A query of character – by G. Scott Thomas


My new ebook, Cooperstown at the Crossroads, provides a nine-point plan to reinvigorate the Nationwide Baseball Corridor of Fame. (The ebook is now accessible from Niawanda Books.) I’m going into element about every of my 9 proposals on successive Fridays on this e-newsletter. As we speak — Level No. 8, character steerage.

Ozzie Smith was an ever-smiling embodiment of humility, at all times fast to applaud others, at all times sluggish to just accept reward. Comtemporaries hailed him because the slickest shortstop in historical past — a fielder with out peer — but he expressed doubts. “Individuals who get to see me on a regular basis might say I’m the perfect, however I don’t know,” he mentioned. “I’ve by no means even had an opportunity to see some nice shortstops like Mark Belanger or Luis Aparicio or Marty Marion.”

Few writers shared his reticence. They whisked Smith into the Corridor of Fame on his first attempt in 2002, giving him an awesome degree of help (91.7 %). The induction thrilled him, although Smith remained true to his nature. He reminded followers that he and the opposite Corridor of Famers weren’t excellent people, removed from it.

“In fact, the people who have plaques in there, it’s all going to be about the great things,” Smith mentioned. “However there’s some dangerous stuff, too, and that’s for all of us. I feel all of us have a darkish aspect of our lives.”

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A number of Corridor of Famers, Smith not amongst them, have been shadowed by backgrounds of remarkable darkness. Let’s wade by means of Cooperstown’s guidelines of character flaws, with induction dates in parentheses:

  • Babe Ruth (1936), the best ballplayer of all time, was usually requested the key of his success. “Good, clear dwelling,” he at all times answered with fun. The Babe was infamous within the baseball world as a serial philanderer with a seemingly limitless capability for Prohibition-era liquor.

  • A number of of Ruth’s Corridor of Fame colleagues had been flat-out alcoholics, notably Pete Alexander (1938), Paul Waner (1952), and Hack Wilson (1979). Reporters had been baffled when Casey Stengel known as Waner sleek, and so they requested the supervisor why he felt the adjective was acceptable. “As a result of he might slide into second base with out breaking the bottle in his hip pocket,” Stengel replied.

  • Dependancy turned the unofficial theme of Cooperstown’s 2004 ceremony. Each of that yr’s inductees had battled substance-abuse issues within the early phases of their careers — Paul Molitor with cocaine, Dennis Eckersley with alcohol.

  • Wade Boggs (2005) blamed a special type of habit after a long-standing extramarital affair was revealed. He instructed that his downside might need been an extreme want for intercourse. “It’s not like I did medicine, or shot somebody, or ended up in jail,” Boggs mentioned.

  • Fergie Jenkins (1991) and Orlando Cepeda (1999) had been each arrested on drug expenses. Jenkins was detained at Toronto’s airport with 4 grams of cocaine in his baggage. “They weren’t mine. They had been present in my bag,” he mentioned vaguely after a decide granted him an absolute discharge. Cepeda served a 10-month jail sentence in Puerto Rico for smuggling marijuana.

  • Rube Waddell (1946) was briefly jailed in 1903 for failing to help his spouse financially. He was suspended from the majors twice the identical yr, as soon as for climbing into the stands to assault a spectator, the opposite time for skipping out on his crew, the Philadelphia Athletics.

  • Duke Snider (1980) was sentenced to 2 years of probation and fined $5,000 for revenue tax evasion. “We’re on the earth of alternative, and I made the improper alternative,” he mentioned.

  • Kirby Puckett (2001) and Roberto Alomar (2011) had been each accused of home abuse. Puckett’s spouse charged him with choking her with a wire and threatening her with a gun. A lady described as a “baseball business worker” accused Alomar of sexual misconduct.

  • Cap Anson (1939) was a virulent racist who spearheaded the drive to segregate the Nationwide League within the Eighteen Eighties. He was, in essence, the daddy of baseball’s shade barrier. The N-word was so deeply ingrained in Anson’s vocabulary that he even used it in his autobiography.

  • Sportswriter Fred Lieb reported that Tris Speaker (1937) and Rogers Hornsby (1942) informed him they had been members of the Ku Klux Klan. Lieb additionally suspected Ty Cobb (1936) of being linked to the KKK: “His common angle towards black fellow residents and his unreasoning dislike for the Church of Rome and its hierarchy clearly made him eligible for Klan membership.”

  • Speaker and Cobb had been accused of conspiring to repair a recreation in September 1919. The case ultimately landed on the desk of the commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who cleared them each. However historian Lowell Blaisdell got here to a special conclusion after digging by means of the information in 2005. “Until all the indications, the clues, and the hints are deceptive,” he wrote, “Cobb and Speaker, although exonerated, had been in all probability responsible.”

