During this afternoon's telecast of the Yankees-Red Sox ballgame, discussion naturally turned to the fate of Manny Ramirez, who retired yesterday after failing a drug test for the third time. Ken Rosenthal, a Fox reporter who has the privilege of voting in Hall of Fame elections, stated he would not cast a ballot for Ramirez. I suspect this is the majority position among voters, even though Manny, by the numbers, is clearly qualified for induction. Those not voting for Manny will presumably not vote for other players who've tested positive for the use of performance enhancing drugs, among them Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Roger Clemens (also all-time performers) and such likely inductees as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield, Rafael Palmeiro, etc. I'm not interested in rehearsing the various arguments over the effects of steroids and what punishment, if any, these players deserve. But I am curious as to what is going to happen in the coming years, when the Hall of Fame is forced to construct a history of the game in which the best players of an entire generation are largely absent, or somehow vilified. What of the great Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, of which so many of those players were a part? The museum's curators, whom I know to be serious historians, are going to have a very tough job. I hope they will not follow the path of curators at China's recently opened national history museum in Beijing. As the Times reported earlier this week, that museum's directors have chosen to entirely suppress material considered unpalatable.
The Hall of Fame, like that Chinese museum, has a propagandistic function; it was created very intentionally as a promotional vehicle for Major League baseball. (On this subject, see the conclusion of John Thorn's masterly history, Baseball in the Garden of Eden, published last month.)Promoting baseball isn't necessarily a bad thing. That said, the Hall has an obligation to tell baseball's history, and not sweep it under the carpet.