There are two great things to come out of the month of January.
First, the holiday season is over. Bring on spring, then summer!
Second, the Baseball Hall Of Fame voting and voting results (1 p.m. on MLB Network). This event kick-starts the baseball season by creating the passionate discussion and debate that is the staple of SB Nation and SB Nation New York.
Just like shots of Patron help a Jersey Shore bar turn into a slugfest, baseball has a great ability to turn a regular sports discussion into a heated debate. However, instead of shot glasses, drink mixers or fists flying every which way; it's home runs, batting average, sabermetrics stats and personal accounts that are used to persuade the other fan into giving into an opinion -- being 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, I'd prefer most fights were solved this way.
For the past three days, baseball enthusiasts have been bombarded by columns from members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, who have earned the right to cast ballots for the 2011 Hall Of Fame Class.
(Here are a couple good ones by ESPN's Jason Stark and SI.com's Tom Verducci.)
Those members who break down their ballots do the casual baseball fan a big favor.
First, they educate the masses on why a player should or should not be a Hall Of Famer. Most writers do this by giving evidence -- stats, comparisons to other Hall Of Famers, etc. -- that give common readers an idea of what separates a player from being very good to great to Hall Of Fame worthy.
Second, it lays their opinion out there despite knowing that backlash from so-called educated fans who have a keyboard will come. And oh, it will come.
However, there are members of the BBWAA who maintain their silence, and frankly that silence is killing baseball. Especially now, with the steroid era slowly casting its shadow over the mythical town called Cooperstown.
How are these mum voters killing baseball?
Well, I am assuming that most of those silent vote-casters -- and I could be wrong but feel confident enough to type this statement -- are the same ones not even considering, not even willing to have a discussion about, putting steroid users or blacklisted "users" into the Hall Of Fame.
This type of black-and-white thinking will keep younger fans from becoming diehards.
How can I make such a blanket statement?
It's because the next generation of fans (I am talking about kids from the ages of zero to 17 years of age) are and will be much more tolerant and forgiving than the generation presently voting players into the Hall Of Fame.
Just think, 10 years from now you will be telling your nephews or nieces about player X or Y and how great they were when you watched them at their peak.
The question will then come up: "If they were so good how come they're not in the Hall Of Fame?"
You'll pause and answer, "Well, because the Hall Of Fame voters think that (insert player's name) used steroids. So, they won't vote for him."
"That's silly," he or she will answer back.
Educated or not, their answer will be simple and to the point. Hall Of Fame voting is slowly becoming a selfish, silly display. And it's going to get worse in the next 10 years. That's of course if thinking doesn't change.
Now, I am not saying that a Hall Of Fame caliber player who, tested positive for steroids (Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa), said they took steroids (Mark McGwire), is on trial for possibly lying about taking steroids (Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds) and or look like they took steroids (Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza) shouldn't be getting dirty looks -- for those players "under the suspicion", sorry, that's part of the unfair territory.
But when did the Hall Of Fame become a place of punishment? Instead of a place of judgment of playing ability?
If I had a BBWAA vote, I'd definitely be balancing my morals on a teetering scale.
I believe using PEDs is cheating. I believe in baseball terms it's one of the biggest, if not the biggest, sins a player can commit.
However, tossing spit balls is cheating. Corking bats is cheating. Yet, there are guys in the Hall Of Fame who did those things -- caught or rumored. Heck, one is rumored to have killed someone!
The fact is, baseball's Hall Of Fame voting is evolving. It can no longer be just saying, "500 home runs, you're in. 3,000 hits, in. .330 batting average over 10 seasons, in. Six-plus Gold Gloves, in."
Instead it's turning into, "That guy was good. Great? Hall Of Fame worthy? Ah, it doesn't matter because I think he cheated and really I don't like him personally. No discussion. He's out."
Bonds' home run records are tainted. I understand this. Most fans understand this.
Fans also understand that Hank Aaron's former HR record isn't tainted and was accomplished during circumstances of racial prejudice. That story is documented and will be told forever.
In the end, in all aspects of Hall Of Fame criteria, Aaron will always be better than Bonds. No one, 25 years from now will debate that.
But did you see Bonds before steroids (whenever that was)? Did you see him play while on steroids (whenever that was)? Amazing. Simply, amazing -- I hated to see it because I didn't like what was going on but it was Hall Of Fame worthy.
Is the same thing going to happen to Albert Pujols?
If this trend continues, are voters going to let him in or leave him out because he had a steroid-like body, was a power hitter and is Dominican (a country which has produced numerous steroid users)?
It's the McCarthy hearings all over again.
So, before the chaos begins in 2013 (Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and Piazza will all be on the ballot for the first time). I ask for those black-and-white BBWAA voters to stop thinking in the now.
Starting in 2012, first, think about the future when the next generation of fans and writers are looking back on the history of baseball. Breaking it apart, piece by piece with sabermetrics or whatever new system is invented to calculate the value of a player.
This next generation of BBWAA voters, which hopefully will include me, will know the history and understand it because we watched it blossom during our fan-growing years.
So what if my generation of baseball is tainted. Is that my fault? Then why are writers holding it against me? I just want to have a Hall Of Fame discussion about a player that I cheered for and whom I think should be enshrined.
Players like Bagwell and Piazza shouldn't be discounted because they look the part. I rooted for those players. They were very good. Great? Hall Of Fame worthy? Well, that's why we have these debates, which can't begin if no one is going to be on the ballot in five or 10 years.
To all the BBWAA voters, who won't even consider the steroid era, for once stop thinking about yourself. That's the kind of thinking that got us in this situation to begin with.