Balancing out – and sometimes canceling out – goods news like former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas and Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux going into the Hall of Fame this summer are even more controversies that cloud sports’ most hallowed place of honor.
As if the cloud of performance-enhancing drugs wasn’t murky enough on the qualifications of Cooperstown candidates, how about the likes of Mark McGwire getting his second team hitting coach’s job with the Dodgers and Barry Bonds returning as a spring-training instructor for the Giants?
The welcoming back of such PEDs-tainted hopefuls like McGwire and Bonds onto team payrolls only seems to confuse the issue of Hall of Fame voting even more.
The electoral process has its own taint beyond the question of admitting cheaters. How can Vin Scully be kept out of voting for the Hall of Fame after 65 unparalleled seasons as a Dodgers broadcaster, while several writers possessing lifetime votes since the 1980s never covered Maddux and fellow new enshrinee Tom Glavine their entire careers?
Life imitates art here, and admittance to the Hall of Fame is like those new episodic television dramas that have more unresolved twists and turns each week. The only certainty is there’s more to come – and not be settled – next week.
Those already in the Hall of Fame have given thoughts to resolving these issues. First up in the lineup of questions: shouldn’t there be something down on paper dealing with PEDs in the Cooperstown character issue, now that tarnished candidates have been welcomed back by teams?
Paul Molitor, now a Twins coach in the same team traveling party as Hall of Fame comrade/broadcaster Bert Blyleven, believes the employment status of McGwire and Bonds are not linked to what they did as players, and how they artificially enhanced their numbers.
“A guy working in the game is separate from what he did as performing as a player and certain controversies that might surround his career,” Molitor said. “I would think that should be a separate issue.”
Even if cheaters somehow get enshrined through some kind of future rationalization, even after they’ve gotten back in teams’ good graces, Blyleven said the fans won’t be fooled.
“Bonds hit the most homers of any human being,” he said. “You don’t have to put an asterisk next to his name. A father would tell his son Barry Bonds hit more homers than Hank Aaron, but … There’s always going to be that ‘but.’”
The public may excuse the cheaters before the writers. Cubs Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins flat-out predicted none of the PED crowd will gain admittance to Cooperstown. In the meantime, original Sox Goose Gossage, also a Hall of Famer, is livid with the hero’s welcome Ryan Braun got from the Milwaukee crowd on Opening Day.
“He gets a standing ovation for lying to these people,” the Goose said. “He lied and lied and lied and lied … Milwaukee Brewers fans are bad. It’s embarrassing to watch them make heroes out of these guys. When their kids get busted for PEDs later on, (parents) got nobody to look at besides themselves.”
Meanwhile, the voting “system as it is needs to be tweaked to some degree,” Molitor said, to allow longtime broadcasters and other baseball experts to vote. And even beyond grandfathered-in writers who didn’t cover those for whom they vote, the so-called informed scribes who throw away votes ought to be scrutinized.
“There’s the writer who voted for (now Cubs broadcaster) Jim Deshaies, because he said he was a friend (of the writer),” Blyleven said. “I believe there should be some type of discipline so this guy doesn’t vote anymore. It’s an honor to vote.”
Such a positive institution, such a negative aura. How soon will an appropriate change of title to “Hall of Shame” be appropriate?