April 1: Opening Day. The high holy day on my calendar.
This is a political journal? Well, baseball politics often out-stinks that of a governmental ilk. Talking about the Baseball Hall of Fame, of course, which sometimes seems to exist only to insult players and the intelligence of baseball fans.
Except in the most Draconian realms, ex post facto laws are regarded as too unfair for enforcement.
The premise is simple. If it has been historically legal for me crow at the sunrise. A law passed today banning such activities should have no bearing on the legality of my crowing yesterday.
We can’t be punished for breaking laws that weren’t laws at the time. We can’t, but baseball players can.
This year’s induction ceremony will honor the Class of 2020 – deprived of a trip to Cooperstown because of the pandemic – but no members from the 2021 ballot since the Baseball Writers’ Association of America deemed no one worthy this year.
Curt Schilling fell 16 votes of the 75 percent of the vote required – because the writers don’t like the politics of a pitcher ranked among the top 20 or 30 of all time. I don’t care for his politics either. Among other things, Schilling has compared Muslims to Nazis; called for lynching journalists; supported the attempted Jan. 6 Capitol coup and attacked transgender rights. But, the experts hail his stats, and you can’t reach much more fame than the bloody sock game.
Also stiffed this year was Scott Rolen, an all-time top ten third baseman, who managed 52.9 percent of the votes. This is an improvement from 35.3 percent of the voters last year though, of course, he added nothing to his resume over that time. But, some players “need to wait their turn” before enshrinement.
Between Schilling and Rolen on this year’s ballot were Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens at 61.8 percent and 61.6 percent respectively. Both are suspected of using performance enhancing drugs – but without actual proof. Some folks are outraged that they are that close to glory.
Well, hold your noses and let them in – and other stars such as Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire – who were guilty of doing what the game allowed at the time. Their performances contributed to the outcome of the games, the pennants, the playoffs.
Baseball fans love statistics. But, we are smart enough to accept that Steroid Era numbers are skewed historically but true to their time. These guys were the best while they played and were recognized as such.
Further, there is a ridiculous double standard applied to the players suspected of, or even caught, using performance enhancing drugs and others who benefited from their performances.
Coming out of the 1994 strike that cost us a World Series, baseball was looking for an attendance magnet. This was provided by the home run battles between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, whose extra kick concoction was visible in his clubhouse locker – because it was not illegal.
Leading the cheers for baseball was Commissioner Bud Selig, who looked the other way on PEDs long enough for the Steroid Era to cover more than 15 years while baseball attendance soared. Despite his neglect and tacit encouragement, the Today’s Game Era Committee voted Selig into the Hall.
Also enshrined is Tony La Russa, who managed the Bash Brothers in Oakland (centered on José Canseco and McGwire in the late eighties), the most accepted starting point for PED usage. La Russa then brought McGwire to St. Louis.
Certainly, if the players’ stats are tainted, the wins accumulated by their manager should be reviled and not revered. Ditto for the “leadership” that earned Selig his spot in Valhalla.
Hypocrisy aside, remember that baseball’s banned substances were not banned most of that time. And: “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying” is a mantra as old as the game.
Ground crews maintain the length of the infield grass and the hardness (or dampness) of the field to benefit the home team.
Bill James or one of his contributors reported in the eighties that the Twins had statistically significant more home runs in the Metrodome than competitors. He joked about manipulating the air conditioning. And a Twins employee confirmed that years later.
Canseco arrived in Oakland in 1987, not that far removed from 1983, when Philadelphia’s Wheeze Kids reportedly kept amphetamines (“greenies”) in a jar in the trainer’s room as available as jelly beans.
That team included Pete Rose and four Hall of Famers, including the greatest third baseman ever, Mike Schmidt. In 2005, he told Murray Chass of The New York Times that amphetamines “have been around the league forever….In my day, they were widely available in major-league clubhouses….A couple times in my career I bit on it.”
Chass’s article adds: “At a drug trial in Pittsburgh in 1985, Dale Berra and Dave Parker testified that Willie Stargell and Bill Madlock dispensed greenies to their teammates. John Milner told the jury that Willie Mays had a bottle of red juice, or liquid amphetamines, in his locker when they played for the Mets.”
Pops Stargell was a first-ballot HoFer. Bill Madlock won four batting titles. And Willie Mays is Willie Mays. (The trial was concerned with cocaine usage in baseball, not the commonly accepted amphetamines.)
And the players caught using steroids once they were outlawed?
Gaylord Perry pitched 22 years and won 314 ballgames doctoring baseballs – nudge, nudge, wink, wink – only getting ejected once, in 1982, his 21st season. His 1974 autobiography was titled Me and the Spitter. He was voted into the Hall of Fame his third year of eligibility by the guardians of the game’s integrity.
We should judge the players on their performances – not their personalities – and their performances under the playing conditions accepted at that time.
And – if you’re wondering – baseball people gambling on baseball games have been banished for life since the 1870’s.
(Duncan resident Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party. He seldom hit a curveball.)