Let's face it: Hall of Fame is a mess

The votes are in. The earth is still rumbling. Now let's try to digest the magnitude of what just happened here:

A man who hit 762 home runs wasn't elected to the Hall of Fame.

A pitcher who won seven Cy Young Awards wasn't elected to the Hall of Fame.

A man who hit 609 home runs only got 12.5 percent of the vote.

A catcher who made 12 All-Star teams missed election by 98 votes.

Even a guy who got 3,060 hits found out Wednesday he didn't do enough to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

It boggles the mind. Doesn't it? We were just presented the most star-studded Hall of Fame ballot in maybe 75 years. And NOBODY got elected?

It's enough to make you wonder: What kind of Hall of Fame are we building here?

In the wake of this stunning election, it's time for all of us to ponder that question. What is the Hall of Fame? What should it be? What is it supposed to be?

Do we really want to look up, 10 or 20 years from now, and find we've constructed a Hall of Fame that doesn't include:

• The all-time home-run leader (Barry Bonds)?

• The pitcher who won the most Cy Youngs in history (Roger Clemens)?

• The man who broke Roger Maris' storied home-run record (Mark McGwire)?

• The hitter who had more 60-homer seasons than any player ever (Sammy Sosa)?

• The greatest hitting catcher in history (Mike Piazza)?

• One of four hitters with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs (Rafael Palmeiro)?

• And -- aw, what the heck, might as well throw him in there -- the all-time hit king (Peter Edward Rose)?

Let me ask you: What kind of Hall of Fame is that?

Do we really want a Hall of Fame that basically tries to pretend that none of those men ever played baseball? That none of that happened? Or that none of that should have happened?

Hey, here's a bulletin for you: It happened.

The '90s happened. The first few years of the 21st century happened. I saw it with my very own eyeballs. So did you.

It all happened, on the lush green fields of North America, as crowds roared and cash registers rung. It … all … happened.

And how did it happen? The sport let it happen. That's how.

Bud Selig let it happen. The union let it happen. The owners let it happen. The managers let it happen. The agents let it happen. The media let it happen. Front offices across the continent let it happen. And the players never stepped up to stop it from happening.

It … all … happened. And no one in baseball has ever done anything, even after all these years, to make it un-happen, if you know what I mean.

No records have been stripped. No championships have been stricken from anyone's permanent record. No numbers have been changed. No asterisks have been stamped in any record book.

It … all … happened.

So we need to have a long, serious national conversation, starting right now, about where those events fit into the contours of the Hall of Fame. I'm ready if you are.

Maybe we'll decide we want a Hall of Fame that renders all, or most, of that invisible. Maybe we'll decide we want a Hall of Fame that aspires to be a shrine, not just to greatness but to purity. I don't know how we get there, but maybe that's where this conversation will lead us.

But maybe we'll decide, once we think it all through, that's impossible. Maybe we'll recognize that what the Hall needs to be, in these complicated times, is a museum, and nothing more sainted or noble than that.

Maybe it needs to be a place that does what other great history museums do -- tell the story of a time in history, for better and for worse, wherever it leads. Maybe that's not exactly what we would hope and dream a Hall of Fame should be. Maybe, though, that's what it has to be, because if we try traveling down that other road, we'll find nothing but forks and detours and roadblocks.

But once we have that conversation, at least we'll know how to vote and how to proceed and how to build a Hall of Fame for the 21st century.

If we decide it's a museum, then we need to put all of these men -- the greatest players of their generation -- in the Hall of Fame, and let the sport do what it should have done years ago: Figure out some way to explain what happened back then.

There are many ways to do that. Put the good stuff and the bad stuff right there on the plaques. Erect informational signs that explain the context of that era -- and every era in baseball history. Just be real and honest, and let the truth carry the weight of history in all its permutations.

But if that's not what we want, if we decide we want the Hall of Fame to be a holy place, where only the angels of baseball are allowed to reside, then we need to be prepared for what that means. For everything that means.

If it's a cathedral, not a museum, it means we're going to have to throw out Gaylord Perry. Sorry, Gaylord. And everyone who corked a bat or scuffed a ball or used an amphetamine. And anyone who was a notorious off-the-field scoundrel.

There's no place for them in this holy shrine. Is there? How can there be?

Then we'll also need to contemplate another powerful question: What happens if we elect a player one of these years and later find out that he, too, was a performance-enhancing drug user?

Or here's a tougher question: What if we've already elected somebody like that?

I bet we have, to be honest. I know I'm not alone in believing that. When I had this conversation with one baseball official recently, he told me, with no hesitation, he thinks we probably have. Think what kind of mess it would cause if we ever find out who that is. Think of the ramifications.

If there's anything we've learned from the 2013 Hall of Fame election, it's that what we're doing now isn't working. You'd never know it from the balloting, but the '90s happened.

If we decide, after our national conversation, we want the Hall to be a sanctuary, we would have no choice but to expel a player like that. Right? It's either holy or it's not. So if this is the route we settle upon, zero tolerance would be the only way to go.

On the other hand, if we decide this is a museum we're talking about, we could just rewrite his plaque. And let the truth do the talking.

I recognize that the Hall of Fame, as currently constituted, is both of these things. Part museum. Part shrine. I'm a fan of both wings. I think there's a place for both wings, one for historic events, moments and artifacts, the other to shine the spotlight on the greatest players who ever wore a uniform.

But I'm also a voter. And when this year's ballot arrived, I was blown away by the impossibility of what I'm being asked to do.

I would love to be able to do what many of you are constantly asking us to do as voters: Keep every "cheater" out of the Hall of Fame. Ladies and gentlemen, that can't be done. I apologize. But what you're asking is impossible. Literally.

What we know has been overwhelmed by the magnitude of all that we don't know. One player on this ballot (Palmeiro) tested positive and did his time. A second player (McGwire) admitted he took PEDs and said he wouldn't even vote for himself. And everyone else forces us to play the ultimate no-win guessing game.

Should I only single out players who showed up in Jose Canseco's book or on the BALCO witness list? Or should I be suspicious of anybody who ever grew a pimple? What's the standard of "proof" from an era when everyone just sat back and let history unfold? Could it possibly be any sketchier?

All I've ever wanted to be as a voter is consistent and fair. To every name on the ballot. Across the board. Well, there's only one way to do that, I think.

And that is to conclude, ultimately, that the Hall of Fame needs to live on as a museum. Where no one tries to apply a giant eraser to any period in history. Even this one.

Maybe you're with me. Maybe you're not. But we need to have that conversation. And we need to have it now.

And it shouldn't be just a conversation between media and fans. It should be a conversation that includes everyone. From Bud Selig to the folks who chisel the plaques in Cooperstown. And many thoughtful people in between.

If there's anything we've learned from the 2013 Hall of Fame election, it's that what we're doing now isn't working. You'd never know it from the balloting, but the '90s happened.

Now it's up to all of us to figure out what the Hall of Fame ought to do about it.