  • The irascible Hornsby confirmed no respect for the rulebook. “You’ve obtained to cheat,” he wrote in 1961. “I do know if I had performed strictly by the principles, I’d have been residence feeding my chook canine a very long time in the past as a substitute of incomes a superb dwelling in baseball.” Hornsby was an inveterate gambler, ultimately working up such big money owed on the racetrack that his farm was pressured into foreclosures.

  • Gaylord Perry (1991) was removed from alone in his reliance on the spitball — a pitch that had been banned in 1920 — although he was unusually happy with the connection. He titled his autobiography Me and the Spitter. “I reckon I attempted every little thing on the outdated apple, however salt and pepper and chocolate sauce topping,” he admitted.

These sins differ in depth. Some are clearly reprehensible; others could be thought-about forgivable. The diploma of tolerance is dependent upon the beholder, and most voters have confirmed to be very tolerant certainly. That’s why each single participant listed above stays a member in good standing of the Corridor of Fame, regardless of the severity of his transgressions.

The corridor has issued solely a few pronouncements on character-related points. The primary was its 1944 adoption of Rule 5, which vaguely implored voters to think about every candidate’s “integrity, sportsmanship, [and] character,” amongst different elements.  The second was its 1991 edict barring Pete Rose from membership.

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Wayward conduct has surfaced as a minor situation in a number of elections, together with the very first. The failure of two frontrunners to obtain unanimous help in 1936 was extensively attributed to their private flaws. “Ruth and Cobb might have failed within the character take a look at,” as sportswriter John Kieran put it. However the C-word by no means turned a major issue throughout the corridor’s first 55 years. Rule 5 by no means prevented an in any other case worthy contender from coming into the plaque gallery.

Pete Rose introduced a particular case. Rose gambled on the Cincinnati Reds whereas serving as their supervisor, a direct violation of major-league guidelines. He was slapped with a lifetime suspension in August 1989, two and a half years earlier than he was scheduled to seem on the Corridor of Fame poll. The corridor’s board subsequently acted to stop Rose’s debut, voting in February 1991 to bar him (and some other completely ineligible participant) from consideration.

Cooperstown slipped again into peaceable repose for 20 years or so. It didn’t confront one other character situation of really severe dimensions till 2013, when alleged steroid abusers Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens made their strategy to the poll. The controversy over performance-enhancing medicine has continued at a fevered pitch ever since.

The corridor, which acted so swiftly in Rose’s case, supplied no assist in any respect to voters ensnared within the PED controversy. I’ve already cited a 2022 New York Instances interview with Josh Rawitch, the corridor’s president, however his quote bears repeating. “When you attempt to begin giving steerage on character in a single occasion, you in all probability have to begin giving it in all cases,” he mentioned. “We simply suppose it’s much more vital to depart that as much as the voters, whether or not that’s the BBWAA or the Period Committees, as a result of it means one thing completely different to each individual.”

That’s known as passing the buck.

Character has change into too large a difficulty to be dealt with in such a cavalier method. The time has come for the Corridor of Fame’s leaders to chop by means of the confusion and exhibit management. These are the mandatory steps:

  • Pete Rose’s corridor eligibility will probably be restored.

  • Choice Committee members will probably be instructed to evaluate a candidate’s on-field accomplishments, however not his character, when voting for the Corridor of Fame.

  • Those self same committee members will probably be allowed to take character under consideration, if they need, when voting for the Elite 100.

Rose’s ineligibility, to be blunt, is totally mindless. Sure, he violated a rule and, sure, he ought to have been suspended for a time. However an everlasting ban is ridiculous, particularly in mild of baseball’s present eagerness to cozy as much as on-line playing companies.

The Nationwide Soccer League confronted an similar downside in 1963, when investigators found that star gamers Paul Hornung and Alex Karras had been repeatedly betting on NFL video games. Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended them indefinitely, a ban he lifted 11 months later. “This can be a transfer that may be applauded with the identical fervor as his unique motion,” New York Instances columnist Arthur Daley wrote of the reinstatement. “The commissioner proved his level and hammered residence a shocking object lesson. There was no want for its continuance.”

Anyone who ever threw a recreation — like Shoeless Joe Jackson (quality score of 44 factors) or Eddie Cicotte (36 factors) — deserves to be completely banned from baseball’s Corridor of Fame. However Pete Rose was completely in contrast to the infamous Black Sox. He at all times wager on his personal crew, and he at all times tried to win. He belongs in Cooperstown. Paul Hornung and Alex Karras, in any case, had been each enshrined within the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame. The world didn’t cease spinning.

The difficulty of performance-enhancing medicine is trickier.

