explaining steroids would at least give me a place to take my sons and tell them the story of how baseball was played when I was a young adult. That’s a good story, an interesting one, full of ups and downs, with its share of villains and fallen heroes. It's a story worth telling.