“An Exclusive Membership” by Todd Vandenberg

Time for a thought exercise. Suppose you’re on the board of your exclusive club, and you have five new applicants for membership. Obviously, you want to fully vet all candidates. The first, Rob Jones, has impeccable credit and references.  He’s a shoe-in. The next, Patty Martin, has virtually the same credentials; if anything, some of her references are even more glowing than Rob’s. Another easy choice.

Next up, Billy Burns. His credit history is actually the best of the three candidates you’ve reviewed so far. The references though, well; there aren’t any criminal records, per se, yet…several allegations have been made, and Burns was even called before a grand jury. There might not be a smoking gun, but there certainly is an awful lot of smoke.

Next up, Ron Carpenter.  As with all the candidates, Carpenter has plenty of digits where it counts. But like Burns, he has more than his questionable activity. Your club is very selective, perhaps the most exclusive of its kind. Membership is predicated not only on success, but also on the character of the members; of particular interest is just how the members attained their success. Any sense of impropriety cannot be accepted. Whether a prospective member has ever actually been convicted or not is immaterial; if the board, and you, have good reason to believe they were less than honest in their dealings, they don’t belong.

And you, you lucky guy, have the happy task of informing Mr. Burns he will not be accepted into the club. Predictably, he is not a happy man. Membership in the club carries a certain cachet that simply cannot be obtained any other way.

“What the hell do you mean I don’t belong!?!?” roars Burns. “I’ve done more than any of the clowns you already let in!”

“Sorry you feel that way, Mr. Burns, but the fact remains, there have been a lot of allegations about just how you’ve done so well.”

“So you’re listening to rumors, taking the word of – of, whoever wants to spread a bunch of lies about me? You’ve got no facts. No evidence. None at all.”

“Mr. Burns, the fact is, you were involved in illegal activities. You claimed you weren’t aware they were illegal, but you admitted you were involved. You had extensive dealings with a known felon. Whether you like it or not, one of the criteria for membership is personal integrity. We’re not exactly taking away your accomplishments; every penny, every dollar, every single number you’re so proud of is all still there, down to the last decimal, isn’t it? No one is saying you didn’t earn everything you’ve achieved; but we have serious doubts that you earned it all fairly. And there are no shortcuts accepted here.”

“What a pretty speech,” Burns growls. “Whatever. Everybody knows I’m bigger than anyone else here.”

“No doubt about that, sir. The problem is, just how you got that way.” And with that, your discussion with Burns is concluded.

Now, let’s cast this in a different light. Instead of an exclusive private club for the wealthy, this is an exclusive private club for retired baseball players. A Hall of Fame, so to speak. And Rob Jones is Randy Johnson; Patty Martin, Pedro Martinez. Ron Carpenter is Roger Clemens, and Billy Burns, well, if you didn’t know halfway though this little tale, you probably quit reading already. The point of all this is, the Baseball Hall of Fame is indeed private club. They have established the criteria for membership. Character, integrity, and sportsmanship are three of the five requirements for membership. Are there already thugs, cheaters, men of low character in the Hall? Certainly. That in no way excuses the election of another. The Hall isn’t expunging the records of Mr. Clemens or Mr. Bonds. Roger still has 354 wins; Barry still has 762 homers. For me, there’s too much smoke swirling around those numbers. For a majority of the members of the BBWAA, there’s too much smoke. And the Baseball Hall of Fame isn’t required to actually see a fire. It’s their house, and whether anyone else likes it or not, they have the right to shut their door and hang up the No Smoking sign.

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