Goldman: The lesson baseball heroes are meant to teach

From SABR member Steven Goldman at Baseball Nation on January 9, 2013:

The Baseball Hall of Fame wasn’t originally conceptualized as a building or a museum. The initial thought was that Baseball would plant a statue on the Mall in Washington with the names of the elected inscribed around the plinth. Think of the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. That’s the one that depicts the flag-raising at Iwo Jima. Next time you visit, note how the names of every major battle the Marine Corps has participated in are inscribed on the base, and how much room is left for more — the blank area is like a negative-space coming-attractions reel for our next national tragedy.

The Baseball Hall of Fame was intended to be something like that, a kind of gigantic immobile version of the Stanley Cup — and yes, it would have been called “The Hall of Fame” despite the conspicuous lack of an actual hall. It might have been amusing watching the visitors file past the signs saying “Welcome to the Hall of Fame” only to queue helplessly around the base, ineffectively pawing at the rock, asking, “Where’s the entrance?” and fainting from heat exhaustion.

The evolution of the Hall into an actual hall in New York instead of a statue in the District of Columbia required a combination of baseball’s usual inertia and the desperate need of Cooperstown for a tourist attraction while suffering from the twin scourges of the Great Depression and Prohibition. Their need for a museum of something collided with the Doubleday myth and Baseball’s interest in memorializing its great players, and suddenly the nation’s capital had lost out on what could have been baseball’s version of The Motherland Calls (imagine a 300-foot concrete sneering Ty Cobb striding towards you, spikes first) and Baseball had gained a heavily-subsidized brick-and-mortar albatross in a place so inaccessible that Gandalf himself wouldn’t lead you there in winter.

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Originally published: January 9, 2013. Last Updated: January 9, 2013.