Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: All Hail the Hall!

Scratchbomb hands over the reins to nationally syndicated sports columnist Skitch Hanson, as we’ve done many times before. It’s great to hear from him, because the last time I spoke to Skitch, he was getting lost and possibly assaulted at Yankee Stadium.

You may know Skitch as the author of the highly popular syndicated column “Up The Middle.” You may have read his best-selling book Playing Stickball with Mickey Mantle, and Other Weird Dreams I Had. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show Mouth-Talkers! You can follow Skitch on Twitter here. Without further ado, here’s Skitch.

Each winter, I have a great responsibility. And no, it’s not shoveling the driveway! And no, it’s not picking up my wife from the drunk tank after the office Christmas party!

No, I’m talking about my Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. It is quite an honor to participate in the voting every year and help decide who will be immortalized in Cooperstown. There are no halls in the history of halls that are more hallowed than the Baseball Hall of Fame. Perhaps The Halls of Medicine in the old Halls cough drop commercials, but those ads haven’t been on the air in several years. Or perhaps the Halls of Justice, but that’s more of a concept than an actual place.

No, for an actual, physical set of halls, the ones in Cooperstown are the best. But those halls would mean nothing without the people who inhabit them. Not literally, of course. I mean the legends immortalized there in plaque form, or in a video loop on a TV in the lobby. That’s why I take my voting very seriously. I think long and hard about who gets my vote and who does not, because I know I have a hand in solidifying baseball history.

Unfortunately, this year I was less serious about mailing my ballot in, since I accidentally dropped it behind the Xerox machine some time last month. I would have dug out my ballot, but me and electronic equipment do not get along! Like the time I dropped my laptop in a koi pond and electrocuted several hundred fish! Boy, the people at Benihana’s were not happy about that!

andredawson.jpgI did intend to vote for Andre Dawson, and I’m very glad that he made it in. You could argue there were more deserving candidates than him, and his career was hampered by injuries, and I never got to see him play too often, now that I think about it. But I do remember “Hawk” having one unbelievably awesome year where he won the MVP. You certainly can’t argue with that! At least not until I remember exactly what year that was.

I’m very disappointed that Jack Morris still has not made it to Cooperstown. Because when you talk dominant starting pitchers of the 1980s, you have to talk about Jack Morris. Sure, you have to talk some about other guys first, like Fernando Valenzuela. And Doc Gooden. And Roger Clemens. And Jimmy Key and Frank Viola and Nolan Ryan and Orel Hershiser and Bret Saberhagen and Steve Carlton and Bruce Hurst and Dave Stieb and John Tudor and Mike Scott. But eventually, you have to talk about Jack Morris.

Morris may not have had the gaudy stats that some of those other guys did. But he did have that wonderful 10-inning duel against John Smoltz in game 7 of the 1991 World Series. That’s one of the most famous pitching performances of all time. Plus there were three or four other really great games he pitched whose details escape me right now. That’s good enough for the Hall in my book.

Remember, we’re talking about The Hall of Fame, not The Hall of Obscure Statistics. Bert Blyleven had a great career, but I can’t think of a famous moment involving him. Same goes for Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, and Barry Larkin. Until those guys have a transcendent moment, I can’t in good conscience vote to enshrine them. Unless somebody reminds me of a moment I couldn’t recall. In which case, welcome aboard, fellas!

How do you define a moment? I can’t say. Can you define a beautiful sunrise? The wonder in a child’s eyes? The magic of Christmas? (I hope the folks at Hallmark won’t mind; I adapted those last few lines from a “To a wonderful great-aunt” birthday card.) A moment is a lot like pornography: you know it when you see it. Most moments don’t involve hardcore nudity, of course. At least not in baseball. But I think you get my point.

alomar.jpgAs for Roberto Alomar, who missed The Hall by a few votes, I think that is fair punishment for spitting on an umpire many years ago. I’m aware that the umpire, John Hirschbeck, forgave Alomar publicly for his actions. But to simply let him into Cooperstown on the first ballot would be a slap in the face to all those other players who did not spit on umpires. I’ll be perfectly happy to vote for Alomar on the next ballot, after he’s had a full year to think about what he did.

What kind of message would it send to our kids to let Alomar into the Hall right away? Spitting is never okay. Unless you’ve ingested poison or sour milk, in which case you should expectorate discreetly into a napkin or paper towel.

It’s hard enough to get kids to stop spitting without seeing major league baseball players doing it. My son has been spitting at me ever since Alomar attacked Hirschbeck with his saliva. And he’s 32! He’s still mad at me for missing several birthdays in a row to cover the XFL championship game. I told him that as a reporter, I have a responsibility to cover my beat, and that responsibility doesn’t disappear just because the league hasn’t existed in several years.

We all need to teach our kids–to show our kids–that responsibility is important. We must meet our responsibilities head on, whether they involve voting for the Hall of Fame, or keeping nasty spitters out of that Hall of Fame, or filing stories on sports leagues that have folded, or making sure my wife doesn’t jump bail again. And we must not foist these responsibilities on others, like when I begged the cleaning lady to get my Hall of Fame ballot from behind the copier with her broom.

Being responsible may not get you into Cooperstown. But it will earn you a trip to the Hall of Respect of Your Fellow Humans. That may be an even greater place to be. Except for the fact that you don’t get a plaque and it doesn’t literally exist.