I love baseball. I love music. It would be hard to say who meant more to me as an 11 year old, the Beatles or Sandy Koufax. Suffice to say that the Fab Four and Sandy both have a revered nook in my personal Hall of Fame. Sandy’s coming through in the ’65 World Series to beat the Twins after first refusing to pitch the first game because it conflicted with Rosh Hashanah was one of the more compelling moments in modern sports; a moment of swelling pride among a nation of Jewish sports fans, although that pride was slightly more muted in Minnesota and decidedly excited in L.A.
I suppose I’m being a bit tight-assed. What if someone wanted to have, say, a Blues Hall of Fame? (I’m sure there is one somewhere, come to think of it). Why not? What’s the harm? A bunch of great old musicians getting some well-deserved recognition. Well, like so many other things in this wondrous, mystical, Munch-scream-inducing modern world of ours, it’s not the idea so much as the execution. If I were walking down Beale Street in Memphis and found myself standing in front of a building that turned out to be the Blues Hall of Fame (no letters, please, I’m not even pretending to have done my research here), I’m sure I’d check it out, and smile at the bronze of Buddy Guy hoisting his battered Stratocaster over the back of his shoulders, or wipe away a manly tear in front of the huge canvas of a copiously sweating Albert King dwarfing his Flying V as he preached about the Blues Power.
But what if, instead of encountering this Hall by chance walking down a city street, I learned about it on an ABC promo? For its yearly prime-time extravaganza? To induct its latest entrant, highlights of which would show this latest inductee surrounded by various other aged rockers (or, far worse, non-aged rockers) in a Jamfest for the Ages (translation: chaotic, over-participated, ego-hogging daisy chain). And all this seedy, sodden splendor is climaxed by the Inductee or Inductees giving their acceptance speeches, and it’s at this very moment when they all realize to their horror that their options are to
* Go Classy; retain their dignity and sound very much like the Old Farts rockers were supposed to bury, or
* Go Rebel; and embarrass everybody involved beyond human endurance.
You see, the idea of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a bit queasy. The reality of the RRHF is a barf-fest. (Actually, if “RRHF” was onomatopoeia, it would kind of sound like a barf fest.)
And it’s not so much the selections, the ol’ Hot Stove League fodder of who’s in/who’s out. I, like everybody, have my quibbles. Specifically, there’s a contingent in the rock and roll cognoscenti (and seeing as the root of that Italian word is “knowing” it’s perhaps not the mot juste) that favors the New York, Warhol Hip crowd. There is a recent Inductee whose Warhol-Hip to Body-of-Work ratio is something along the lines of 95/5. (And no, I’m not talking about Blondie).
Conversely, I won’t check to find out how many truly notable 60s pop contributors have been frozen out, because it would anger me, at least until I reminded myself that the whole notion is contrived hogwash. Music is subjective, Greatness is subjective. When I trumpet the Olympian deeds of Hendrix and Lennon, I don’t look to some official body to sanction their demigod status. The body of work tells the story.
The Baseball Hall of Fame has its own problems. The Steroid Era has of course created a huge hornet’s nest for HOF voters (not to be confused with IHOF, the International House of Flapjacks); these voters are as addicted to numbers as Barry Bonds was to his bi-weekly ass-jab. It’s hard to justify keeping out a guy who has 500 homers when the Tris Speakers of the world had roughly half that.
I believe, though, the truly imminent danger for Cooperstown isn’t this “Tempest in a Test Tube”, but rather the sobering fact that I am one of 17 people alive who still know or care who Tris Speaker was. Hell, I even know the story of Kiki Cuyler’s nickname. (It isn’t pronounced “kee kee”, but with an “i” sound, like the “Cuy” in “Cuyler”. He was called that by his teammates because he had a terrible stutter, which, being jocks, they of course found highly amusing. His moniker was a cruel imitation of the way he himself sounded trying to say his name. I wonder if they mention that on his plaque in Cooperstown.)
Baseball, poor old pokey Baseball, survives on emotional connection. We think of our Dads, and when we were younger. As a nation, we think of when times were different. At least, those of us whose attention spans haven’t been shrunk to the size of an iOS5 chip. Unfortunately for Baseball, with every passing year there are less Tris Speaker testifiers and more channel surfers who can’t conceive of sitting through nine whole innings (“It’s soooo slow!”) And Cooperstown is the ultimate clearing house for everything that keeps Baseball alive in our hearts and concomitantly assures its ultimate subsidence into cultural insignificance.
When it comes to modern entertainment standards, Baseball pales compared to Football’s hi-tech gladiator arena, or Basketball’s tattoos. To make the analogy, Basketball is Rihanna; Football is Kenny Chesney; Baseball is Paul Revere and the Raiders. I’ll take P R and the Rs any day of the week (as a matter of fact there’s an RRHF argument I’ll dive into), but do you think you could tear today’s youth away from Rihanna’s boobs long enough to give a listen?
SPEAKING OF BOOBS
Then there are the Two Big Issues of the Hall of Fame: should Pete Rose and Barry Bonds get in? My short answer: no and no. Critics of my stance quickly point out that people like me feel that way because we didn’t like these players personally, because they were flaming A-holes. I disagree: I believe they don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame AND that they were flaming A-holes. These two things aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
Actually, it’s amazing especially in Pete’s case how consistently his post-playing days’ insufferable putziness has mirrored the glory days of his on-field insufferable putziness. You’d think he was a rock star, or something. I think keeping someone out of the Hall of Fame based on the guy being a walking/talking pusbag is as good a reason as any. “Yeah, but what about Ty Cobb?” Well, throw his sorry Cracker ass out too, I don’t care. We can go further: any baseball player portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones is permanently barred from the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Perhaps this is a way to address both what’s wrong with the Hall and more importantly with Baseball itself. How about we retool Cooperstown, and make the entry requirements more resonant with the potential younger fan? Like, Pete’s betting on the game wouldn’t necessarily bar him: rather, the numbers that count wouldn’t be his absurdly amazing number of lifetime hits but his lifetime winning percentage with Norm the Bookie. Barry can get in if it turns out he banged Lindsay Lohan during a weekend celebrity rehab stint to cycle down off the cream and the clear. Rafael Palmeiro could get in if, instead of just pointing his finger at Congress while he lied his tuchus off about not lying, he actually started kicking a Congressional ass or two.
Saving the RRHF would be much easier. Just get it the hell off of television. Network TV and Rock and Roll haven’t mixed since the Sullivan show. Cleveland’s a nice town, and it’s good they’ve got a place for people to bring their kids and fawn over Gene Simmons’ diamond-encrusted thong. I don’t begrudge a single person who is honored there: anyone who made a whole bunch of people happy making music is okay in my book. And if some of them are still inspired and talented enough to get up on stage and rock, bless ’em. Just please not while they’re telling us how honored and humbled they are to be in this august company, because it makes me want to RRHF.
Ladies and Gentlemen…announcing your musician-inductees for this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ceremony…! (April 5, 2012)