At BadJocks, we get a lot of sports books sent our way for review. Most are fun trivia books, suitable for holiday gift giving, others are biographies of major athletes who want to unburden themselves (and in turn, burden us) with all the awful things they did during their careers. Great.
And then there’s a book like Cooperstown Confidential: Heroes, Rogues, and the Inside Story of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Written by a true sports fan who only wants to get at the truth: is the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, really a magical place filled with super-humans? The answer takes some 200 pages to get to give the whole story, but the bottom line is “no.” The men who created the BHF were not saints: they were men trying to find a “hook” to keep their little town from disappearing. And the story of baseball being invented there gave rise to the idea of the BHF. (Chafets starts by shooting some holes in that story.)
Before you know it, the BHF is off and running, a symbol of American strength at a time when heroes were sorely needed. The birth itself was not immaculate and the ensuing ballots would be more amusing it not for the sad fact that those who deserved to get in (and didn’t) and those who did get in (and should not have.) Chafets mixes in person stories of modern pro ball players lobbying for induction, hanging out on the streets of Cooperstown, making some quick cash signing autographs. He talks to these guys like you or I would, asking probing questions about their lives and careers, their hopes for the future and their memories of the past. For baseball fans, this thing is chocked full of interesting tales you are not likely to find elsewhere . . . but it’s not without its faults.
The main disagreement with Cooperstown Confidential that I have is the large push to have the players from the Steroid Era included. In some way this book reads like a story built backwards from the premise that the McGwires, Bonds, and Sosas of that time should not be held out. After reading 150 pages of stories about abuses of past BHF inductees, how can the any reasonable person argue to keep the muscle-boys out? Here’s a couple of examples: on page 124/125 he writes about Barry Bonds: “The evidence that he used steroids was anecdotal–he had grown bigger and stronger over time–but there were plenty of players in the game who admitted to using steroids.” Mr. Bulky (as we liked to call him in those days) didn’t just put on a few pounds. Over a few short years he went from under 200 lbs to nearly 230–all of muscle–all the time his home run production soared. The real crime at the time was those in the media who defended Bonds, well before the BALCO case confirmed what the average fan could see with his own eyes. While Bonds may have gotten some extra attention at the time, he also did nothing to endear himself to the fans to sooth our fears. Yes, baseball is a sport that depends on the fans. Without them there is no league and certainly no Hall of Fame.
Chafets also points to the “alleged” problems with using steroids, pointing to the fact that no serious study has been done on professional wrestlers who have been gorging on the ‘roids for decades. While that might be technically true, you have to ask yourself: what professional wrestler in his right mind is going to admit to steroid use? If they are still on the circuit, it might hurt their value as a draw. If retired, why blemish their reputation? The real question Mr. Chafets should have asked is: why are pro wrestlers dying at an alarming rate in their 40s and 50s? I don’t have a study for that, but all Chafets had to do was look at DeadWrestlers.net. The list of names and faces is staggering for anyone who was a fan during the late 90s and early 2000s. Visit that page and tell me that we will not soon start seeing pro athletes from other sports dropping dead from mysterious “heart attacks” in hotel rooms. I hope it doesn’t happen, but how likely are we to lose an entire generation of pro athletes due to performance enhancing substances? Will people like Chafets argue the minimal risks of using steroids then?
Look, I don’t want to get into another steroid debate here, but writing an entire book about Cooperstown only to make the case for induction of the players in the Steroid Era felt a lot like going to one of those “free island vacations” only to be hit with endless pitches for timeshares. No doubt there was considerable research done on the topic of the Baseball Hall of Fame. And the Steroid Era players did deserve a nod. It does raise some important questions about the “purity” of the BHF and who belongs and who doesn’t. But read it for yourself and let me know if you don’t think this whole house was built to make a single point: Barry Bonds belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Agree? Disagree? Leave your comments below