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A messy hall
First stop is Cooperstown. Itís enough to make you wonder if -- after all these years -- they need to come up with another, better, way to elect people to the Baseball Hall of Fame. And itís not a trifling matter.
Are there greater professional distinctions that Americans might aspire to? Sure! There are the Oscarís, the Pulitzerís, even the Nobel, or maybe the presidency, if you are daft enough to yearn for it. But very few prizes strike a sweeter chord in the American experience than a ticket for eternity to the quaint little brick pantheon in rolling Dutch Country. Moreover, it would not seem to be something that is all that hard to get right, once in a while.
And yet it gets botched, again and again. There was that special commission that messed up the black pathfinders selections a year or so ago by snubbing Buck OíNeil and Minnie Minoso, though both were no-brainers. Then there were the farcical efforts of the revised Veteranís Committee, which succeeded in electing nobody for six years. Followed by the newly revised version of the revised Veteranís Committee that caused a furor by anointing Bowie Kuhn while rejecting Marvin Miller just a month ago. Now we have the Baseball Writersí Association of America (BBWAA) adding further insult to the assorted injuries. Thanks a lot, guys.
But then itís been clear for a long time that the BBWAA no longer handles the task well. Not enough of the writers are true scholars. Very few know much about baseball history. Too many are ďhomers.Ē To some degree thatís always been the case.
New issues, however, have reared that further complicate the question. Some of the better newspapers -- the New York Times being the foremost example -- now forbid their employees from participating in the process on the grounds that journalists -- even those who work in the toy department -- ought to be covering the news, not making it. Itís a solid principle that has merit although I donít entirely agree. The Hall of Fame bit, I believe, is sufficiently unique to qualify as an exception. Annual performance awards are another matter.
Other factors are more aggravating. Too many electors, who apparently believe that it is their divine duty to ďmake the newsĒ have their own personal agendas and choose to use their vote to express themselves on issues having nothing to do with the merits of players on the ballot. That is dead wrong. In last weekís election, 36 electors either refused to submit a ballot or submitted one that was blank, which is an even nastier trick because itís a sneaky way to make the percentage needed for election more difficult to attain. Youíll find nothing in the rules sanctioning such antics.
The agenda-driven voters seem to fall into two camps. There are those who feel itís their responsibility to deny players they deem less than immortal. They have a very narrow view of what constitutes a Hall-of-Famer. To them, Cal Ripken makes the cut but Tony Gwynn is suspect. They believe the goal of keeping the Hall ďpureĒ justifies any tactic they can get their mitts on.
Others see it as an opportunity to grandstand, to make a statement.
Obviously, this yearís ďstatementĒ is all about the steroid-HGH-drug scandal. One wonít dispute their right to be upset about that egregious mess. But they have no right to register their disgust by taking it out on Jim Rice, Andre Dawson or Bert Blyleven. They might have an issue with Mark McGwire but not with Jack Morris, Tommy John or Davey Concepcion. These are all players who might be seen as shining examples of what can be accomplished without cheating. If Rice received half of the 36 votes that were manipulated to serve ulterior motives, he would have made it.
Poor Rice. He didnít deserve this latest rebuff, which bordered on humiliation. At some point, the cat and mouse game becomes a bit unreasonable. For Rice to miss by 17 votes out of the 580 cast -- a margin of less than three percent -- after waiting 14 years for the nod, is simply cruel. Telling was the fact that so many of his contemporaries, led by Goose Gossage, were resounding in their support of him, with the Goose calling the swarthy Red Sox slugger the only hitter he truly feared.
Well, at least Gossage made it. It was long overdue. Heís as worthy as Dennis Eckersley and should have gone in a year ago with Bruce Sutter in a parlay of classic relievers. It would have made sense; too much sense for the illustrious BBWAA, apparently.
Rice has one more shot with the writers and you must assume heíll finally get in next year along with Ricky Henderson who probably will prevail in his first year of eligibility. The writers are a cranky collection but enough of them will recognize that denying Rice when heís come so close is unthinkable. He was never one of their favorites and that wasnít entirely their fault. But much to his credit, heís handled the recurring nightmare of being bypassed with class. Good for him!
As for others who are deserving: Dawson and Blyleven have inched their way close enough to be considered probable, in time. The big test is Morris, who still has a reach. Any elector who doesnít recognize Black Jack belongs doesnít have a clue about what this game is really all about.
A brief word on the ongoing NFL playoffs and the inevitability of the gathering stampede out of Foxborough.
Is there any further doubt that if indeed there is a football god, he wears a red, white and blue uniform under his tattered hoodie? The ugly confrontation of the Colts and Chargers, in which the driven foes literally destroyed one another, was the perfect game plan for the Patriots.
Talk of your Pyrrhic victories. The Chargers must now combat our unbeaten juggernaut with their three primary offensive weapons -- Messrs. Rivers, Tomlinson, and Gates -- either badly impaired or hors de combat. The looming match-up pits Billy Volek against Tom Brady. Good luck to San Diego!
Some things are anointed, apparently. But this saga is beginning to look almost biblical.
Buddy Leroux, RIP
And lastly, a final word on Buddy LeRoux, who died the other day at 77, having spent his last years as a country squire in bucolic New Hampshire, far removed from the madding crowd and runaway controversy that he thrived on, once upon a time.
It always seemed to me that the resentment of Buddy -- both in my business and in the ranks of the public -- had much to do with people simply being unwilling to accept that this soft-spoken, roly-poly, fellow with the unassuming manner was smart and clever and great imagination and even more guts. After all, heíd started out as the guy in the hospital whites who dutifully bandaged the Celtics and tended to their towels. It was easier to believe the amazing deal he concocted to become -- along with his good buddy Haywood Sullivan -- the owner of the mighty Red Sox, was some sort of scam. Jealousy was at work; certainly in the media.
I think in the end, the pounding he took hurt him more than we recognized. He wouldnít let on, of course. He was a proud little guy. Did we miss the point on one of the more amazing Horatio Alger tales of our age? You should wonder.
He made mistakes. But those of us who knew him from way back will remember him with a smile. He was an engaging little rascal and he always had a twinkle in his eye. Such chaps are uncommon.