In Which I Become Disproportionately Upset At Your Standard And Otherwise Innocuous Offseason “Let’s Fix the Hall of Fame” Piece Written By a Journalist I Greatly Admire
Neyer is formerly of ESPN.com, he’s a former protege’ of Bill James, and he’s an author of numerous fantastic books such as The Neyer/James Guide to Pitching (written with Bill James), Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Lineups, Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders, and more.
Yesterday, Rob posted a simple space-filler piece ostensibly about Alexander Joy Cartwright, but more to the point, about the Hall of Fame and its seemingly arbitrary choices in its role as purveyor of baseball’s history to sometimes protect the truth, and other times to embrace the legends, verity be damned.
I’m glad I just got around to reading Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game, because just last week I was in Honolulu, where Alexander Cartwright is buried downtown. I took a photo of his burial monument, which you can see at the top of this page. What you can’t see are the baseballs that … I don’t know. Is “fans” the proper word here? Does Alexander Joy Cartwright have fans? Anyway, someone’s left baseballs at the foot of his monument. And a few feet away, there’s another monument that’s specifically about baseball; like [Cartwright’s plaque] in Cooperstown, it’s largely fictional.
First of all, let me just say that if you’re on this blog and you haven’t read Baseball in the Garden of Eden by Major League Baseball’s Official Historian John Thorn, then you are doing yourself a tremendous disservice. It’s an amazing book, written by one of my honest-to-God heroes. I want to be John Thorn when I grow up.
But I digress.
Neyer’s post touched a nerve with me, clearly, as I immediately felt the need to respond:
After a good night’s sleep, I stand by everything I said in that post, except the last line. That was unfair, it was my emotions getting the better of me, and I sincerely apologize if it was hurtful.
But the fact is, Alexander Cartwright does have fans. In Hawai’i, Cartwright was a prominent citizen from 1849 through his death in 1892. He was one of the first Fire Chiefs on the island of Oahu, appointed by King Kamehameha. He brought baseball with him to the island – that’s not a myth – and it’s because of Cartwright that the islands of Hawai’i, 5000 miles from Cooperstown, New York, have a baseball history nearly as long or longer than 48 other states in the union.
Due to our Hawai’i ties, I admit to feeling a sort of familial loyalty to Cartwright, and to feeling a need to defend him and his legacy.
Rob’s response to me had a defensive tone, too. I understand that, as I was unkind and maybe a bit abrasive in my first comment.
To which I replied:
I once spent an evening researching George Brett and his claim that Mario Mendoza’s spectacular fielding in a series in Seattle kept him from hitting .400 in 1980. Brett has told this story on many occasions, because he is often linked with Mendoza as many (erroneously) believe that Brett coined the term “Mendoza Line.”
…Brett tells that story as a way to give back some dignity to Mario Mendoza, who wasn’t a very good hitter but who earned the nickname “Manos de Sena” (which translates to “Hands of Silk”) with his work at shortstop. The story isn’t true, but it gives something to Mendoza, his family, and the world. Debunking that myth doesn’t give anything to anybody. In fact, it takes something away.
I understand that not everyone will share my opinion on this matter. I’d be willing to bet, in fact, that today’s generation of baseball aficionados – SABR members, especially – taken as a group is probably more driven by a pursuit of accuracy and truth than any other subset of baseball fans. That’s the reason Neyer’s Big Book of Legends exists. It’s the reason we have instant replay, it’s the reason we have data on every inch of every ball thrown 60 feet, 6 inches from a Major League pitcher’s mound in 2014.
But to me baseball is magical and that’s the truth that matters to me more than any other.
I’ll let Neyer have the last word on the subject, because his point is valid and probably represents a more common opinion than does mine. What can I say? I’m just a guy who writes a blog dedicated to imaginary baseball games.
What do you guys think?