Results tagged ‘ Craig Biggio ’

Nobody Elected to HOF: We Deserve It (Revised)

Well, this is it. Kindly pay your piper. Welcome those chickens coming home to roost. Please enjoy your Hall of Fame Day of Reckoning.

The anecdotal accounts – and an invaluable “exit poll” – foresaw that the Baseball Writers Association of America would elect nobody as part of the class of 2013, and though I grieve for Dale Murphy and Craig Biggio and several others, there is a certain poetic justice to it.

We all knew. The players who used, the players who didn’t, the owners who enabled it, we reporters who covered it, we fans who bought tickets and cheered anyway. Some of us didn’t want to admit we knew until they went after Bonds and Clemens, or until Canseco’s book, or until McGwire’s temporal displacement in front of Congress, or until that container of Andro showed up in his locker in ’98.

But we knew.

We saw utility infielders popping opposite field home runs and part time guys slapping 20 homers and superstars hitting drives that would have set distance records in golf. We saw before and after photos of the Cansecos and the Bondses and we suspended our disbelief.

We all deserve nobody going into the Hall this year save for Hank O’Day and Jake Ruppert and Deacon White. Only O’Day – in his post-pitching career as an umpire – and the bespectacled White were ever accused even of myopia, let alone actual PED-use.

I am not casting stones from inside the glass house. I’m guilty, too. It was the day they gave the 1986 A.L. Rookie of the Year award to Canseco (whose moral standing in this mess has gradually gone from last place to about 4th from the top because he alone was utterly, if mercenarily, honest). One of the runners-up told me off-the-record “you do know that Canseco uses those drugs they give to the East German Women Swimmers, right?”

He didn’t even know they were called steroids.

I did what digging I could, and kept an ear to the ground, but how many sources were enough to tell that story?But in 1988, just after Ben Johnson was thrown out of the Seoul Olympics for a positive steroid test, I got a series of four sources – including some of her opponents – who told me that Florence Griffith-Joyner was just as steeped in scandal as was Johnson. I promptly went out and butchered the story. I was trying to write a revelation that should have sounded like “other Olympic runners say this” and included a recitation of the math that she was now breaking records so profoundly and so quickly that if the pace continued, by the year 2188, a runner would actually finish a race before she started it. Instead, I turned it into something that sounded like “I think she’s on them drug things.” She and her crew threatened suit, I retracted the story, and not long after Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post had the same experience with his “Canseco Cocktail” story. As well-meaning as we each were in trying to expose the putrid mess, we both set back its revelation by some (presumably small) degree. I’m sorry.

About two months after she got back from Seoul, Flo-Jo, who had promised to sue me and CBS and Carl Lewis (who had made the same charge at a speech at the University of Pennsylvania, on videotape, and then claimed it was off the record), and who had promised to keep running until she won Gold in her “home” Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, abruptly retired. We never heard from their lawyers again. She died in 1998, more than a year shy of her 40th birthday. For the record, I think she too either didn’t know – or willingly disbelieved – that there was anything more than perseverance to her unprecedented series of record-breaking performances. I think she suddenly found out, which is where the retirement – and the legal silence – came in. But it’s just a guess.

In any event, the next time I tripped over something substantial, I kept it to myself.  A pro sports team orthopedist remarked on the sudden devastating, nearly career-ending, bizarre injury to a star baseball player. He said that there were only three ways to accomplish what the guy had done to himself: a hereditary circulatory problem or the repeated injection of anabolic steroids into the same place in the body or a horrific car accident (“By that I mean,” he told me, “having a car dropped on top of you from about 25 feet.”) Having burned myself on the Flo-Jo thing I was not prepared to repeat the process. And now I knew that there was one baseball star on steroids and maybe another one had just had his career virtually ended by steroids and there were not enough sources to mine and certainly nobody to pool notes with.

And then the bottle of “andro” showed up in McGwire’s locker. I can remember that week hearing the late baseball writer Leonard Koppett tell me on my show that nobody cared, that it wasn’t cheating, that it was nothing worse than vitamins or maybe, maybe, “greenies.” To his eternal credit, the author and former pitcher Jim Bouton not only disagreed, but got it exactly right. Some day, he says in the interview, baseball will have to reckon with years and years of records that will be artificially inflated, distorted beyond all measure, by the effects of a drug that lets you keep working out when the guys next to you – or before you, chronologically – have to drop the barbell. It was Bouton, after all, who had written in the eternal Ball Four that if a pitcher could take a pill that guaranteed him a) 20 wins and b) that he’d die five years sooner, he would’ve swallowed it before you finished that “b)” part.

