Gossage on PED users in the Hall: "I really don't know what we'd do"

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Goose Gossage.jpgSo earlier I asked if someone had Rich Gossage’s cell.
Seems someone did, and I just got off the phone with the Goose.  Nicest
guy in the world, by the way. If you’re going to talk to a Hall of Fame
reliever today, I highly recommend that you make it Gossage.

Anyway, the reason I called him was because I wanted to know, in light of his feelings on Mark McGwire and other steroid users,
what he’d think if Jose Canseco was proven right and we found out that
a current member of the Baseball Hall of Fame used performance
enhancing drugs. And Gossage was honest: he has no idea.

“I don’t really know what I’d do,” Gossage said.  “We’d have to find
out all the facts,” he said. “It’s a big dark cloud. I don’t know what
the scenario would look like.”

Gossage went on to say that it would probably depend on what the
writers did going forward with steroid users like Barry Bonds and Roger
Clemens — guys who are sure shot Hall of Famers if they hadn’t used. 
“If they let in some of those guys, I guess things are different.  What
I said about integrity yesterday still stands, but as for the Hall,
we’d have to see how the writers handled it. I can only speak for what
I believe.”

Gossage wouldn’t speculate about whether it would be appropriate to
remove someone from the Hall of Fame.  And though I didn’t ask him, he
volunteered that he has no idea what member, if any, could have
possibly used steroids, and doesn’t know one way or the other if anyone
had (he wouldn’t comment on the issue of Canseco’s credibility).

To date, no member of the Hall has ever been de-inducted, as it were,
and I could find nothing that suggests that the Hall even has a
procedure for doing so. Of course, if they wanted to, the Hall could
simply call a meeting of its board and make a rule in about five
minutes.  But let’s face it: if the Football Hall of Fame hasn’t taken
out O.J., what are the odds that the Baseball Hall of Fame would remove
a juicer?

But back to Gossage, who was gracious enough to chat with me a bit
longer than I thought he might:  He thinks that there’s a difference
between drugs of abuse and performance enhancing drugs.  He says “Dave
Parker was one of the top five baseball players I ever played with.” He
does not think that his — or Tim Raines or any other player’s —
cocaine use should be held against them in Hall of Fame voting. 
“Parker belongs,” he said. “What he did, with the cocaine, that
decreased his performance, it didn’t enhance it. If he hadn’t done that
stuff we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”  Gossage clearly thinks Parker would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer absent his mid-career cocaine-induced swoon.

“It all boils down to one word: integrity,” Gossage said.  “When it
comes to steroids, you have to talk about the records, and records are
something huge.  The home run record is the greatest record there is.”

I had to ask, of course: is Aaron still the home run king?  “In my mind
he is.  Not only was he the best. But look at where he came from. All
he did. That’s a Hall of Famer.”

I came away from our conversation with the impression that Goose
Gossage is a reasonable and level-headed guy when it comes to this
stuff. He believes what he believes, but he knows others disagree. 
He’s not out to moralize on the subject or tell others what to think.

It’s easy to get the opposite impression of the man, however, from
reading some of the reporting about him that we’ve seen in past couple
of years.  Some of that stuff has made him look like a fire-breather on
the subject of Hall of Fame standards in general and steroids in
particular. It’s enough to make one wonder if the writers who have
elicited all of those juicy quotes from him are trying to make him seem
more of a crusader than he really is.

To me he just seems sensible. But then again, he’s from Colorado, and I’ve never known anyone from Colorado who was anything but sensible.

Tommy La Stella talks about his refusal to report to the minors in 2016

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In late July of 2016, Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella was demoted to Triple-A. It wasn’t personal. It was a roster crunch situation and La Stella had options left so, despite the fact that he had been an effective player to that point of the season, it made sense to send him down.

La Stella didn’t take the demotion well. In fact he refused to report to Iowa and went home to New Jersey instead. It was not until August 17 that he finally reported and then only after prolonged discussions with the Cubs and the assurance that he’d be back in the majors once rosters opened up. Which he was, after spending just over a week down on the farm.

Such a move by a player would, normally speaking, make him persona non-grata. His teammates would shun him and the organization would, eventually, cut bait, with the press characterizing him as a me-first player as he walked out the door. That did not happen with La Stella, however, who remains with the Cubs two years later and, by all accounts, is a popular and important guy in the Cubs’ clubhouse, even if he’s not one of the team’s big stars.

Today Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic has an in-depth story about La Stella, what went down in 2016 and how he and the Cubs have proceeded since then. The story is subscription only, but the short version is that there was a lot of understanding and empathy on the part of the Cubs organization and their players about what was going on in La Stella’s head at the time and how everyone allowed everyone else the space to work through it.

I’m happy to read this story, because all too often we only hear about such incidents as they occur, with little followup. To the extent the story is told, most of the time its completely one-sided, with the player who acts out being treated like a bad seed with little if any explanation of his side of things. And, yes, there are always two sides to the story. Sometimes even more.

Kudos to Rosenthal for telling this story. Here’s hoping the next time a player is involved in a controversy that, in the moment, makes him appear to be a bad seed or have a bad attitude, we hear more about it then too.