It was announced on Monday that the Veteran’s Committee did not elect George Steinbrenner to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Boss received fewer than eight votes on the ballot, well shy of the 12 needed for enshrinement. This vote was a farce. George Steinbrenner should have been elected on the first ballot.
Since Walter O’Malley moved the Dodgers to Los Angeles, no owner has had a greater impact on the game of baseball than George M. Steinbrenner III. Since 1973, when he purchased the Yankees for only $10 million, his teams have won seven World Series championships and 11 Pennants. That alone merits enshrinement.
But Steinbrenner’s contributions go beyond success on the field. His aggressive use of both the media and free agency to keep his franchise relevant, even when it wasn’t competitive, was decades ahead of its time, and set the mold for modern-day owners not only in baseball, but in other sports as well, such as Jerry Jones in the NFL and Mark Cuban in the NBA. It is fair to argue that since 1973 no individual has had a greater impact on the game of baseball, not even among the players.
All of this begs the question how 75% of the Veteran’s Committee would not feel that the Boss belonged in the Hall? The answer, sadly, is that baseball’s Hall of Fame is marching toward irrelevance. Defenders of this decision will hide behind the Character Clause listed among the rules of enshrinement, but this is a thin filter used to pick on members of the baseball community who are guilty of being disliked, not of having bad character. Nevermind that Ty Cobb is in the Hall of Fame, or that in all probability Roberto Alomar will be elected next year, despite spitting on an umpire. The museum is filled with players who were great and lacked character.
The reality is that within the next decade baseball’s Hall of Fame will exclude Pete Rose, the game’s hit leader, Barry Bonds, the game’s current Home Run King, Roger Clemens, one of the greatest pitchers of his generation, and perhaps George Steinbrenner, the sport’s most influential modern owner. It is true that each of these men deserved some degree of punishment for very real transgressions. It is equally true that their contributions to the game cannot be ignored. If gambling or cheating alone were enough to bar an individual from membership, then perhaps some justification for those who are in the Hall versus those who are not could be made, but the fact is that denial of membership is applied arbitrarily. Some kinds of cheating bar a player from membership, while others are forgiven as part of the game.
George Steinbrenner should be in the Hall of Fame because he made incredible contributions to the game of baseball. His omission is a reminder that baseball withholds this honor whimsically at best and vindictively at worst. In a few years time, when many of the game’s biggest names are not in Cooperstown, the Hall of Fame will be less able to present itself as a museum to the game’s greatest moments, and will therefore become less and less relevant until it can figure out a way to embrace the game’s more controversial but larger than life superstars.