Dec 26, 2013, 2:49 PM EDT
In June 1966, Ted Williams did something amazing. Nobody saw it coming, perhaps not even Williams himself. He was in Cooperstown, giving his Hall of Fame speech, and he was visibly moved by the day. Williams had never been able to let go of the anger he felt toward sportswriters — even before his last game he couldn’t help but spit out “I’d like to forget them, but I can’t,” — and I imagine some people were cringing in anticipation.
But somehow Ted that day had mostly moved past bitterness.* “I didn’t know I had 280-odd close friends among the writers,” he said of the people who had voted for him, and he thanked them, he thanked the playground director who worked with him and his high school coach and others who affected his life.
*Mostly. As written in The Kid, Ben Bradlee Jr.’s excellent new biography of Williams, he could not resist a private shot at sportswriter Dave Egan, who was his personal Lex Luthor.
And then, he riffed a little bit about baseball. It’s worth putting the whole wonderful paragraph in there.
“The other day Willie Mays hit his 522nd home run. He has gone past me, and he’s pushing, and I say to him, “Go get ‘em, Willie.” Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel. Not just to be as good as someone else, but to be better. This is the nature of man and the name of the game. I hope that one day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren’t given the chance.”
Williams was speaking without notes that day and, as far as I know, had not told anyone he was planning to say anything about Negro Leaguers. It honestly may have been a spur of the moment statement — Williams was pretty famous for those. Whatever, it was a a bold statement. This was 1966, right in the middle of the Civil Rights movement, and his statement was political and counterculture and took some guts.
Then again, guts was never a problem for Ted Williams. What strikes me about the statement — what makes it amazing to me — is that it was SO magnanimous. Hall of Fame speeches (all award speeches, really), by their nature, are meant to celebrate self. You applaud your own career, thank those who made it possible. Williams raced through that part. What he really wanted to do was celebrate BASEBALL. And to him, celebrating baseball meant celebrating those great players who had gone without enough notice. He wanted to remind people about Negro Leagues players he felt sure belonged in the Hall with him.
That was another wonderful part of the Williams speech. Too often people who get into the Hall of Fame want to lock the door behind them.
Williams speech did not instantly grant Negro Leaguers entry into the Hall of Fame. Not even close. But it brought the subject to the surface. By the end of the decade, the topic was hot, and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn held a meeting to discuss the topic. By all accounts the meeting was exceedingly nasty. Former commissioner Ford Frick and Hall of Fame President Paul Kerr were particularly opposed to adding Negro League players. Their reasons ranged from somewhat reasonable (there were no statistics to tell how good the Negro Leaguers were) to somewhat unreasonable (Negro Leaguers would water down the quality of the Hall of Fame — this tinged of racism) to ludicrous (no Negro Leaguers fulfilled the Hall of Fame requirement of 10 years in the Major Leagues — an absurdity since they were not ALLOWED to play in the Major Leagues).
The meeting basically went nowhere. Sportswriter Dick Young was there screaming at everybody, Kuhn was his typically ineffective self, and the one guy who knew more about any of this than anybody — Monte Irvin, who had played in the Negro Leagues and Major Leagues — quietly let others hold court. Kuhn, typically, tried a split-the-baby solution of having a special Negro Leagues display in the Hall of Fame which made exactly zero people happy. Satchel Paige announced he wasn’t going through the back door of the Hall of Fame.
The criticism was so harsh — Jim Murray in Los Angeles was particularly fierce as was the rampaging Dick Young — that the Hall decided on the fly to get rid of the display idea and let Satchel Paige into the actual Hall of Fame. Kuhn would say it was all part of his plan to let public criticism force the Hall into doing the right thing. I don’t buy this for one minute but hey I guess it worked out.
Over time, the Hall of Fame became a leader in celebrating Negro Leagues baseball. There are 29 Negro Leagues players in the Hall of Fame and a few more executives and pioneers. There were missteps, of course, and things worth disagreeing about, but all in all the Hall of Fame has done as much as anybody to keep alive the memory of the Negro Leagues, exactly what Ted Williams had asked for in 1966 (and exactly what my friend Buck O’Neil — who has a statue in the Hall of Fame — had fought for most of his life).
I bring all this up because (1) It’s a pretty great story, but more because (2) it was a case where the Hall of Fame, though it was not easy, took the lead.
It’s time for that to happen again. It’s time for the Hall of Fame to take a stand on the Steroid Era.
Right now, the Hall of Fame is passing the buck. They are letting an unwieldy group of more than 500 baseball writers who never meet as a group sort out the Steroid Era by secret ballot. That’s no way to do things. If it had been up to the BBWAA, Satchel Paige would never have been elected to the Hall of Fame. There’s almost no chance he could have gotten 75% of the vote. Josh Gibson would have had even less chance because he never played in the Majors. Oscar Charleston? Turkey Stearnes? Smokey Joe Williams? There’s no chance 75% of the BBWAA in the 1970s would even have HEARD of them.
If the Hall had not inducted them, they would not have been inducted. The Hall would have remained as racist as baseball in the 1930s and 1940s. And it would not have been enough for them to say, “Well, we turned it over to the BBWAA and this is what they decided.” The Baseball Writers are good at some things — like electing the truly great players — but this is not an organization designed to deal with complex issues like race or PEDs. The BBWAA craves leadership. The Hall of Fame is supposed to provide it.