So I pushed the Andro story – wrote a piece for Playboy in 1999 in which I picked up both Bouton’s point and the fact that baseball was going to lose the breathless charm of “chasing the home run record.” I pushed that story and every little hint of the truth dropped over the years, by the late Ken Caminiti, by Canseco, by Curt Schilling. But by then, almost nobody cared. I stood atop the right field corner at Fenway at the Home Run Hitting Contest the night before the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway and ooed and ahhed with the rest of you as McGwire hit 650-foot blasts beyond the wall at the other side of the ballpark. And I knew it was mostly the drugs and while I could still preserve enough of my own disbelief to know it wasn’t real, I could see how the results of the PEDs could be as addictive to the fans and the owners’ bottom lines, as the drugs themselves could be the players.

By 2002 I was carrying a printed list of the players I had been told by various sources were “using.” Printed out and folded up inside my scorebook. I’d show it to colleagues and team executives and even other players and get confirmations or denials or additions. But I never even emailed it to, nor copied it for, anybody. With delicious irony, the legal rules protected the rule-breakers.

My conscience is relatively clean. I’ve been yelling about the Emporers’ Clothes for more than fourteen years. Yet it literally still keeps me up at night. Did so last night before today’s announcement. Biggio will probably get in later, and I think the Veterans’ Committee will soon note that Dale Murphy has the same OPS+ as Jim Rice, and was at worst the second or third best hitter of the era that matched his days as a starting player, and the collateral damage to them and the other deserving clean players will be transient. I do think there’s something delicious about the fact that the Baseball Writers have never even been consistent about what merits election to Cooperstown, and this time they all had to figure it out at the most complex moment in voting history, and that because none of them was likely to reach the same conclusion, for everybody who voted Bagwell but not Bonds, there was somebody who voted Bonds but not Bagwell, and none of them got in.

But they all deserve that kind of self-abnegating communal shame. As do we. They did it. We watched it. Those of us who didn’t care, and those of us who cared but couldn’t reveal or stop it, deserve similar if not identical fates.

The path to Steroid Hell was indeed paved with good intentions. And Jim Bouton’s pills. And the drugs that he didn’t know the name of that the guy told me about 26 years ago that they also gave the East German Women Swimmers. And the stuff we saw with our lying eyes and just pretended wasn’t real.

1983

1983

1988

1988

The Pete And The President And The Hall of Famer Shortage

It wasn’t the first time, and it doesn’t mean they said anything more than ‘howdy,’ but Pete Rose met with MLB President and Chief Operating Officer Bob DuPuy here in Cooperstown over the weekend.

Perhaps just importantly, when Rose said his former teammate (and Hall of Fame Vice Chairman) Joe Morgan was “here,” he was slightly underselling reality. Morgan’s visit to Rose, in the same venue as DuPuy’s, lasted closer to an hour.
While the rest of us were all distracted by the official big doings down Main Street, the action at the memorabilia shop where Rose hawked his autographs all weekend, must have felt heavy enough to merit a revolving door. Besides the emotional visit from (and fractional forgiveness by) Rose’s old manager Sparky Anderson, witnesses say DuPuy also stopped by the shop, and Morgan did not spend his hour there just reminiscing.
All of this continues to feed the extrapolation that MLB is seriously considering reinstating Rose – at least for eligibility for the Hall – and that Commissioner Bud Selig is being heavily lobbied by people he greatly respects, to pardon Rose, or give him clemency of some sort. As Bill Madden of The New York Daily News reported, Hank Aaron told a couple of reporters (ironically including one who works for the Hall of Fame) “I would like to see Pete in. He belongs there.”
Madden has since updated the story with a detail that really turns up the volume:

It was also learned by the Daily News that in a meeting of the Hall of Fame’s board of directors at the Otesaga later on Saturday, two of Rose’s former teammates on the board, vice chairman Joe Morgan and Frank Robinson, also expressed their hope that Selig would see fit to reinstate Rose.

At roughly the same hour, as I first reported late Saturday night, Sparky Anderson marched into the “Safe At Home” shop as if he were going to the mound at Riverfront to pull Jack Billingham, and, tears welling in his eyes, told Rose, “You made some mistakes 20 years ago, Pete, but that shouldn’t detract from your contributions to the game.”


