Time For a Hall of Fame Stand

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In June 1966, Ted Williams did something amazing. Nobody saw it coming, perhaps not even Williams himself. He was in Cooperstown, giving his Hall of Fame speech, and he was visibly moved by the day. Williams had never been able to let go of the anger he felt toward sportswriters — even before his last game he couldn’t help but spit out “I’d like to forget them, but I can’t,” — and I imagine some people were cringing in anticipation.

But somehow Ted that day had mostly moved past bitterness.* “I didn’t know I had 280-odd close friends among the writers,” he said of the people who had voted for him, and he thanked them, he thanked the playground director who worked with him and his high school coach and others who affected his life.

*Mostly. As written in The Kid, Ben Bradlee Jr.’s excellent new biography of Williams, he could not resist a private shot at sportswriter Dave Egan, who was his personal Lex Luthor.

And then, he riffed a little bit about baseball. It’s worth putting the whole wonderful paragraph in there.

“The other day Willie Mays hit his 522nd home run. He has gone past me, and he’s pushing, and I say to him, “Go get ‘em, Willie.” Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel. Not just to be as good as someone else, but to be better. This is the nature of man and the name of the game. I hope that one day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren’t given the chance.”

Williams was speaking without notes that day and, as far as I know, had not told anyone he was planning to say anything about Negro Leaguers. It honestly may have been a spur of the moment statement — Williams was pretty famous for those. Whatever, it was a a bold statement. This was 1966, right in the middle of the Civil Rights movement, and his statement was political and counterculture and took some guts.

Then again, guts was never a problem for Ted Williams. What strikes me about the statement — what makes it amazing to me — is that it was SO magnanimous. Hall of Fame speeches (all award speeches, really), by their nature, are meant to celebrate self. You applaud your own career, thank those who made it possible. Williams raced through that part. What he really wanted to do was celebrate BASEBALL. And to him, celebrating baseball meant celebrating those great players who had gone without enough notice. He wanted to remind people about Negro Leagues players he felt sure belonged in the Hall with him.

That was another wonderful part of the Williams speech. Too often people who get into the Hall of Fame want to lock the door behind them.

Williams speech did not instantly grant Negro Leaguers entry into the Hall of Fame. Not even close. But it brought the subject to the surface. By the end of the decade, the topic was hot, and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn held a meeting to discuss the topic. By all accounts the meeting was exceedingly nasty. Former commissioner Ford Frick and Hall of Fame President Paul Kerr were particularly opposed to adding Negro League players. Their reasons ranged from somewhat reasonable (there were no statistics to tell how good the Negro Leaguers were) to somewhat unreasonable (Negro Leaguers would water down the quality of the Hall of Fame — this tinged of racism) to ludicrous (no Negro Leaguers fulfilled the Hall of Fame requirement of 10 years in the Major Leagues — an absurdity since they were not ALLOWED to play in the Major Leagues).

The meeting basically went nowhere. Sportswriter Dick Young was there screaming at everybody, Kuhn was his typically ineffective self, and the one guy who knew more about any of this than anybody — Monte Irvin, who had played in the Negro Leagues and Major Leagues — quietly let others hold court. Kuhn, typically, tried a split-the-baby solution of having a special Negro Leagues display in the Hall of Fame which made exactly zero people happy. Satchel Paige announced he wasn’t going through the back door of the Hall of Fame.

The criticism was so harsh — Jim Murray in Los Angeles was particularly fierce as was the rampaging Dick Young — that the Hall decided on the fly to get rid of the display idea and let Satchel Paige into the actual Hall of Fame. Kuhn would say it was all part of his plan to let public criticism force the Hall into doing the right thing. I don’t buy this for one minute but hey I guess it worked out.

Over time, the Hall of Fame became a leader in celebrating Negro Leagues baseball. There are 29 Negro Leagues players in the Hall of Fame and a few more executives and pioneers. There were missteps, of course, and things worth disagreeing about, but all in all the Hall of Fame has done as much as anybody to keep alive the memory of the Negro Leagues, exactly what Ted Williams had asked for in 1966 (and exactly what my friend Buck O’Neil — who has a statue in the Hall of Fame — had fought for most of his life).

I bring all this up because (1) It’s a pretty great story, but more because (2) it was a case where the Hall of Fame, though it was not easy, took the lead.

It’s time for that to happen again. It’s time for the Hall of Fame to take a stand on the Steroid Era.

