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.

Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig had a brutal collision in right center field

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The score was tied in the top of the 10th inning in last night’s game between the Dodgers and the Cardinals. Yadier Molina was up to bat, facing Kenley Jansen and drove one to deep right center field.

Yasiel Puig was in full run for the ball as center fielder Joc Pederson ranged hard for it himself. Puig caught the ball, but not before slamming into Pederson. Both men went down, but Pederson went down harder, taking an elbow to the face from Puig before crashing head-first into the outfield wall.

Watch:

 

Pederson came out of the game, apparently bleeding from his head. There will be an update on his condition today.

UPDATE: Oops, there was an update last night:

 

And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cubs 4, Giants 1: Jon Lester tossed a complete game with 10 strikeouts and needed only 99 pitches to get it done. That’s not a “Maddux” — that requires a shutout — but in terms of efficiency it’s almost more impressive given that, you know, you need at least three pitches to strike a dude out. Schwarber, Heyward and Rizzo homered for the Cubbies.

Twins 2, Orioles 0: Ervin Santana did, in fact, shut out his opponents and he did it with a complete game two-hitter. He needed 105 pitches to do it, but I think he’s fine with that.

Indians 8, Reds 7: If you’ve talked to Indians fans much in the season’s first couple of months the thing you hear most often is disappointment in Edwin Encarnacion‘s performance. There was no problem with it here, as he hit two homers and drove in three. Worth noting that Encarnacion’s big league debut came in a Reds-Indians game. That was on June 24, 2005, when he was playing for Cincinnati in a series up in Cleveland. I’ll always remember it because earlier that day I was checking into a hotel there and Encarnacion was in front of me in line, having just made it to town from Louisville. When he gave his name the Marriott lady handed him a big envelope with maps and parking instructions and a wad of cash and all kinds of other things left there for him by the Reds. He seemed confused and overwhelmed. He also went hitless in his first six games. No matter how much he accomplishes in his career, I always think of him as that confused guy at the Cleveland Marriott and I’ll always root for him a little bit.

Braves 6, Pirates 5: Matt Adams is quickly making friends in Atlanta. He homered in the sixth to bring the Braves to within a run and then he hit a walkoff single in the bottom of the 9th to give them the win. In between those events came a three-hour rain delay. The game ended just before 2AM and, rain delay included, meant for a 6 hour, 15 minute evening. There were probably only 200 fans in Sun Trust Park when Adams hit that game winning single, but every one of those 200 people started a band.

Nationals 10, Mariners 1:Anthony Rendon homered twice and drove in five and Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth each went deep as well. Joe Ross got ten runs to work with but he didn’t need ’em, as he allowed only one run over eight innings of work. Rendon was asked how the Nats scored all those runs and said “I don’t know, I guess we were swinging at good pitches.” The reporter’s response:

Rockies 8, Phillies 2: Charlie Blackmon went deep twice, both two-run shots. He leads all of baseball with 40 RBI. He’s played in 46 games. He’s led off 45 times and batted ninth the other time. Take that, people who care about batting order.

Red Sox 11, Rangers 6Xander Bogaerts had three hits and three RBI but the stat I find most impressive is that he scored on wild pitches twice, once from Andrew Cashner, once from Jeremy Jeffress. The Sox had 11 runs on 12 hits and drew eight walks from Rangers pitching. This box score looks like it came straight out of 1999 or so.

Royals 6, Yankees 2: New York had a 2-0 lead heading into the seventh but then the Royals put up a three-spot in the next two frames. All eight runs in this one came via the longball: Cain, Bonafacio, Merrifield and Moustakas for Kansas City, Hicks and Carter for the Bombers. Danny Duffy got the win after striking out seven over seven. It was his second win over the Yankees in a week.

Mets 9, Padres 3: Michael Conforto homered twice and had a career-high four RBI. Three of those RBI came in the Mets’ seven-run first inning as New York jumped all over Jhoulys Chacin. The Mets romped, but this play by Padres catcher Austin Hedges may have been the highlight:

Angels 4, Rays 0: Matt Shoemaker tossed shutout ball into the seventh. He had a 2-0 lead six pitches into the game, as Cameron Maybin and Mike Trout went deep in the first inning. The Angels have won seven of nine.

Blue Jays 4, Brewers 3: The Jays had a 4-0 lead,thanks in part to a Kendrys Morales homer. Milwaukee pulled close, however, chasing Jays starter Joe Biagini with three runs in the fifth inning. The Jays pen then shut things down with four Toronto relievers combining to shut out the Brewers over the final four and two-thirds.

Astros 6, Tigers 2: Brian McCann is on the concussion DL, but Juan Centeno, making his Astros debut, homered in his place last night. Lance McCullers allowed a one hit in five shutout innings to extend his scoreless innings streak to 22. He had to leave early, though, as he was less than efficient. Jordan Zimmermann allowed four runs — only two of them earned — on five hits while pitching into the seventh. It was his birthday. Maybe the Tigers defense will get him something better today to make up for it.

Diamondbacks 5, White Sox 4J.J. Hoover came into the game with one out and the bases loaded in the eighth inning, the Dbacks clinging to a one-run lead. Then he struck out Kevan Smith and Yolmer Sanchez to preserve that lead and, ultimately, the win. That wasn’t even his best performance of the day, however. Earlier he won a dang cow milking contest:

 

He’s from Western Pennsylvania so, you know.

Dodgers 2, Cardinals 1: Clayton Kershaw pitched well enough to win — he went nine innings, striking out 10 and allowing only one run on a ninth inning wild pitch — but so too did Lance Lynn who went eight innings, striking out ten and allowing only one run on a first inning homer. So this one went to extras. It ended in the 13th when Jonathan Broxton issued a two-out walk to Kiké Hernandez and followed it up by allowing a walkoff double to Logan Forsythe.

Marlins 11, Athletics 9: Miami had a five-run lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. The gave up three to Oakland, but that’s it. Justin Bour had four hits including his fourth home run in five games. Giancarlo Stanton and Dee Gordon had three hits each. Every Miami player had at least one by the third inning.