Just a Bit Inside

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

 

Rob Neyer is the Senior Baseball Editor at Just A Bit Outside – a Grantlandish FoxSports.com baseball site.  You probably know Neyer, as he is greatly respected for his prodigious body of work.

Rob Neyer took this picture at the Nu’uanu Cemetary in Honolulu, Hawaii. Not pictured, the baseballs that fans have left at the foot of the headstone. I left a Los Angeles Dodgers hat there once.

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 Gamebecause 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:

Cartwright response

 

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.legend quote

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.

Neyer response 1

 

To which I replied:

Cartwright response 2

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.

 

Neyer response 2

 

What do you guys think?

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3 Comments

  1. The Baseball Hall of Shame is the most fraudulent entity that identifies itself as the be all and end all of historic baseball. That being said it is better than no hall at all. The chicanery of the owners of the hall still does not keep me from viewing baseball’s past. I look past the truth presented by Mr. Neyer (at his advisal) if I find that it ruins part of the joy of my youth. I am presently doing a recreation of Lawn Tennis that will have purists up in arms because I changed the rules and the results of the sport from 1877 on. It is up to each individual to determine how much we care about the “spirit” and anecdotal aspects of the history of anything that we cherish. Michelangelo was a jerk, but if you just want to look at his stats he was at or near the top of the list in his field. Just my opinion. Kevin

  2. Don’t take this comment negatively because it isn’t meant that way but I found it funny/ironic that this post was made immediately following your Truth Fairy post.

    I am about the same age as you and have children a little older and I have avoided admitting to being the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny or Santa (somehow I don’t consider it a lie). I am sure that by now they all know the truth but for the same reason you don’t want the truth to ruin the magic of baseball I don’t want to ruin the magic of the holidays.

    My Mom still writes Santa on her presents to me and I still have never admitted that I know that it is her.

    • Hey Gary,

      Thanks for the comment! I noticed that, too, and wondered if anyone else would recognize the irony.

      The difference for me with the kids is that my wife and I talked about this very early on and decided that no matter what question they ask us, we’re always going to tell them the truth. Right now, the questions are pretty tame, but someday they’ll have important, life-altering questions. We want to create a bond of trust today, so that they feel free to come to us in the future for honest answers – rather than get misinformation from friends, media, or whomever.

      With regard to baseball, I think what I failed to get across in my comments above is that the pursuit of truth is a noble and important endeavor for historians and I don’t want to stop that pursuit. Absolute truth (as best we can know it) absolutely needs to be written and maintained by historians. However, the preservation of the myths and legends that have been written into the game’s canon by history is at the very least equally important to the fabric of the game – moreso in some cases – as the pursuit and recordation of the literal history of the game.

      Paul

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