The Summer Game is in full stride and last week Baseball's Hall of Fame inducted Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice among the the other great immortals of the National Pastime. So Chafets', Cooperstown Confidential: Heroes, Rogues, and the Inside Story of the Baseball Hall of Fame (Bloomsbury $25.00) book seems timely, even if only to this old baseball fan.
And a fascinating look at the Hall-of-Fame it is. Chafets gives us the inside look at how the institution works, who gets in and who doesn't, the family politics, and the old H-O-Fers who get to decide which old-timers are worthy of admission.
Why the Hall of Fame is located in Cooperstown itself is an interesting story. It goes back to the founding myth of Abner Doubleday and his setting up a diamond there in 1839, a story pushed from Nativist reasons that Baseball had to be an American game that could not have possibly evolved from the British game of Rounders; or that Doubleday, a Civil war general and hero, never makes mention in his memoir, or his letters, of ever inventing the game, or even mentioning baseball. Cooperstown itself was the home of James Fenimore Cooper and named for his father, William.
As far as the controversies over who gets in and who does not, Chafets goes into great detail. The selections of the recently retired belongs to the Baseball Writers Association of America and the most interesting of the challenges they face is what is known as the character clause. Players must possess integrity and sportsmanship as well as character. No immoral or bad men allow. This rule, of course, did not exlcude Ty Cobb, a fierce competitor and temper, who filed his spikes and slid into base feet high, and who was described by his teammate, Sam Crawford, as still fighting the Civil War; and who once leapt into the stands and pummeled a heckler, even after it was pointed out to him that the fan had no hands to defend himself. Or Babe Ruth, an American legend right up there with Paul Bunyan, who's whoring was kept out of the papers by his friends in the press. Or Tris Speaker, a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Or Rogers Hornsby, another member of the Klan.
Chafets also discusses the current controversies. Should Pete Rose be forgiven for betting on games, even games where he managed? And if Rose is forgiven, why not Shoeless Joe Jackson? Jackson was even acquited in a court room of conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series. And what of the steroid users? Many stars of today are now known to have used them. If Roger Clemens gets to go into the Hall of Fame, why not Barry Bonds? Is race at issue here? Clemens still denies using them and Bonds was indicted for perjury, not the use of steroids. In fact the use of steroids was not illegal in Baseball until fairly recently.
Cooperstown Confidential is available at Jackson Street Books and other fine independent bookstores.
democommie is by preparing to make his own case for induction to the H-O-F, just as soon as DavevonE and Richard finish destroying those betting notes.
UPDATE: Here's the audio of the General interviewing David Neiwert about his recent book, The Eliminationists.