An Anson Point-Counterpoint

Brilliant Reader D had a comment about the Cap Anson Hall of Fame post that I wanted to address. I don’t mean to embarrass him D -- his point is interesting, even if I disagree with it. He invokes Bill James in it, and I was curious about what Bill himself thinks. So I post both D’s comment and Bill’s response:

First D:

My feeling is summed up by something Bill James wrote in "Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?"

Paraphrased, it's roughly this: You don't memorialize the worst parts of your history by bestowing your highest honor on them.

That's the difference between Cap Anson and Oscar Charleston: Charleston's case for the Hall is murky and difficult to judge precisely because of players and managers like Anson. Enshrining Anson is bestowing your highest honor on someone who made it difficult if not impossible to accurately determine who the greatest players in baseball history actually are, and who represented a trend in society that, while accepted then, is rightly deplored now.

To continue the analogy, if you can overlook Anson's racism, why not overlook Hal Chase's corruption? Each man in his way did his part to harm the game, and I don't see that it makes much sense to reward Anson over Chase just because the outlook that considered Chase's actions reprehensible existed while he lived, while the outlook that considered Anson's actions reprehensible didn't exist while he was alive and influential.

And Bill’s response:

Well, he is taking some things that I have said, some principles that I have asserted, and ignoring others, and reaching a conclusion that I strongly disagree with. Cap Anson was a racist, Henry Ford was a bigot, Richard Wagner a raging anti-Semite.

If you leave Anson out of a Hall of Fame, how would you justify including Ty Cobb? Cobb was certainly a MORE virulent racist than was Anson. Tris Speaker and Rogers Hornsby were members of the KKK. If Dizzy Dean had lived another six months he would have been indicted for fraud.

Some players had sexist attitudes. Mickey Mantle and many other superstars have used women as sex toys and treated them with complete disrespect (although it should be pointed out that there is also a strong tradition of superstars who have NOT done this -- Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, etc.). Is this less wrong than racism, or is it merely that we have not yet reached a consensus to condemn it?

In the eyes of God, I doubt that I am a better person than Cap Anson. Self-righteousness is a poor foundation for a philosophy.