At the close of every year, Time magazine names their “Person of the Year,” the man, woman or group of people whom they believe “for better or for worse…has done the most to influence the events of the year.” This year, their honoree was President Barack Obama. A little over eleven years ago, in 2001, Time had bestowed this title upon Rudy Giuliani in the wake of the attacks on September 11th. There was a more than valid argument, though, that this was a title more appropriate for Osama bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind behind the aforementioned attacks (as well as many others). After all, Time had already set their precedent for these types of situations by naming Adolf Hitler their PotY in 1938, and Josef Stalin PotY in 1939, and again in 1942. There was even an argument that Adolf Hitler should have been named Time’s “Person of the Century,” with historian Nancy Gibbs writing that it was Hitler who “perhaps more than any other figure, who demanded a whole rethinking about good, evil, God and man.” She went on to ask, though: “Evil may be a powerful force, a seductive idea, but is it more powerful than genius, creativity, courage or generosity?” Time, of course, named Albert Einstein as their PotC (with Gandhi and FDR as the runners-up), so in their mind the evil of Adolf Hitler was not more powerful than the genius of Albert Einstein, which is certainly a valid opinion, but can also be debated endlessly. Which brings me back to the Rudy Giuliani/Osama bin Laden conundrum.
In the months following 9/11 it’s fair to say that America was drunk with patriotism – and rightfully so. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when Osama bin Laden wasn’t named as Time’s PotY – giving him such a title would have, essentially, strengthened him. Which was why Time’s anointment of Mayor Giuliani was as much a celebration of his resolve as it was a condemnation of bin Laden’s cowardice. In Time’s PotY feature on Giuliani, Gibbs wrote:
If the graves alone were the measure, Osama bin Laden would own this year; we lost more lives on Sept. 11 than in any terrorist attack in U.S. history. And bin Laden did more than kill people. We had just packed up and stored away the century of Hitler and Stalin–both Men of the Year in their time–which we imagined had shown us the depths to which a despot could sink. To watch bin Laden sit in delight and create a skyscraper with his hand–like a child playing Here’s the Church, Here’s the Steeple–then slowly crumple it into a fist was to confront not only the nature of evil but how much we still don’t know about it.
But bin Laden is too small a man to get the credit for all that has happened in America in the autumn of 2001. Imagination makes him larger than he is in order that he fit his crime; yet those who have studied his work do not elevate him to the company of history’s monsters, despite the monstrousness of what he has done. It is easy to turn grievance into violence; that takes no genius, just a lack of scruple and a loaded gun. The killers he dispatched were braver men than he; he has a lot of money and a lot of hate, and when he is gone there will be others to take his place.
What she was basically admitting was that bin Laden was the most important newsmaker of 2001, but because of the cowardice of his deeds – and because he wasn’t on par with the monsters of yore, Hitler and Stalin – he doesn’t deserve the award. Which is, I guess, understandable when you’re as drunk as we were as a nation. In hindsight, though, it’s kind of silly (as most things you do while drunk are). It’s ludicrous to suggest that any single human being had a larger impact in 2001 – or in the 21st century, for that matter (save for, possibly, Barack Obama) – than Osama bin Laden. Act of cowardice or not, that single attack – and the fear, and seeming imminence, of more attacks – changed the securitization of our country, and the world, forever; it changed our relationship with the Middle East, and almost institutionalized Islamophobia and intolerance; it led us into two costly wars (in terms of both lives and money) which exacerbated our economic woes even further; and the securitization led to the emergence of the modern American surveillance state. Rudy Giuliani ran for president and failed to win even a single state before withdrawing from the Republican primaries.
I really don’t give a shit about Time’s PotY, though. I mean, I care about it because I believe the person(s) they name serve as an accurate barometer of that given year’s political or cultural climate, but I don’t give a shit about it because Time is a fairly nondescript, irrelevant publication at this stage of its life. And because of this, the people who choose their PotY are even more irrelevant than this publication – hilariously, of course, the PotY is now determined by online polling of Time’s readership, the only group of people more irrelevant than the people whose words they read. What I care about is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and its selection process for inductees.
The debate being had within baseball circles is whether or not users of performance-enhancing drugs – or even suspected users of PEDs, without any tangible evidence – deserve enshrinement. One side of the argument believes any, and all, players whose careers are deserving, should be enshrined; the other side believes…well, I’m not quite sure. Some believe they cheated – even though, for most of the players in question, PEDs were not banned by Major League Baseball at the time of their suspected use. Some believe they violated the Hall of Fame’s “character clause” because they used substances banned by federal law. Others believe some nonsense about it being bad for children? or something? Honestly, it’s difficult to keep track of all of the ridiculous excuses some of these writers will use to keep worthy players out of the Hall based on nothing more than suspicion, or perhaps a grudge. The problem, of course, is that the latter seem to far outnumber the former, which seems to be leading to a Hall of Fame (possibly) devoid of an entire generation of stars, which, in turn, poses an even bigger question: is simple suspicion of PED use a disqualifier for enshrinement into the Hall of Fame?
