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Montville: Strip Bill Conlin of his Spink Award

Feb 21, 2014, 9:15 AM EDT

Bill Conlin AP

Over at Sports on Earth, Leigh Montville talks of the late Bill Conlin. The long-time Philadelphia columnist who, in the summer of 2011, was awarded the Spink Award by the Baseball Writers Association of America. And who, five months later, was publicly accused of molestation by seven members of his family.

Montville believes — and I am sure he is correct — that had the allegations against Conlin been public before the vote, the BBWAA would never have named him a Spink Award winner. He now argues that the BBWAA should strip him of the award:

These are the same people who have wrung their hands in the past few years, held their noses and refused to allow the all-time leading home run hitter, the all-time hits leader, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner and other assorted famous players into the building for assorted transgressions. If they had known about Conlin’s transgressions, there is little doubt that they also would not have allowed him to enter.

All they need now is a second chance. Change some bylaws. Bend some rules. Take a vote to rescind the 2011 vote. This is an arbitrary election, an arbitrary process. Miss America, for example, would have been dethroned in a heartbeat for much less serious charges. There does not have to be any due process. There does not have to be any statute of limitations.

I doubt they will. The BBWAA has debated the notion of stripping Ryan Braun of his MVP award after his PED test came to light. They’ve never once considered past Hall of Fame votes after negative information came to light about inductees. I couldn’t seriously see them entertaining the idea of stripping Conlin of the award now. To be honest, they’d probably prefer not to mention Conlin’s name ever again.

Not sure how I feel about it either way, to be honest. On the one hand Conlin is an utter disgrace and there is no such thing in my mind as too-strongly repudiating such a person. On the other hand, his induction happened and the precedent of the BBWAA going back into Hall of Fame voting — even if the Spink Award isn’t technically the same as the Hall of Fame — is kinda worrisome. There’s also the idea of not giving Conlin any more public consideration forever. Letting him fade into anonymity as fast as humanly possible.

Just an awful thing. But, as Montville’s column shows, one that is hard to shake from your consideration.

  1. halladaysbiceps - Feb 21, 2014 at 9:18 AM

    Bill Conlin is dead now. Who cares whether or not he’s stripped of an award. I don’t get it.

    • halladaysbiceps - Feb 21, 2014 at 9:27 AM

      I want to add something. I’ve been to Cooperstown twice in my life. I didn’t go there to see what writer or executive was “enshrined” there. I went there for the players.

      Bill Conlin is the least of my concerns about the HOF.

      • dlf9 - Feb 21, 2014 at 9:39 AM

        I used to live about an hour away from Lake Glimmerglass and went to the Hall a bunch of times. I too never went for the writers’ or broadcasters’ wing, but I didn’t go for the player’s gallery either. To me that was the least interesting part of the hall. The museum was amazing. I could spend weeks looking at Christy Mathewson’s checkerboard, Moe Berg’s binoculars, or Dottie Kamenshek’s jersey, but the wall of bronze from the enductees seems like an afterthought.

      • halladaysbiceps - Feb 21, 2014 at 9:45 AM

        @dlf9,

        You never went to the players wing at the Hall of Fame? You are crazy! While I appreciate everything you said, it’s a violation not to visit the player’s plaque room. I touched all of the HOF plaques with reverence and loved it! It’s our baseball history.

      • dlf9 - Feb 21, 2014 at 10:00 AM

        Nah. I went, but that wing was never the focus of my visits and I’d get bored reading the plaques. I never got bored looking at the exhibits, particularly those of pre WWII ball.

        Baseball history is the well turned double play, the exciting pennant chase, a game of catch between two ten year olds, the lazy afternoon in the bleachers with a hot dog and a beer, the fresh prospect off the farm, rolling double sixes playing APBA in college, the wiley vet hanging on for one more season, a long drive in the car with Vin Scully, or Ernie Harwell, or Phil Rizuto, or Jack Buck, or Harry Caray riding shotgun … There is so much more to the beautiful history of the game than just the great players (or more accurately, the players who a select group of writers or a smaller group of Frankie Frisch’s friends decide were great). That is why the museum is, for me, the better part of Cooperstown.

      • halladaysbiceps - Feb 21, 2014 at 10:03 AM

        @dlf9

        Well stated. You are 100% correct.