Right now, the Hall of Fame is passing the buck. They are letting an unwieldy group of more than 500 baseball writers who never meet as a group sort out the Steroid Era by secret ballot. That’s no way to do things. If it had been up to the BBWAA, Satchel Paige would never have been elected to the Hall of Fame. There’s almost no chance he could have gotten 75% of the vote. Josh Gibson would have had even less chance because he never played in the Majors. Oscar Charleston? Turkey Stearnes? Smokey Joe Williams? There’s no chance 75% of the BBWAA in the 1970s would even have HEARD of them.

If the Hall had not inducted them, they would not have been inducted. The Hall would have remained as racist as baseball in the 1930s and 1940s. And it would not have been enough for them to say, “Well, we turned it over to the BBWAA and this is what they decided.” The Baseball Writers are good at some things — like electing the truly great players — but this is not an organization designed to deal with complex issues like race or PEDs. The BBWAA craves leadership. The Hall of Fame is supposed to provide it.

So far, they have not. They Hall of Fame won’t say or do ANYTHING to clarify things. And because of that, we are no closer to a a logical narrative about the Steroid Era than we were five years ago. There’s no consensus about how much steroid and PED use ACTUALLY affected power numbers (not just talk but actual study of the subject), no consensus over why steroid use should be viewed differently than amphetamines or other drugs, no consensus about the role the people who run baseball played in the era, no consensus about anything really.

No consensus and no consistency. Tony La Russa is unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame as a manager, one of his greatest players Mark McGwire is not. Why? People openly (or subtly) accuse players of steroid use though they never failed a test, were never involved in a public scandal and never showed up in any of the wild accusations that were thrown around. How can the Hall of Fame just sit back and let this happen to the game it represents?

It’s actually kind of disgraceful. The Hall of Fame is meant to celebrate the game, but their silence on this issue leaves baseball and the Hall open to this annual flogging of the game and some of its greatest players.

It’s time for the Hall of Fame to create a committee of experts (former players, executives, scholars, ethicists) to look into the Steroid Era, to make recommendations how the museum should proceed. They should be open to all possibilities and apply science and philosophy and logic to this issue. They should be leaders in moving the game forward. It’s time to stop sitting back while baseball writers (including yours truly) scattershoot their own particular ethical standards and argue about Barry Bonds. This is THEIR museum. It’s time for them to tell everybody what it stands for.

Derek Jeter and Jeb Bush still don’t have the money to buy the Marlins

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Despite all of the excitement yesterday about Derek Jeter and Jeb Bush “winning” the bidding for the Miami Marlins, there remains one minor detail: they don’t have the money.

At least not yet. That’s according to the Wall Street Journal which reports that, as recently as Monday afternoon, Jeter and Bush were calling bankers and other potential financiers to put up the $1.3-1.6 billion needed to buy the team. Jeter and Bush may be rich men, but they’re not that rich, and the WSJ reports that they’d merely be the front men with the real cash coming from silent partners.

Oftentimes men come along who want to buy a major league baseball team who have gobs of cash but do not pass muster with MLB on a personal level. At the moment, anyway, the Bush-Jeter group has the opposite problem. If they get the dough, MLB will no doubt welcome them into the ownership club with open arms. They just need to get the dough.

A detail, I presume, which will eventually be remedied. But not a minor detail.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Astros 4, Indians 2: Dallas Keuchel does it again. This time he tosses a complete game, allowing only two solo homers. He’s 4-0 on the season with a 1.22 ERA, keeping everything low and forcing opposing hitters to beat the ball into the ground for the most part. It’s like 2015 all over again. Scary moment, though, when Jose Altuve and Teoscar Hernandez collided while chasing a pop fly. Each left the game, but Altuve could theoretically play today. Hernandez is likely to miss some time with a leg contusion.

Cubs 1, Pirates 0: Kyle Hendricks shut out the Pirates for six innings on four hits and three relievers finished the job, allowing only one hit more. Gerrit Cole shut down the Cubs for seven innings and allowed only two hits, but a throwing error by second baseman Alen Hanson allowed the game’s lone run to score. Tough break for Cole. The Pirates have allowed more unearned runs (15) and have committed more errors (20) than any team in baseball this year.