We know Rafael Palmeiro used performance-enhancing drugs because he tested positive for them. We believe Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire used them because there seems to be evidence and reporting to support that claim. Some suspect Jeff Bagwell or Mike Piazza used them because the former looked like Popeye the Sailor Man and the latter had bacne. The trouble I have with this is the question of why some are above suspicion while others are not? Why are some writers willing to dismiss Jeff Bagwell, but not his smaller-in-stature teammate, Craig Biggio? Is this an insinuation that I believe Bagwell or Biggio used PEDs? No. But any suspicion of Bagwell, or Piazza, or any other player from this era must similarly be applied to all players from the era, because, really, how are we to determine – without actual evidence – who we believe to be users and non-users? Is it a character judgement? Because, as Brandon McCarthy points out, “Marvin Harrison was an all-time great character guy. Whoops.”
The point is that you can’t simply pick and choose which players you wish to believe did or did not use performance-enhancing drugs – this is one of the few moments where an absolutist philosophy toward voting is acceptable. Which leaves two options: disregard PED suspicions and vote for whomever you believe is deserving, or vote for no one from the era. Voting for no one, though, is more than just problematic: it’s a denial of our history and of our culture. We seem to forget that the Hall of Fame is – above all else – a museum, and a museum such as the Hall of Fame is meant to preserve the history of baseball and its most significant contributors, for better or worse.
The truth is that the players of the supposed “steroid era,” or whichever moniker you wish to apply to it, had just as great of an impact on the game as Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth.* Mark McGwire’s and Sammy Sosa’s chase of Roger Maris’ single-season home run record in 1998 revived baseball following the 1994 strike – even Bud Selig would admit this. What they did was turn an entire generation of young kids into lifelong baseball fans (myself included). Since then, baseball as a sport has steadily gained in popularity, and, in turn, Major League Baseball has steadily grown as a money-making machine. In 1998, for example, the team with the largest revenue (the Yankees) brought in $175.5 million, while the team with the smallest revenue (Expos) brought in $46.5 million (via Biz of Baseball/Forbes). In 2012, the highest and lowest revenue numbers were $439 million (Yankees), and $160 million (Athletics). Yes, of course, there are any number of reasons for this – DVR proof television leading to absurd TV-rights contracts, new ballparks, the internet, and inflation – but all of these factors (save for inflation, of course) are entirely dependent on the popularity of the sport, a popularity cultivated, largely, by the home runs off of the bats of our suspected PED users. Chicks dig the longball, and it’s clear that the entire industry profited off of these so-called “cheaters.” Profits went up, Bud Selig’s salary went up, columnists like Mike Lupica wrote books praising McGwire and Sosa.** Everyone was swimming in cash, and yet no one chose to address the elephant in the room. But now, after they’ve all profited from this supposed crime against the sport, they choose to condemn them? What they’re doing would be akin to banking executives ten years from now – after making billions on sub-prime mortgages and derivatives trading – firing the guys who made them all of their money, because, you know, maybe they shouldn’t have been taking so much risk.
*The irony, of course, is that Aaron used amphetamines, Cobb was an alcoholic and a racist, and Ruth never faced a Dominican with a Bugs Bunny changeup. So your “character clause” is a sham, and your “level playing field” is a myth.
**And ripped off his title from David Halberstam. Sure, he might consider it an homage, I consider it a blowhard with no creativity.
The hypocrisy of the entire industry is palpable. Tell Barack Obama, or the people at Halliburton and Blackwater, that Osama bin Laden didn’t have a greater impact than Rudy Giuliani – they’d laugh at the suggestion. Time’s “Person of the Year” is essentially the “News Hall of Fame.” It’s a title bestowed upon the biggest newsmakers every year, much in the same way the Baseball Hall of Fame honors the baseball players with the biggest impacts on the game every year. To deny the players of this era admittance into the Hall of Fame is to deny the impact they had on the sport, for better and for worse – because, let’s just be honest, if you’re between Roger Clemens and Jack Morris, who do you think left a bigger mark on the game? Let’s just hope our Guardians of the Hall don’t make too many decisions while drunk with superiority.
I’m filling out my own imaginary ballot, because, well, why the fuck not. I’ve broken it down to different categories, and then the ballot (listed in order of strength of candidacy).