It’s Hall of Fame debate time, that annual ritual of poring over the current ballot of eligible players and trying to think along with the roughly 400 or so BBWAA members as to who is in and who is out. And regardless of whether it’s from the writers or the various veterans committees over the years, or if it was a 75% scrape-by or a nearly unanimous selection, each inductee has an indelible place in the game’s history.
In his new book The National Baseball Hall of Fame Collection: Celebrating the Games’ Greatest Players (Epic Ink, 192 pps.), James Buckley highlights more than 175 of these stars who made their marks between the lines or in other capacities within the game. It’s a true celebration of these important figures, with yearbook-style brief bios that accentuate the positive and give even lesser-known Hall of Famers their due.
Buckley organizes the players by position in each chapter, and aside from selecting one as the “Best of the Best” at each spot, gives most relatively equal billing, cleverly grouped on pages among others with similar traits or time frames. The quality of the accompanying photos is astounding, with many rare shots and images of memorabilia one might see in Cooperstown, like letters, certificates and trophies. It’s even updated to include 2020 inductees.
This is not the book to turn to for critical analysis; indeed, an entry on Ty Cobb which is half about his talent and half about his “personal demons” which “tore away friends and teammates” (some myths die hard), is about the only non-glowing slant in the entire work (though the last page of the book features a stunning photo of The Georgia Peach scoping out a pitcher on deck). Even Cap Anson and Kenesaw Mountain Landis, two figures whose influence was integral in keeping African Americans out of MLB for decades, get the full friendly treatment in their respective bios.
But maybe we need a little more positivity these days. There are plenty of places to read arguments on who should or shouldn’t be in the Hall, to see who can yell the loudest over someone else’s opinion. Buckley wants fans to revel in the feats of these elite players. Fans should open The National Baseball Hall of Fame Collection to refresh themselves on the greatness of everyone in the book, from Mays and Mathewson all the way to Travis Jackson and High Pockets Kelly.