Will the BBWAA keep Pudge Rodriguez out of the Hall of Fame? Only God knows.

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Any elite player’s retirement brings forth the question: will he make the Hall of Fame?  Pudge Rodriguez’s retirement is no different.  Of course, the answer to that question is more complicated.

On the merits he’s a no-brainer: He has the most games caught of any catcher, totaled nearly 3,000 hits, won an MVP award, a World Series MVP award and was arguably the best defensive catcher of all time. That’s normally a first-ballot ticket to Cooperstown.

But then there’s the PED problem.  As we’ve seen in recent years, players with any PED associations are basically blackballed from Hall of Fame consideration no matter how strong their on-the-field case is.  And that goes for those players who were admitted or documented users like Mark McGwire and for those who merely have whisper campaigns waged against them like Jeff Bagwell.  Basically, if a bunch of moralizing writers think you’re dirty, you’re not getting into the Hall of Fame.

So where does Pudge Rodriguez fall on that scale?  He was not named in the Mitchell Report. He has not been revealed to be on the famous list of 103 ballplayers who tested positive during baseball’s pilot testing program in 2004. He has not admitted to any PED use and hasn’t otherwise been brought into the greater PED scandal via legal action or the like. But:

  • Jose Canseco wrote in his book that he personally injected Pudge with steroids;
  • When asked if he was on the list of 103, Rodriguez responded “Only God knows”;
  • He played for the Texas Rangers in the 1990s; and
  • His physique varied fairly radically over the years, with it being beefier pre-testing and noticeably smaller once testing was implemented.

Did he do PEDs? Hell, I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if he did, but I don’t know for sure.

But I do know that while, in a court of law, all of those bullet points would represent circumstantial evidence at best, inadmissible hearsay at worst, Hall of Fame voting doesn’t operate at that standard. In the world of baseball, those bullet points — as well as any more or less reasonable suspicions that Pudge did, in fact, take PEDs — are more than enough to get writers to withhold votes.

And unless something happens to change the current pattern of Hall of Fame voting in the next five years — like, say, people electing Barry Bonds because, Jesus, it’s dumb to have a Hall of Fame without Barry Bonds — I think Rodriguez will be on the outside looking in for some time.

CC Sabathia won’t visit the White House if the Yankees win the World Series

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Over the past couple of days the subject of athlete activism, always present to some degree in American sports, but recently revived by Colin Kaepernick and a few other football players in the form of silent protests during the National Anthem, exploded into a headline dominating news story. Lighting the fuse: President Trump directly inserting himself into the controversy.

He did so during a speech on Friday night and during a series of tweets Saturday and continuing into this morning in which he urged NFL owners to “fire” or suspend players who do not stand for the national anthem. He also attempted to disinvite the NBA champion Golden State Warriors from their traditional White House visit because of their star player Stephen Curry’s public opposition to him, though Curry had already said he wouldn’t go.

As Ashley wrote last night, the silent anthem protests have now come to baseball, with A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell becoming the fist player to kneel during the National Anthem. Before that, at least one baseball executive, Orioles Vice President John P. Angelos, came out strongly on the side of players and against Trump. Joe Maddon said some less-than-enlightened words on the matter. Major League Baseball issued a statement on the matter. It was, not surprisingly, somewhat empty, taking something of a both-sides-have-good-points tack. It’s understandable, I suppose. I suspect Major League Baseball and its owners would prefer to not have to comment on this at all. The league does not do this sort of controversy well.

Ballplayers, however, will likely continue to speak up. The latest: Yankees starter CC Sabathia, who was asked yesterday whether he would visit the White House if the playoff-bound Yankees won the World Series. From the Daily News:

“Never. I just don’t believe in anything that is Trump. So there wouldn’t be any reason for me to go at all. I just think it’s stupid. I just think it’s dumb that he’s addressing players and stuff that he shouldn’t be. But it is what it is, and that’s the country we live in these days . . . I’m proud of the way that everybody has Steph’s back and just athletes in general these days, the way everybody has been stepping up has been great.”

Baseball players, as we’ve noted many times over the years, tend to be a more conservative bunch than football or basketball players. There are a lot more white players and a lot more players from southern, suburban and exurban areas. A significant number of racial-ethnic minority players were not born in the United States, so U.S. politics may not necessarily preoccupy them the way it may players from the United States. As such, political protest like we’ve seen in the NFL and NBA was never going to start in baseball in 2017.

But that does not mean that it was not going to come to baseball. Contrary to what so many fans seem to think, sports do not exist inside some bubble into which the real world does not intrude. Athletes are citizens just like you and me with social, political and personal concerns just like you and me. And, at the moment, a government official is demanding that they lose their jobs because he does not agree with their political views and the manner in which they are expressed. I suspect most of us would get upset by that if it happened to us. Certainly a lot of people I know on the conservative side of the political expression worried about government overreach and freedom of speech. At least before January of this year.

So I am not at all surprised that baseball players like Sabathia are beginning to speak out. He will not be the last. Others will join him. Others, as is their right, will push back and say they disagree with him. If and when people feel inspired to tell them to “stick to sports,” or “stay in their lane,” perhaps they should ask why the President of the United States decided not to do so himself. And ask why he thinks it’s appropriate for athletes to lose their jobs for their political views and why private entities like the NFL should be patriotic institutions rather than businesses which put on sporting events.

 

Bruce Maxwell first MLB player to kneel during National Anthem

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Athletics’ rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell did not stand for the National Anthem on Saturday night. He’s the first MLB player to do so and, like other professional athletes before him, used the moment to send a message — not just to shed light on the lack of racial equality in the United States, but to specifically protest President Donald Trump’s suggestion that NFL owners fire any of their players who elect to protest the anthem by sitting or kneeling.

“Bruce’s father is a proud military lifer. Anyone who knows Bruce or his parents is well aware that the Maxwells’ love and appreciation for our country is indisputable,” Maxwell’s agent, Matt Sosnick, relayed to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser on Friday. He continued:

Bruce has made it clear that he is taking a stand about what he perceives as racial injustices in this country, and his personal disappointment with President Trump’s response to a number of professional athletes’ totally peaceful, non-violent protests.

Bruce has shared with both me and his teammates that his feelings have nothing to do with a lack of patriotism or a hatred of any man, but rather everything to do with equality for men, women and children regardless of race or religion.

While Maxwell didn’t make his own statement to the media, he took to Instagram earlier in the day to express his frustration against the recent opposition to the protests, criticizing the President for endorsing “division of man and rights.”

Despite Trump’s profanity-laced directive to NFL owners on Friday, however, it’s clear the Athletics don’t share his sentiments. “The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive,” the team said in a statement released after Maxwell’s demonstration. “We respect and support all of our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”

Whatever the fallout, kudos to Maxwell for taking a stand. He may be the first to do so in this particular arena, but he likely won’t be the last.