Ballplayers and different athletes have at all times been intrigued by the mysteries of chemistry. Pud Galvin, who pitched between 1875 and 1892, reportedly consumed an elixir produced from monkey testicles. Babe Ruth allegedly injected himself on a minimum of one event with an extract from sheep testicles. It’s unknown if both of those Corridor of Famers obtained the testosterone enhance he hoped for.

Medication of larger effectiveness made their means into baseball clubhouses after World Struggle II, as documented by a pair of players-turned-authors. Jim Brosnan joked in his 1960 bestseller, The Lengthy Season, concerning the significance of “nine-inning tablets” for beginning pitchers. Jim Bouton handled the topic of amphetamines extra immediately in 1970’s Ball 4, utilizing their well-liked nickname on the time: “Greenies are pep tablets — dextroamphetamine sulfate — and lots of baseball gamers couldn’t operate with out them.”

Stronger PEDs reportedly hit baseball within the Nineteen Seventies, although athletes in different sports activities had been experimenting with them for the reason that center of the twentieth century. Russian weightlifters reportedly started taking anabolic steroids round 1954. The primary documented doping case within the Olympics occurred in 1960, when a Danish bicycle owner died after being injected with roniacol. “Danish sports activities have been dragged down into the mud by legal cheaters in biking,” wailed a Copenhagen newspaper.

Olympic officers had been sluggish to acknowledge the hazard, and the identical was true of their baseball counterparts. Steroid abuse within the main leagues was an open secret by the Nineties. “All you all knew,” Tony Gwynn mentioned to reporters in 2007. “We knew. Gamers knew. House owners knew. All people knew. And we didn’t say something about it.”

Mark McGwire, who set a brand new file with 70 residence runs in 1998, lied and equivocated for 12 years earlier than admitting PED use. “It’s one thing I’m definitely not happy with,” he mentioned in 2010. “I’m definitely sorry for having carried out it.”

Different high-profile suspects, notably Bonds and Clemens, adamantly denied all accusations. They had been by no means suspended, and their legal information had been clear. (Bonds’s 2011 conviction on a cost of obstruction of justice was overturned in 2015.)

It’s tempting to close Cooperstown’s doorways to any candidate who ever used PEDs, or was overwhelmingly suspected of getting carried out so. “The sport of baseball has no place for cheaters,” mentioned Henry Aaron. “There’s no place within the Corridor of Fame for individuals who cheat.” However avowed cheater Rogers Hornsby is already within the plaque gallery, and so are a number of gamers who experimented with earlier types of chemical help. Who is aware of how a lot their careers had been helped — if in any respect — by testicular elixirs or amphetamines?

It’s equally unattainable to know who actually used steroids — absent a confession — or what advantages the customers might need obtained. Voters tacitly acknowledged this level once they started inducting gamers who had been the themes of unconfirmed PED rumors, together with Mike Piazza (2016), Jeff Bagwell (2017), Ivan Rodriguez (2017), and David Ortiz (2022).

The Corridor of Fame’s mission assertion lays out three goals: “protect the game’s historical past, honor excellence inside the recreation, and make a connection between the generations of people that get pleasure from baseball.” It says nothing about defending the purity of the game, which is why so many miscreants reside comfortably inside its gallery.

Members of the Choice Committee shouldn’t try to be non-public investigators, pharmaceutical analysts, or public ethicists — three jobs they’re completely unqualified to fill. They need to confine themselves to the corridor’s mission of honoring excellence. They need to base their assessments of candidates on what’s reliably identified about these gamers — particularly, their information. Former commissioner Fay Vincent, who was decidedly old style on many points, stands with the newer era on this one. “Bonds and Clemens might not have been saints, however they had been nice gamers,” he mentioned. “Pretending anything is hypocrisy.”

So sure, all of baseball’s excellent gamers needs to be enshrined within the Corridor of Fame. But it surely’s vital to do not forget that a better honor, the Elite 100, has been added to the construction. The corridor’s moral requirements have different extensively — extraordinarily free for many years, relatively tight lately — ensuing within the unusual gaps that at the moment plague its membership. The Elite 100 should keep away from such inconsistency.

Choice Committee members will probably be given a alternative. They are going to be permitted to take character under consideration when electing gamers to the elite chamber, or they are going to be allowed to disregard the C-word as an element. The Elite 100 will probably be baseball’s highest honor, so it appears affordable to offer larger latitude to the voters who’re answerable for selecting the winners. However committee members should pledge to conduct their character evaluation in a uniform method. In the event that they decide to bar PED customers, they need to even be prepared to vote towards racists, home abusers, cheaters, and different malefactors.

Will probably be attention-grabbing to see what decisions they make.

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