Mark McGwire is the point of the Baseball Hall of Fame

Christian Petersen

While SB Nation worked out our back-end issues, I watched this conversation spring up on Twitter:

I'll let Our Own Il Rosso explain exactly why he's fine with it, but some others (including Our Own IHeartBoog) have suggested that they're fine with it in large part because they're tired of the Hall of Fame, which unless you actually visit Cooperstown (and you should) is little more than a metonym for baseball's inexhaustible tire-fire of a culture war. When we talk about Mike Mussina and Jack Morris now we're doing it not because we loved to watch them play and they moved us for some reason but because Jack Morris stands for Grit and Actually Watching A Game For Once and Mike Mussina Actually Reading A Baseball-Reference Page For Once.

The dirty non-secret of the Hall of Fame is that it is not about either of those things and it never has been. It's been fueled by those things; Ty Cobb beating Babe Ruth into the first class by seven votes feels like the kind of win the Jack Morrises would take as a broad victory against the Mike Mussinas. The very location of the Hall was the result of years of Abner Doubleday partisanship and hagiography.

It's built on those things, then, and those things accrete into every new era that shapes the plaque room. But the partisans themselves, if they ever make it up there, can't often be excited about what all their rancor and generalizations have built. Baseball's Hall of Fame is a mess, and it makes no coherent statement. Candy Cummings is in there for maybe inventing the curveball, but Jim Creighton isn't in there for probably inventing the fastball. Ross Youngs is in there for dying young and leaving memories that were fading and dying out even as his aging ex-teammates pushed him up through the Veteran's Committee. Alexander Cartwright is there as a sop to the Real history of baseball even though his own claim on its invention has been researched into nonexistence.

You'll find Cap Anson, who "deserves some of the blame for baseball's color line," and Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey, who deserve much of the blame for obliterating it. You'll find individuals, basically—not swelling cultural forces and capital-letter virtues like Rationalism and Hustle but people with interesting stories who left a particular mark on other people, both the boring culture-warriors who eventually simplify them enough to get them inducted and the fans who might someday go to Cooperstown themselves, and who are struck by these individuals as children or adults in a way that resonates as long as they go to baseball games.

Mark McGwire is a strange but probably solid peak-first Hall of Fame case, if you like Rationalism. He used steroids if you like Hustle. If you were alive in 1998, and watching baseball, he was just wonderful. I'm tired of talking about it, and whatever happens in the voting I'll be fine with it. But the next time I go to Cooperstown and visit the real Hall of Fame, our collective best effort at explaining 150 years of all kinds of different people loving baseball, I hope I'll see him there, whoever's on the plaques next to him.

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