So far, they have not. They Hall of Fame won’t say or do ANYTHING to clarify things. And because of that, we are no closer to a a logical narrative about the Steroid Era than we were five years ago. There’s no consensus about how much steroid and PED use ACTUALLY affected power numbers (not just talk but actual study of the subject), no consensus over why steroid use should be viewed differently than amphetamines or other drugs, no consensus about the role the people who run baseball played in the era, no consensus about anything really.
No consensus and no consistency. Tony La Russa is unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame as a manager, one of his greatest players Mark McGwire is not. Why? People openly (or subtly) accuse players of steroid use though they never failed a test, were never involved in a public scandal and never showed up in any of the wild accusations that were thrown around. How can the Hall of Fame just sit back and let this happen to the game it represents?
It’s actually kind of disgraceful. The Hall of Fame is meant to celebrate the game, but their silence on this issue leaves baseball and the Hall open to this annual flogging of the game and some of its greatest players.
It’s time for the Hall of Fame to create a committee of experts (former players, executives, scholars, ethicists) to look into the Steroid Era, to make recommendations how the museum should proceed. They should be open to all possibilities and apply science and philosophy and logic to this issue. They should be leaders in moving the game forward. It’s time to stop sitting back while baseball writers (including yours truly) scattershoot their own particular ethical standards and argue about Barry Bonds. This is THEIR museum. It’s time for them to tell everybody what it stands for.
Mar 30, 2015, 11:34 PM EDT
Garcia, 38, last pitched in the majors in 2013 as a member of the Orioles and Braves.
Mar 30, 2015, 11:25 PM EDT
Ryan Hanigan and Sandy Leon figure to handle catching duties for the Red Sox in the early part of the season.
Mar 30, 2015, 10:10 PM EDT
This day has mostly been about who will not be on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster, but it was announced this evening that reliever Phil Coke has earned a spot on the team.
Mar 30, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT
In a decision that was all but inevitable after news of Jaime Garcia’s renewed shoulder issues, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny confirmed today that right-hander Carlos Martinez has won the fifth spot in the starting rotation.
Mar 30, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT
The Diamondbacks will go into the season with a starting rotation of Josh Collmenter, Jeremy Hellickson, Rubby De La Rosa, Trevor Cahill, and Chase Anderson.
Mar 30, 2015, 7:09 PM EDT
The two sides first discussed the possibility prior to Polanco’s promotion to the majors last year.
Mar 30, 2015, 6:19 PM EDT
Rendon suffered what was termed as a minor MCL sprain in his left knee on March 9 and continues to feel discomfort.
Mar 30, 2015, 6:02 PM EDT
That Nationals don’t need another injury. But they may have one.
Mar 30, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
I’d still be surprised if they went down that road — and I think it’s a bad road to go down — but Tony Clark is leaving the option on the table.
Mar 30, 2015, 5:10 PM EDT
Everth Cabrera, who was the Padres’ starting shortstop for most of the past three seasons, looks likely to fill in for Hardy.
Mar 30, 2015, 4:47 PM EDT
Downs signed a minor-league deal in mid-December.
Mar 30, 2015, 4:32 PM EDT
The Cubs are playing ersatz baseball, you see. And this is the, um, apogee of something.
Mar 30, 2015, 3:50 PM EDT
In exchange for Matt den Dekker.
Mar 30, 2015, 3:36 PM EDT
Rodon ranked as a consensus top-20 prospect and has top-of-the-rotation upside, so expect to see him in Chicago by the All-Star break.
Mar 30, 2015, 2:33 PM EDT
He just signed on March 9, but after three awful appearances, the M’s have cut bait.
Mar 30, 2015, 1:49 PM EDT
Carlos Martinez time in the Cardinals’ rotation?
Mar 30, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT
He posted a 3.33 ERA in 70 appearances for the Padres in a limited role, logging a total of just 54 innings with a 51/33 K/BB ratio.
Mar 30, 2015, 1:07 PM EDT
Service time manipulation, the depth chart and hacktastic tendencies mean that the future is not quite here for three of the Cubs’ top prospects.
Mar 30, 2015, 12:46 PM EDT
Maholm has indicated that he wants to continue starting, which likely sealed his fate in Cincinnati and limits his options going forward.
Mar 30, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Baseball technically has a rule against “fraternization.” It’s a dumb rule.
- The Cubs assign Kris Bryant and Addison Russell to the minors, option Javier Baez as well 60
- 2015 Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks 6
- 2015 Preview: Toronto Blue Jays 67
- Mariners prospect Victor Sanchez has died 24
- 2015 Preview: Chicago White Sox 15
- Did David Ortiz admit to more than he realized with his Players’ Tribune editorial? 88
- 2015 Preview: Atlanta Braves 15
- David Ortiz: “Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me” 118
- Ex-Cardinals outfielder Curt Ford was assaulted in St. Louis and told to “go back to Ferguson” (122)
- David Ortiz: “Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me” (118)
- Rob Manfred says it would be hard to reinstate Pete Rose in a limited way (89)
- Did David Ortiz admit to more than he realized with his Players’ Tribune editorial? (88)
- The MLBPA releases a statement on Kris Bryant, mentions possible litigation (85)