When it comes to Hall, players held to different standard
Voters keep accused PED users out, while their managers and Selig are welcomed
There was a cartoon that ran during spring training in 2005.
I don’t remember who drew it or even who ran it, but it was of a Detroit Tigers’ coach talking to a batboy.
“Hey kid,” he said. “Go give these bats to Pudge.”
The small, skinny kid is incredulous.
“I AM Pudge!” he says.
The cartoon was lampooning Ivan Rodriguez’s startling weight loss, which was reported heavily at the time.
And the implication, though unstated, wasn’t hard to ascertain. Players losing weight was common that offseason, and many tied it to the athletes getting off performance-enhancing drugs in preparation for more stringent testing.
I thought about the cartoon Sunday as Rodriguez was being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Rodriguez is an interesting case. He’s never been tied to steroid use directly. He was not named in Major League Baseball’s Mitchell Report, which forever destroyed the legacy of Roger Clemens, among others.
Rodriguez also is the best all-around catcher I have ever seen. Johnny Bench was before my time, and Carlton Fisk was an aging, beat-up veteran by the time I came to baseball.
Pudge Rodriguez had a rocket arm and a quick bat, and he showed those traits for most of his career.
On stats and ability alone, he’s a sure-fire Hall of Famer.
And yet. …
But this isn’t about Rodriguez. I always have believed the obsession with personal statistics has cheapened the argument of steroid users in the Hall. They didn’t just put up fake stats. Their cheating, their illegal drug use, helped influence the outcomes of games and pennant races.
It gets me worked up. But somehow, I feel sorry for the cheating players who don’t get into the Hall.
And that’s because of the ridiculous double standard that has developed in recent voting.
While Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa are left out, their managers, general managers and their commissioner are welcomed with open arms.
It’s as if all the blame for the so-called “steroid era” (which, if you look at recent home run numbers, may never have ended) is being laid squarely with the players.
That’s like blaming a soldier for a war.
Managers who had the majority of their success in the 1990s and 2000s — Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa — all have entered the Hall of Fame in recent years without much complaint or controversy. Former Braves GM John Schuerholz joined them with his induction Sunday.
They were the best leaders of the era. But are we to believe they had no idea what was going on in baseball?
LaRussa managed the Oakland Athletics in the late 1980s, supervising the careers of admitted-juicers Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Did he not know?
And assuming he did, why didn’t he say anything?
Same thing with Cox and Torre. Were they really unaware of what was going on in their clubhouses? Did they care?
Maybe, but not enough to stop it. Calling out a player, or reporting it, would have been a devastating decision. It could have destroyed their team’s trust and ruined a season. In some ways, their perceived silence is understandable.
But is that silence becoming of a Hall of Fame leader?
And that says nothing about former Commissioner Bud Selig, who was enshrined Sunday.
Full disclosure: I hold Selig responsible for a number of things I hate about the game, from interleague play, to an over-saturated playoff format, to the fact there was no World Series in 1994.
But if there’s one thing that should disqualify Selig, it’s his — at best — cluelessness about the illegal drug use that had consumed the sport in the 1990s and 2000s.
I remember sitting in a dentist’s chair in 1997. My dentist was a big-time baseball fan, and I mentioned to him how I couldn’t believe Brady Anderson’s season. The Orioles’ outfielder was not much of a home run hitter in his career, never hitting more than 21 in a year.
In 1997, he had 50.
“Oh,” my dentist said, dismissively. “Baseball has a huge steroid problem. They have no idea how to deal with it.”
If my dentist knew this, how did the man in charge of the sport not know it?
And if Selig did, why did he not try harder to enact any steroid policy until 2003? That policy, ridiculously weak, didn’t even suspend a player on his first test failure.
Yes, I know it was a collective bargaining issue and that complicates things. But when the book “Game of Shadows” was released in 2006, which detailed widespread PED use in baseball and other sports, Selig said he needed time so he could read the book.
Way to be on top of things.
All of this doesn’t mean Selig was all bad. The game hasn’t had a work stoppage in 23 years, as his supporters always remind us.
But if we’re going to hold players responsible for a period in a sport, why don’t we hold their superiors to that same standard?
I don’t believe anyone who used steroids should be in Cooperstown, so I shed no tears for Clemens and Bonds, even if they were two of the best players of their generation.
And I’m uncomfortable with Rodriguez being in, even if there’s nothing to convict him but rumor and innuendo.
It’s a tough, and in some ways unfair, standard. But that’s often the price of scandal.
It’s only right baseball’s leadership be held to that same standard.
Zach Baker is sports editor for The Advertiser-Tribune.
Contact him at:
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ZachtheWriter