Cap Anson played primarily for the team that would go on to become the Chicago Cubs in the late 19th century. He was one of the premier players of his era. To modern era eyes his most notable on field accomplishments are his 3,435 hits, his 2,075 RBI and his .334/.394/.447 slash line. Those are Hall of Fame numbers in any era. What doesn't get mentioned as much about Mr. Anson is that he was a vocal racist. His bigotry and popularity were so famous during his time that some baseball historians feel that Anson played a critical role in segregating the professional game in the late 19th century. When professional baseball was first established it was an integrated affair. That didn't last, and there are those who believe that the influence of players led by Cap played a critical role in establishing the game's greatest shame.
Of course this dude is in the Hall of the Fame. Does his Hall of Fame plaque mention anything about what a monster he was? Nope. It reads, "Greatest Hitter and Greatest National League Player-Manager of 19th century. Started with Chicago in National League's first year 1876. Chicago manager from 1879 to 1897, winning 5 pennants. Was .300 class hitter 20 years, batting champion 4 times." It doesn't say anywhere on the plaque the irreversible damage he helped inflict upon the game and the country.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were not elected to the Hall of Fame this year, for reasons I won't revisit here. That's a shame, because baseball's Hall of Fame is painting itself into a tighter and tighter corner as some of the game's greatest players are being denied enshrinement. When Pete Rose was the only famous aberration, a player with a Hall of Fame resume but not a plaque, the situation was tenable. But over time, as an entire generation of great players who have made their marks on the record books begin piling up outside Cooperstown without getting a ticket in, a severe imbalance is going to emerge in the game's history. The Hall of Fame will cease to be a useful arbiter to determine who the all time greats are because many obvious all time greats won't be there, the Home Run King among them.
And there won't be a well reasoned argument for this. A little bit of research will reveal that there are plenty of cheaters in the Hall, just not steroid cheaters. More critically, a little bit more research will reveal that there are truly loathsome individuals in the Hall, people far worse than Barry Bonds.
That's the problem with what is taking place right now. The baseball writers are being hypocritical, denying players they can remember an opportunity to be in Cooperstown without assessing who is already in there. As a result, baseball is missing an opportunity to examine its recent past constructively while still acknowledging what has happened recently on the field. Until baseball figures out how it wants to celebrate Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens without also celebrating their steroid use the Hall of Fame will have established a strange set of rules: steroids are poison, but racism and other crimes are passable.