      • historiophiliac - Feb 21, 2014 at 1:25 PM

        @OldHossRadbourn would shank you both for spelling “base ball” incorrectly.

      • stex52 - Feb 21, 2014 at 5:22 PM

        A well composed paragraph, dlf9. I am envious. I also agree with your sentiments.

      • yahmule - Feb 22, 2014 at 11:29 AM

        I liked what you wrote, but I didn’t think Frankie Frisch was that controversial a choice as a Hall of Famer.

        Versatile defender, could steal a base, badass nickname.

        .316/.369/.432 and he only struck out 272 times in 10099 PA.

        Now his MVP award was an utter travesty, but his entire body of work seems pretty impressive.

  2. lpd1964 - Feb 21, 2014 at 9:20 AM

    You gotta love it, a hall of fame that enshrines the likes of Conlin but shuns Rose.

    • thebadguyswon - Feb 21, 2014 at 10:53 AM

      Yeah baby!! Molesters in the Hall. But don’t bet on baseball!!!

      • bigharold - Feb 21, 2014 at 4:49 PM

        That would only be an accurate statement had the allegations been known prior to his induction.

        I think they should find away to throw him out but spare me the false comparisons.

      • thebadguyswon - Feb 21, 2014 at 6:00 PM

        Spare me, please.

    • historiophiliac - Feb 21, 2014 at 1:26 PM

      Oh my word, you Rose homers kill me.

    • stex52 - Feb 21, 2014 at 5:23 PM

      Pretty irrelevant jump of logic.

  3. paperlions - Feb 21, 2014 at 9:30 AM

    First, Spinks award winners are not HOFers. Yeah, the HOF lets them give a speech, and they get a plaque up in the MUSEUM…but they are not in the HOF and are not HOFers.

    Second, as reprehensible a person as we now know Conlin to be, he was given the award based on his life of baseball writing. If the perception of writing achievements have not changed, then the award should stand. In contrast, if it was discovered that some award winner regularly plagiarized or that s/he presented work as her/his own that was the work of someone else, then that would be a basis for stripping the award.

    The Spinks award is not supposed to have anything to do with being a good or moral person. Indeed, it is mostly an award that the BBWAA give to old guys for having done their job for a very long time whether they were particularly good at it or not. This is an award they hand out to someone EVERY YEAR, regardless of whether or not there is a deserving candidate.

    • halladaysbiceps - Feb 21, 2014 at 9:40 AM

      paperlions, you are a wise man.

    • The Common Man - Feb 21, 2014 at 9:44 AM

      Yeah, I don’t think there’s a good answer here. Everything about this is terrible. The one thing I am sure of is that it’s silly for the BBWAA to think they can adequately judge a person’s character, when this guy was right under their noses and they chose to honor him, and the organization is filled with other horribly flawed people.

    • bigharold - Feb 21, 2014 at 5:03 PM

      “This is an award they hand out to someone EVERY YEAR, regardless of whether or not there is a deserving candidate.”

      I agree with every point you make but clearly had these allegations surfaced prior to his award he very likely wouldn’t have received it.

      These allegations warrant him being stripped of the award. Sure, it doesn’t matter to Conlin but it matters a great deal to every victim of this kind of crime.

      • yahmule - Feb 22, 2014 at 11:33 AM

        I think Paper has it right. I’m not sure any of his victims would get any sense of closure or satisfaction from this. If anything, the public debate about whether he should keep the award may be stirring up painful memories for them.

    • stex52 - Feb 21, 2014 at 5:25 PM

      About two weeks ago we had the perfect quote, and I forget who said it.

      “Heaven is for good people. The Hall of Fame is for baseball players.”

      • dlf9 - Feb 21, 2014 at 8:40 PM

        The quote is from Jim Dwyer, a utility player in the 70s and 80s. (Nitpick time, Dwyer said ‘baseball people’ rather than ‘baseball players’ but you were close.)

        Also, thanks for your comment above.

  4. sdelmonte - Feb 21, 2014 at 9:31 AM

    Just playing devil’s advocate:

    - Does it matter that he wasn’t found guilty in a court of law? (I have little doubt he’s guilty, but I also believe in the process.)

    - Some people in California gave a man convicted of statutory rape who is a fugitive from American law a prize for filmmaking AFTER his conviction. Does being a bad member of the human race invalidate any contributions the person makes to the human race?