There was a rather petulant piece at ESPN pooh-poohing the story, and another less dyspeptic one from the solid reporter Phil Rogers of The Chicago Tribune claiming Selig was angry enough about the Daily News report that he nearly issued a rare formal denial.

But the Commissioner did not do that, and the reasons are not hard to gather. Aaron is not only his close friend but someone whom Bud has always held on a pedestal. Morgan’s power within baseball, and particularly the Hall, has been steadily growing. Frank Robinson is perhaps the game’s elder statesman. Rogers’ conclusion that “there has been no movement by Rose’s peers to have him take a seat among the greats in Cooperstown” might be numerically correct, but it does not take into account the relative influence of these three larger-than-life figures.

Perhaps just as importantly is the upcoming trauma of the 20th anniversary of Rose’s banishment, and, a week later, the 20th anniversary of Commissioner Bart Giamatti’s stunning, and to so many of us, heartbreaking, death. Selig and baseball can completely co-opt the story and turn it into one of redemption (whether or not it really is). The Veterans’ Committee vote on Rose can finish with only Aaron, Morgan, and Robinson voting “aye” and everybody else shouting obscenities, and Selig will have still redirected the coverage at the end of next month. It’s the scene from “Catch-22″ where the General, Orson Welles, wants to court-martial the Captain, Alan Arkin, for dropping his bombs in the Mediterranean. “We thought of that,” says the Major, played by Martin Balsam, “but then we considered the inevitable publicity.” Welles sighs. “You don’t have to say another word, Major.”

And lastly there is the drum beat growing louder and louder about the Hall of Fame and steroids – and Rose. It’s not just the issue of relative immorality. There is a looming Hall of Famer shortage. Exactly who are we to think are the lead-pipe, no-controversy, no-rumor, no-speculation first-ballot cinches among the recently-retired? Fred McGriff next winter? Larry Walker for the ceremonies of July, 2011? Bernie Williams of the class of 2012? Craig Biggio the year after that? There are, to me, literally two certainties out there and only one of them is certainly retired – Greg Maddux will be here five summers hence, and, if he doesn’t try to pitch again, so will Tom Glavine.

And in the interim? Robby Alomar? 

I mean – and I intend to go into this in depth in a future blog – I think this is great news for Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy, and maybe even Roger Maris, Gil Hodges, and Ron Santo. But the next few years are not going to be remembered for serene and joyous election revelations and inductions. It ain’t gonna be Jim-Ed fans buying out the postcards of their Red Sox hero by late on the day of the ceremony, as they just did this weekend.

Good grief, the Hall might – gasp – need Pete Rose for his star power.

MEANWHILE, IN THE BASEMENT:

I am spending two extra days here researching the obscure stuff I can’t find out about anywhere other than the Hall’s incredible library. The entire staff (particularly librarian Jim Gates and Collections Senior Director Erik Strohl) has already passed several camels through the eyes of needles and before you say they’re just sucking up to a guy with a tv show, their long-ago predecessors Cliff Kachline and the late Jack Redding treated me with the exact same level of respect the last time I darkened the library’s doors – when I was fourteen years old.

Anyway, the research later. For now, here is one of the things we stumbled over, buried in a box in the Scorebooks and Scorecards Collections, while – of course – looking for something else:

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This is a nondescript, hand-drawn scorebook – in an otherwise ordinary composition notebook – with no markings or identification. Maybe the same name will jump out at you, that jumped out at me.

Batting second and playing centerfield for Shelbyville, Kentucky, of the Blue Grass States League, is Stengel. Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel. It’s July, 1910, and he’s just been saved from having to go back to dental school in Kansas City after his first professional season as a player came to an abrupt halt when the Kankakee team went out of business! Stengel latched on with Shelbyville (the franchise moved in mid-season so some records show him with Maysville), opened up with a 1-for-3 day in a 3-2 win, and would remain in baseball until his death in 1975.

And this is a scorebook, apparently belonging to a fan, who saw him play 20 or so times, in the lowest of the minors, 99 years ago. And the Hall of Fame has so much stuff that this not only isn’t on display, but nobody had yet had the time to look long enough at the book to figure out that that’s what it was.

And finally I have some ideas of what I want my house to look like!

Since you’ve read so long, just to say thanks, I give you something you never see – what the non-baseball part of Cooperstown looks like – here’s Lake Otsego, which is about a four-minute walk from the Hall’s front door:

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