The last few weeks of my brief but exciting time as a sports journalist have been spent talking a lot about the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and lobbying for one Dale Murphy to finally be elected in his 15th and final year of eligibility.
I’ve penned columns condemning players who were implicated in the so-called “steroids era”, and I’ve taken to the airwaves waving my flags and trying to make my voice heard to those who are the gatekeepers to the sacred cathedral in Cooperstown.
Honestly, before today’s announcement by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) of who was (and wasn’t) elected into the Hall of Fame, I expected the worse. I figured Dale Murphy would once again be overlooked, and that one or more of the sordid group of possible cheaters including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa would be elected.
My blood was boiling before the news on the ballots even hit the streets.
Just as the news was breaking that nobody had received the necessary 75% of the votes to be elected, I felt a combined sense of relief and anger. I thought about the disservice that had been done to great players like Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Mike Piazza and of course my beloved Murphy.
I had my laptop out, and was ready to begin skewering those who voted so poorly. This column was going to take a completely different direction, until…
I flipped on the television for a little white noise while I worked. Usually my set lives on one or other of the numerous sports networks that are found around the end of the channel listings, but this time it wasn’t. I guess I had been vegetating to a movie at some point today, and my TV was tuned to one of the premium movie channels.
I saw Kevin Costner in the Detroit Tigers uniform, and heard the familiar music backdropping the grandiose voice of Vin Scully. It took me all of about five seconds to know what I had stumbled upon.
It was For the Love of the Game.
Certainly not the greatest baseball movie ever made, but it has a lot of redeeming qualities, and it’s just one of those movies that I can’t not watch when I see it on. My column would wait a little while.
As I watched the movie and reflected on the plot which I knew so well, it suddenly dawned on me. THIS is what was important in baseball. The stories, the moments, the ability for a player to do something he’s never done before, and for a team (as it was put so eloquently in the film) to be “the best team in baseball, right now, right this minute.”
All of us who follow baseball had or have heroes, and believe me when I tell you that at some point in their career they were, or will be, the best player in the game that day, that minute. Your team will be the best team in baseball for that moment because of that player. Those moments are why baseball is so intoxicating, and why the close relationship between the fan and the player is unlike any other sport.
I get wrapped up in football, because of the speed, the excitement, the supercharged massive athletes doing unbelievable things with their bodies and to their opponents bodies. But I love baseball, in a way that is just sometimes too difficult to put into words. It becomes a part of you, on a daily basis. When baseball is in your soul, you can never shake it.
The writers who decide the fate of those who could be called “Hall of Famers” have this feeling as well. I’m sure of it. You can’t cover this sport as deeply as they do and not have it reach down and tear your guts out, or lift your spirits up so high you have to look down to see heaven.
I’m not angry anymore, and I’m not disappointed. Those who deserve to be enshrined probably will be, whether through the writer’s electoral process or through the veteran’s committee. And those who many of us feel do not belong will have their feats and accomplishments in some way placed in Cooperstown, even if their plaque is not.
If your hero wasn’t elected, do not dismay. He’s still your hero. He’s still the best player you ever saw play the game, and was the reason you loved your team. What the voters say can never change that.
“And you know Steve you get the feeling that Billy Chapel isn’t pitching against left handers, he isn’t pitching against pinch hitters, he isn’t pitching against the Yankees. He’s pitching against time. He’s pitching against the future, against age, and even when you think about his career, against ending. And tonight I think he might be able to use that aching old arm one more time to push the sun back up in the sky and give us one more day of summer” – Vin Scully, in For the Love of the Game