Who belongs in baseball's Hall of Fame? When the baseball writers of America tell us who they think does and doesn't, they're breaking an important news story. That's because the baseball writers don't just think, they decide: the immortality of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and every other candidate is in their hands.
The Tribune's Phil Rogers allows that he's perplexed. "In regard to knowing how to treat known users of banned drugs designed to enhance performance, the best we can do is follow outdated instructions that say 'integrity' is among the factors to be weighed," he wrote last week. "In terms of knowing who did what and who was clean—well, at least as clean as the guys who gobbled amphetamines and are already in the Hall (pretty much everyone who played after the Vietnam War)—this is truly an exercise in the blind leading the blind."
The Sun-Times's Rick Morrissey allows that he's concerned other baseball writers are starting to let their standards slip. "I don't care if 'everybody was using steroids at the time,'" he wrote on Sunday. "I care that these frauds [he named Sosa, Bonds, and Clemens] want to be in the Hall of Fame and that because of revisionist history, time healing all wounds or convenient amnesia, some Hall of Fame voters are looking away from the truth. I care that someday those voters might be in the majority."
Not around the Tribune they won't. The paper polled the seven sportswriters it publishes who are eligible to vote for new members of the Hall of Fame. "Will you vote for Sosa (eligible for the first time this year)?" they were asked. All seven said no. "Most suggested he will never get their approval," reported the Tribune.
Every year the story of who, why, and why not falls into the baseball writer's lap. In like fashion, every year I get to dash off a screed observing that the larger question that never gets asked is why it's appropriate for journalists to be making news as well as reporting it. Here's a long screed. Here's a quickie.
I'll give baseball writers this: they're surely more thoughtful, knowledgeable, and scrupulous than just about anyone else who might be asked to pick Hall of Famers (though it would be interesting to turn the job over to Bill James and Nate Silver). But what of it? The classic division of responsibility in this world of ours is that reporters report and the institutions they cover stew in their own juices.
Another observation: Hall of Fame voters are members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who have been "active baseball writers for at least ten (10) years." It doesn't matter how long ago, and because perspective contributes to wisdom perhaps it shouldn't. But the Tribune admitted in its roundup that it had been many years since some of its seven baseball writers actually covered baseball. Most noticeably, Olympics reporter Philip Hersh "worked the Cubs and White Sox beats in the 1970s and '80s."
Though we must give Hersh this: His present beat guarantees he's an expert on doping.