Rays 2, Orioles 0: Erasmo Ramirez was supposed to start for the Rays, but because of the cold, rainy conditions that seemed like would lead to rain delays, manager Kevin Cash instead made it a bullpen game, running five relievers out there. Austin Pruitt started and went three innings and Chase Whitley chipped in three later in the game and was adjudged the winner by the official scorer. The results: great for Tampa Bay, as the five men combined on a two-hit shutout. This is the kind of game I fear will set a bad precedent, however. Might we one day have a dreadful future when this dynamic, combined with some new roster rules, leads to a couple of games a week when clubs consist of, essentially, 14-man pitching staffs and bullpen games become common occurrences? (shudder)

Tigers 19, Mariners 9: Or maybe I shouldn’t fear bullpen games that much? Here Felix Hernandez was chased after two innings in which he allowed four runs on six hits — the team would later say he’s suffering from dead arm — turning this into a defacto bullpen game. The bullpen . . . was lacking. Detroit beat the tar out of ’em, piling up 24 hits, despite Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Jose Iglesias‘s absences. The Tigers bullpen wasn’t great, even with a commanding lead, yielding four runs in three innings of work. In all the teams combined for 40 hits and 14 walks in a nine inning game that went three hours and forty-three minutes. Ugly.

Brewers 9, Reds 1: Eric Thames homered again — his 11th of the year, eight of which have come against the Reds — but the game was well out of hand by then. Zach Davies tossed five shutout innings. Hernan Perez hit two RBI triples and a homer while Jonathan Villar hit two two-run singles.

Twins 8, Rangers 1: A seven run fifth inning made this one a laugher. Ervin Santana, Major League Baseball’s current ERA leader, allowed one run, four hits and one walk while striking out six in seven innings. Miguel Sano hit a 424-foot homer in the fifth and, later that same inning, singled in another run.

White Sox 10, Royals 5: The Chisox post double digits on the Royals for the second straight night. Todd Frazier had two doubles and drove in three. Leury Garcia and Omar Narvaez each knocked in a couple. Kansas City has dropped six straight and are off to their worst start since 2012. I guess the Royals Renaissance is no more.

Blue Jays 6, Cardinals 5: We talked about this at length already, but boy howdy, do we need to see it again:

That’s the sort of thing a guy writing a baseball movie would put in the script only to have it cut out later by the director because it’s too unrealistic.

Just as impressive, even if it wasn’t as visually spectacular, was Marcus Stroman, who wasn’t even supposed to be working yesterday, pinch-hitting in the 11th inning, knocking a double for his first big league hit, and coming around to score the go-ahead and, ultimately, winning run.

Nationals 15, Rockies 12: Trea Turner hit for the cycle, knocking a single in the first, a two-run double in the second, a two-run homer in the sixth and a bases-loaded triple in the seventh, driving in seven runs in all. But it wasn’t just him, as Coors Field featured Pitchers Need Not Apply Night. These two combined for 27 runs on 29 hits and eight walks, given up by a combined 11 pitchers. All on a cold night, too.

Diamondbacks 9, Padres 3: Paul Goldschmidt had four hits, a dinger included, and drove in three. He’s driven in at least two runs in four straight games. Chris Owings drove in three and Daniel Descalso hit a solo homer. The Dbacks are 14-8, with a 10-2 record at Chase Field.

Angels 2, Athletics 1: Traffic can be rough in Orange County, but you could’ve showed up over two hours late for this one and not missed any scoring, as it was tied at zero for nine innings. Josh Phegley hit a pinch-hit homer for Oakland in the top of the 10th, Mike Trout countered with a solo shot of his own in the bottom half and then Kole Calhoun walked ’em off with an RBI single in the bottom of the 11th off of Ryan Madson. Lost in all of this were excellent performances from the A’s Jesse Hahn, who allowed only one hit over eight shutout innings, and the Angels JC Ramirez, who allowed only two hits over seven. So, no, you maybe didn’t want to miss the first couple hours of this one. Pitching rules.

Dodgers 2, Giants 1: Clayton Kershaw certainly rules. The ace of aces allowed one run while scattering six hits over seven innings while striking out seven. All this on a night when he didn’t have his best stuff and had a wrapped up leg after being hit by a pitch early in the game. The Dodgers snapped a six-game losing streak in AT&T Park.

Marlins vs. Phillies; Yankees vs. Red Sox; Braves vs. Mets — POSTPONED:

Last time I was here, it was rainin’
It ain’t raining anymore
The streets were drowned, and the water’s waning
All the runes washed to shore
Now I’m here lookin’ through the rubble
Tryin’ to find out who we were
Last time I was here, it was rainin’
Ain’t rainin’ anymore