Friday, January 12, 2007

Baseball's Hall of Fame Vote--The Media Should Abandon Ship

  • CBC's Elliotte Friedman comments, 1/12/07

Two years ago, the Associated Press decided it would no longer participate in the voting system that determines the NCAA’s college football champion. It’s not the media’s fault that this sport is almost as bad as figure skating when it comes to determining the overall winner, but the organization decided it no longer wanted to be part of such a mess.

  • The rationale: our rankings are creating news, as controversy followed controversy. We’re supposed to be reporting the news, not creating it.
  • Fair enough. It’s a policy baseball writers should follow. The Hall of Fame voting is creating a similar fiasco, and it’s time for the media to abandon ship.

Personally, I would have voted for Mark McGwire. It gives me the creeps that the media is doing what Bud Selig didn’t have the guts to do, take a stand against steroid use in his sport. Selig and the rest of the owners needed The Great Maris Chase of 1998 to revive interest in the sport, since he’d tasered baseball by canceling the 1994 World Series. Sure, players juiced, but it the owners gave tacit approval by covering their eyes as television ratings and ticket sales emerged from rigor mortis.

Then, in front of Congress, Selig had the gall to say the owners wanted a drug policy but were stymied by the big, bad union. Please. Neither side cared. If Selig was fathered by a puppeteer named Geppetto, we’d all be able to hang our laundry on his schnozz.

His apathy created a nightmare scenario – cheaters in the Hall of Fame, with the most pathological of them poised to pass the classy Hank Aaron as the sport’s all-time home run leader.

(It’s funny to watch baseball try to slur Bonds now, years after embracing his 73-homer season. I’m sure it wasn’t a player or union source that leaked Thursday’s story about Bonds testing positive for amphetamines to The New York Daily News. Bonds is a bad enough character that people can find plenty of reasons to trash him, but with the once-skinny outfielder one healthy season away from breaking the record, the sport’s management is doing its passive-aggressive best to make him look bad.)

Bonds forever lost me with his insanity about how people didn’t want him to pass Babe Ruth because of race. You know what? People don’t care when you move into second. They care about first, and last I checked, Hank Aaron wasn’t white.

  • The racism Aaron faced trying to pass Ruth makes Bonds’ problems look like a happy stroll through Stanley Park. (If you ever se the highlights of Aaron 715th home run, watch the look on his face when the two white fans congratulate him at second base. Aaron has said he was worried they were there to attack him.)

Thirty years later, Aaron is a respected figure across all races. No one wants to see him erased by the ugly Bonds. I feel the same way.

But I admit that in moments of weakness, I think Selig deserves it. If Bonds does pass Aaron, the commissioner and his sport will be stained by the knowledge that a cheater overcame a class competitor. (That is, until Alex Rodriguez catches up.) Selig never really paid a punishment for ignoring steroids.

But McGwire has and Sammy Sosa will. (I think Bonds may still get into the Hall of Fame because some voters will hold their noses and say that he was good enough to get in before he started taking drugs. The terrific book Game of Shadows detailed that happening after 1998.)

Truth is, McGwire is also a crabby guy. Sosa was the person who really embraced the race for Maris, as McGwire initially chafed under all of the extra attention. His “I’m not here to talk about the past” failure before Congress was funny to me, because when Jose Canseco played for the Blue Jays, I tried to do a feature on the one-time Bash Brothers when the Cardinals came to Toronto for an exhibition series.

  • When McGwire heard what I wanted to talk about, he grimaced and said, “Why does everyone want to talk about the past?”

Even though I may not have enjoyed dealing with him, it doesn’t prejudice my feelings on him as a player. Look, the guy hit 583 home runs, seventh all-time. The four eligible men ahead of him (Aaron, Ruth, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson) are all in the Hall, as are the next 12 eligible behind him. Now, we’ve got some voters coming up with ridiculous rationalizations that McGwire was no better than Dave Kingman. That’s a joke.

  • We’ve got other voters giving up their privileges or saying they won’t vote for anyone from 1994-2003 because they don’t know who was clean and who was dirty. Come on, it’s time to stop the madness.

Rafael Palmeiro got caught. Keep him out, fine. But McGwire didn’t. Sure, he used them, but in a sport where there was no crime, why does he get punished?

  • Media members shouldn’t be Bud Selig's henchmen.
Elliotte Friedman's column from CBC sports/ca, 1/12/07


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