Pitchers & Poets: The Town of Cooperstown

Ted and Eric talk about the Hall of Fame Disconnect
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Eric: The offseason is upon us. The Minnesota Twins have signed Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. There are rumors that the Houston Astros might sign a big bat or some not terrible player. As a Dodger fan who is accustomed now to endless spending and beautiful sparkly new things, I enjoy this time of year immensely. It is hard to be disappointed by the acquisition of stuff when there is no financial consequence. Tell me about life on the other end of the spectrum. What does the offseason entail for an Astros fan? Are you in any way excited for the possibility of Shin-Soo Choo coming to Houston or something? Or is this just a time where you completely turn off baseball

Ted: Well, from a selfish standpoint I am eagerly awaiting word on Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell getting into the Hall of Fame. I spend most of my time looking two, three years into the future as an Astros fan. In the next few weeks, I'll be looking backwards, evaluating the careers of our two greatest baseball heroes and Tweeting about it until my fingertips are in tatters.

On the player movement front, I've been trained to keep my expectations--Michael Caine voice here--very low, indeed. You, as a Dodgers fan, live in a different universe than I. If I were to visit your world, I would find the physics unsettling, like we were all on heroin drips 24/7 and forced to talk about Carl Crawford's knee ligaments. Good for you, of course, but I've found a certain comfort in the austerity of tin pan alley.

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, does it even pique your interest anymore? Why do we always get sucked in to the miasma every year, against our best intentions?

Eric: Miasma is the perfect word for this. The Hall of Fame only makes me sad now. Because -- let's be honest -- Jeff Bagwell is not getting in this year. Hell, Frank Thomas might not even make it. There is such a disconnect between the actual baseball these guys played and the way it is celebrated or honored by Cooperstown. There is an even bigger disconnect between the way people enjoy the sport on a daily basis, and the way baseball writers talk about the Hall of Fame.

The best and worst thing about the Hall of Fame is that it appeals to nostalgia and to the emotional Ken Burnsian vision baseball likes to have for itself. But that vision is a relic of a period when baseball was more regional. Fans didn't have access to every play of every game. There was less analysis questioning mainstream viewpoints. Baseball writers had a purpose as the eyes and ears of the fan. That no longer is the case. The system, unfortunately, thinks it still is.

There is something special about Cooperstown. I haven't been there, but I know that to be the case. You went a few years ago. Do you think there is a way to reconcile the special gooey goodness of the Hall of Fame with modern baseball fandom?

Ted: Disconnect. That is the perfect word for the Hall of Fame problem. Who among us feels that the Hall of Fame voters actually speak to our interests and priorities? Very few, I'd guess. That's a big problem.

The town of Cooperstown and its museum work because the place is so physically disconnected from daily life. It's tucked away in a beautiful part of the country. For the time that you're there, baseball seems like all there is. You lose yourself in the history, the myths, the mysteries. Such an atmospheric bubble is a commendable achievement, but as you point out, baseball is so much more than that now. Today, fandom is about connecting to groups of people you share points of view with, crack jokes amongst, tweet to, clown around with. And the currency is the daily experience, spread nationally, informed by new thought and diverse voices. Altogether, this is an environment that is in direct opposition to the sleepy little town by the lake.

I think that the HOF voters feel they are protecting something that, without them, would be lost, like a Coopertown-esque village losing all of its local businesses to the Walmart down the highway. That's a legitimate concern, but I think that the Hall of Fame museum itself is better suited to the task of preservation than is the more amorphous conceptual framework that is the "Hall of Fame." The "Hall of Fame" is for everybody, all the time, a great debate, a great collective appreciation for those who did the thing better than anyone else, with all of the wonder and enjoyment that entails. We should share in that, not covet it like Golem pawing his ring in the dark.

Ironically, of course, MLB itself has met change with gusto, using digital to great effect and embracing the sharing culture. This new generation of ballots presents an opportunity for the Hall of Fame to share in this new tack. And the only thing more important that the credibility of the voters is that it be interesting. There's not much interesting in clinging to old forms at the cost of our attention.

In other words, tweet your Hall of Fame choices to @MLBHallWorthy in the next two hours!!!

Eric: Let's please continue to compliment each other's words as perfect. For example what I think is perfect is the image of Cooperstown as The Village in M Night Shayamalan's The Village. Which is basically what you just described. Imagine a Cooperstown where all the residents are under the illusion of living in one century, while not far away, Ford Explorers or PT Cruisers or whatever roll down the highway in the blissful present. That was a terrible movie, and now I feel bad for dragging it into this discussion. Not even the Hall of Fame deserves that. But this is how we understand sports now. Through the lens of pop culture. This is a new millennium. Do you think anybody in the 1950s was discussing Mickey Mantle's production in the context of Carl Perkins songs?

Don't answer that. Answer this: If you could put any non-Hall worthy player in Cooperstown, who would it be?

Ted: That's a HUGE question. Maybe we should give that one some space in another conversation. My gut-level, stream-of-consciousness finalists, however, would include Bill "Spaceman" Lee, Jamie Moyer, Fernando Valuenzuela, Hideo Nomo, Billy Wagner. All pitchers so far...weird. A few hitters, for fun: Jose Cruz, Moises Alou, Terry Pendleton, Tony Batista. And you?

Eric: Raul Mondesi. Raul Mondesi. Raul Mondesi.


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