    I don’t have any easy answers. But I suppose it’s easier to say “let’s strip him of his award” after he’s dead and long after he lost my respect as a sportswriter than with someone living whose work I like.

    • realgone2 - Feb 21, 2014 at 9:45 AM

      With the advent of social media just saying someone did something is good enough for most people. Not saying this guy was not guilty but it seems that we just read something and boom we have an opinion set in stone. Seems like it works completely opposite of our justice system.

      • kalinedrive - Feb 21, 2014 at 11:17 AM

        It does work rather similarly to our political system, though. Repeat something often enough, to enough people, and it becomes accepted as fact and influences elections.

        Which is another good reason to expect our justice system to act impartially, because when it doesn’t, it is just another arm of the easily manipulated political process. Unfortunately, the legislature is a political system and can sometimes restrict the justice system.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 21, 2014 at 10:44 AM

      - Does it matter that he wasn’t found guilty in a court of law? (I have little doubt he’s guilty, but I also believe in the process.)

      What process? The statute of limitations was long exceeded when people finally came forward.

      http://deadspin.com/bill-conlins-accusers-speak-call-for-end-of-statute-o-1526878049

      - Some people in California gave a man convicted of statutory rape who is a fugitive from American law a prize for filmmaking AFTER his conviction. Does being a bad member of the human race invalidate any contributions the person makes to the human race?

      And Hollywood et al are despicable for supporting Polanski, as well as Woody Allen.

      • historiophiliac - Feb 21, 2014 at 1:36 PM

        Honestly, I’m kinda torn on that because Polanski is freaking brilliant. Repulsion remains one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen, and if you watch The Pianist and Schindler’s List together, the first clearly dwarfs the latter both in delivery and message. I really kind of come down with Rod Steiger here: selling out other artists should get you banned (*cough* Elia Kazan *cough*); being a horrible human being should not. (And, honestly, I really love Splendor in the Grass and feel that Kazan’s work deserves recognition. I can differentiate between that and receiving an award from a community that one is no longer in commune with though.) That said, I think it totally reasonable if members of the film community refuse to work with Polanski personally and his career tanks that way.

      • yahmule - Feb 22, 2014 at 11:37 AM

        Polanski has multiple victims. So does Bill Cosby for that matter. It’s not like predators act on their impulses once and then they’re all good.

    • largebill - Feb 22, 2014 at 8:48 AM

      sdelmonte,

      Polanski’s case is not just “statutory rape.” He drugged and anally sodomized a 13 year old child. Calling it just statutory rape is how we end up with fools like Whoopi Goldberg claiming “it wasn’t really rape, rape” in attempt to excuse the inexcusable.

  5. Detroit Michael - Feb 21, 2014 at 10:07 AM

    No, the debate should over once someone is in the Hall of Fame (or in this case “the writer’s wing” of it).

    That said, it would be appropriate to mention the accusations that disgraced Conlin at http://baseballhall.org/awards/j-g-taylor-spink/2011-j-g-taylor-spink-award-winner-bill-conlin because it is a part of his history. Tell history the way it happened. The absence of mentioning it is almost as much a whitewash as O.J. Simpson’s biography at the football hall of fame’s website: http://www.profootballhof.com/hof/member.aspx?player_id=195

  6. DelawarePhilliesFan - Feb 21, 2014 at 10:09 AM

    This is an issue quite near and dear to me – not him specifically – so I never ever take these things lightly. Just establishing that point.

    FWIW, I say do nothing. First off, to strip the award is to give it more weight than it in fact has in the first place. Secondly, the award was never vouching for his character. But more importantly – let it serve as a reminder that none of, none of us know public figures AT ALL. You think you love this writer, or that sports figure, or that actor…..well guess what? If you knew them in person, you may well feel different. Every pro sports player chooses to spend 6 months of the year (at least) away from their family. Phil Mickelson was considered a Saint for taking time off the tour to be with his wife during Cancer Surgery. Just shows what a cesspool the whole thing is that THAT is considered above and beyond behavior. I remember when Harry K died, his son Todd talking about what a crazy schedule he had between MLB season, spring training, NFL films and college basketball. But March was always family time….yes, 12 months in the year, and his kids had a father for – MARCH! Not to pick on Harry, but you get the idea.

    So Bill Conlin is in the Writers HOF. Good for him. He also put several vulnerable kids thorough a personal hell. Let the record show it all, I say. Shows what all this BS is worth in the grand scheme of things.

    /stepping off soapbox

    • El Bravo - Feb 21, 2014 at 10:43 AM

      “Let the record show it all, I say” Really that sentence covers so much with respect to who is represented in the HOF (in any sport). If there is strong allegations of abuse, it should be considered as an addition to his bio in the Hall. If there is suspicion of PED use or other drug use, same thing. Why not make the record as clear as possible for those that were admitted and the era of which they played, managed, etc.? We don’t need to throw an asterisk up there, but we could easily put a few sentences next to Barry Bonds’ plaque that says “dude’s head grew double the size part way into his career, so you tell me what that means, but otherwise that bastard could hit and thus he’s in the HOF”.

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Feb 21, 2014 at 10:53 AM

        Well – to be clear, I was talking about stripping him of the award. I most certainly would have said do not GIVE him the award if those allegations were known at the time

      • historiophiliac - Feb 21, 2014 at 2:20 PM

        I think that’s a good answer, but one that never seems to be used. I drives me nuts when you go to one of the Presidential libraries or something and they leave out damning info. Or, they spin it so it doesn’t sound so bad (yeah, that means you, Wilson library — don’t pretend like he was an advocate of women’s suffrage). This is the problem with awards of recognition.

      • El Bravo - Feb 21, 2014 at 4:51 PM

        I heard the George W. Bush Presidential Library is chalk full of WMDs that were “found” lying around Iraq. It also has an ineractive exhibit nothing that the two wars he started both ended in 2005. This exhibit is called “Mission Accomplished”. Finally, it has an oil painting, by W. himself of course, that depicts him and Kanye West having jambalaya somewhere in post-Katrina New Orleans.

  7. phouraces - Feb 21, 2014 at 11:15 AM

    I say take him out of the hall…..He doesn’t deserve think of all of the things that he did to his own family….There is nothing more despicable in life than being a sexual predator and a follower of the Philadelphia Newspapers and the condescending attitude that he had towards people who disagreed with what he wrote he doesn’t deserve it…..In Phlly he was in the back pockets of the cronies who still own the Phillies Bill Giles et all…..If this was a professional athlete who did something like this and he was still alive he and his cronies from all over the country would be calling for their removal…..Someone can rob a bank but to molest children in your own family and keep it quiet for so many years is despicable….These are the same people who because they got shunned by certain stars carried out grudges through their HOF ballots…..Strip him now and be done with it…He is a despicable pedophile who does not belong!

  8. 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Feb 21, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    I’m all for the idea of not giving him any more attention. I went to Cooperstown in 2011, even saw him receive his award. I can only remember his name or who the hell he is when an article about him pops up here. The sooner we stop talking about him the sooner he’ll be forgotten for good.

  9. hojo20 - Feb 21, 2014 at 12:14 PM

    The Hall of Fame sucks! I’ve been there three times and it took me 2 hours max each time. For all the history, baseball has such a small museum. Time to move it to a bigger place.

  10. chilguy - Feb 21, 2014 at 4:24 PM

    As reprehensible as Conlon’s acts were. it’s not the same thing as what either Ryan Braun or Pete Rose did.

    Braun cheated to gain an unfair advantage over his opponents, then lied and wound up throwing the sample collector under the bus in the process. In my book, that’s enough to pull his MVP award.

    As for Rose, he broke the cardinal rule Number One of organized sports: don’t gamble on a sport that you’re an active participant in. Especially as a manager, who has more influence on the outcome of a game than anyone else. He accepted a lifetime ban in exchange for not having to publicly admit his sins, and he STILL hasn’t come clean, and belongs nowhere near Cooperstown.

    And if you go after someone like Conlin, who’s unspeakable acts have nothing to do with his job covering baseball, then you need to take a look at people like Ty Cobb (one of the most violent players the game has ever seen), Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis (an unrepentant racist who did more to keep African Americans out of Major League Baseball than anyone else), or any of the womanizers or drunks (and there are plenty of them) who’ve managed to escape scrutiny.

    The reality is that if it isn’t directly connected to baseball, it’s not an issue.

  11. bravestomahawkchamp - Feb 21, 2014 at 11:02 PM

    “He’s a pederass.”
    ” What’s a pederass Walter?”

    Yep. All the contribution I can think to make to this.

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