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Cheaters and the Baseball Hall of Fame: The Hypocrisy and Arrogance of the Baseball Writers of the BBWAA

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“Cheating is baseball’s oldest profession. No other game is so rich in skullduggery, so suited to it or so proud of it.” Thomas Boswell

I love baseball. Everything about it. The good, the bad and the ugly. It is a game that to me represents the human condition better than any other game. I am amazed by the feats of ballplayers of today and yesterday. I am also a realist and know that like the rest of us, that baseball players are human. I believe that God speaks to me though baseball and there is no other place in the world that I feel more at peace than watching a ballgame in a ballpark. It is an elixir for my soul.

However baseball, despite its perfection as a game is a game played by, written about and watched by a very imperfect cast. Including me. I know a lot of ball players, men who have played in the Majors and Minors and I admire them. I admire their dedication and the sacrifices that they make to be the best. I admire the fact that many toil in the obscurity of the Minor Leagues for years before even getting a chance to play “in the show.” Not many actually get careers in the Majors, and a decided minority have the lifetime performance to even merit being honored in the Hall of Fame.

The Baseball Writers who decide on the election of baseball players into the Baseball Hall of Fame decided that this year, that no players should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. It was due in part to their interpretation of the rules that allow for the writers to consider issues of character can be considered in the voting process. It was the first time in four decades that no players were elected to the hall.

The vote was seen as the writers judgement on the players of the steroid era, an era that until it became unpopular was heralded by many of the same writers as a time of revival in the sport. The same writers that reveled in the domination of Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling on the pitchers mound, the great home run race between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa, the massive home runs of Barry Bonds or the stellar performances of so many other players of the era. The cheerleaders became the morality police. Not that the use of PEDs was right by any means but the moral indignation of the writers that chose to use their vote or lack of a vote as a means of punishment seems to me to ooze hypocrisy.

I am sure that is the case.

Not that I am in favor of cheating or cheaters. However that being said, the bar that these players are being held to is higher than that of baseball cheaters of previous generations, of which some are honored in the same Hall of Fame that the writers exclude those of the steroid era. It seems to me to me that the writers are being just a bit hypocritical and cynical concerning the history of the game and the Hall of Fame.

That is easy for them to do because we Americans, possibly more than any other people love to tear down our heroes and those that excel at what they do. We are one of the most moralistic peoples on the face of the earth, and nowhere more does that moralistic tenor show up than in baseball. Football and basketball, cheating is not so bad, but cheating in baseball that is somehow a greater sin than almost anything in our society. Tax cheats, adulterers, academic cheats and plagiarists as well murderers and other stellar members of society, including lawyers and politicians find it easy to damn baseball players for cheating.

However, the Hall of Fame membership includes many of the best in baseball as well as some pretty lousy human beings who just happened to be great baseball players. It is a place of history where the disgraced members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox have a place, though not as members. It is a place that has enshrined admitted cheaters of previous eras. It is a place that has enshrined racists, bullies, wife beaters drunks philanderers adulterers and even an accused murderer.

It is also an institution that for decades excluded some of the best ballplayers who ever played the game because they were black and had to play in the segregated Negro Leagues. It’s greatest snub was to the legendary Negro League, player manager and later Major League Coach and scout Buck O’Neil, who it never admitted.

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Buck O’Neil Out, Ty Cobb in

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Ty Cobb was a violent man and as racist as they come. He once assaulted a fan, a fan with no arms for jeering him. He attacked a black groundskeeper for attempting to shake his hand and then attempted to strangle the man’s wife when she came to his aid. Babe Ruth would show up drunk for games and slept around with any attractive woman of the female persuasion. There are a host of unsavory characters in the Hall of Fame besides the admitted cheaters and suspected cheaters of bygone times. Hell, Hank Aaron and admitted to using amphetamines what were then known as “Greenies” and players testified under oath that Willie Stargell, another first ballot Hall of Famer not only took amphetamines but dispensed them to team mates. They used them to perform better and they were not alone. Thus to me the self-righteous indignation of the writers against the players of the Steroid Era and that of some fans is just that.

The cheaters didn’t just include drug users although the fact that players have been juiced for decades was known in early 1970s. The Mitchell Report on the use of performance enhancing drugs made this comment:

“In 1973, a Congressional subcommittee announced that its staff had completed an “in depth study into the use of illegal and dangerous drugs in sports” including professional baseball. The subcommittee concluded that “the degree of improper drug use – primarily amphetamines and anabolic steroids – can only be described as alarming.”

That was 1973. But cheating hasn’t been limited to performance enhancing drugs. The were men who threw illegal pitches or altered baseballs. Managers and organizations that specialized in stealing the signs of opposing teams, corking bats and many other tricks and sleights of hand designed to help them win games.

When Sammy Sosa was exposed for his use of a corked bat then Chicago Cubs General Manager Andy McPhail said: “There is a culture of deception in this game. It’s been in this game for 100 years. I do not look at this in terms of ethics. It’s the culture of the game.”

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Rogers Hornsby, the amazing Second Baseman of the St Louis Cardinals who batted over .400 three times in his career said “I’ve been in pro baseball since 1914 and I’ve cheated, or watched someone on my team cheat, in practically every game. You’ve got to cheat.”

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Pitcher Gaylord Perry wrote in his autobiography before he was elected to the Hall of Fame “I’d always have it (grease) in at least two places, in case the umpires would ask me to wipe one off. I never wanted to be caught out there with anything though, it wouldn’t be professional.” Mind you that the “spitball or grease ball” had been illegal for decades when he made his admission.

Yankees great Whitey Ford admitted his cheating. “I didn’t begin cheating until late in my career, when I needed something to help me survive. I didn’t cheat when I won the twenty-five games in 1961. I don’t want anybody to get any ideas and take my Cy Young Award away. And I didn’t cheat in 1963 when I won twenty-four games. Well, maybe a little.”

Hank Greenberg, one of the premier power hitters of his day discussed how the stealing of signs helped him. “I loved that. I was the greatest hitter in the world when I knew what kind of pitch was coming up.”

Hall of Fame managers like Leo Durocher and Earl Weaver, have been quoted, even if they meant it in jest, advocating cheating. Durocher said “Win any way you can as long as you can get away with it.” and Weaver reported told a pitcher “If you know how to cheat, start now.”

To me election to the Hall of Fame should be a place of history where the greatest performers in the game should be enshrined. It should not be a place where writers, many of whom no longer actively cover the game sit as modern Pharisees pointing out the grain of sand in the eye of the accused players while ignoring the logs in their own eyes.

The use of the drugs probably has harmed the health of those that used them. The records set in the era will be debated. But there are so many other things that affect records. The 154 game versus the 162 game season, the Dead Ball Era, the segregated era, the war years where greats like Ted Williams missed their best years because they were serving in the military all affected the game and influenced who was inducted and who was not inducted into the Hall of Fame.

In baseball records are also kind of fuzzy because of changes in the game. Additionally characteristics as innocuous as the differences in baseball stadiums, their dimensions, geography, turf and weather conditions on hitting and pitching play a huge part in any players career.

Baseball fans and players will make their own judgements about the character of individual players as well as the historical significance of the Steroid Era. The era was not good for baseball despite the records set because it brought to light a culture that existed for at least a century. A culture that is not just a baseball culture but part of the American culture, a culture that honors liars and cheaters in politics, law, banking and a host of other professions including religion.

Well that is enough for tonight. Let him who is without sin throw out the first ball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Everybody has a Pitch Count…Good Managers Know When You’ve Reached It

Everybody has a pitch count, be they a baseball pitcher or a military, police or critical care health provider.  At some point one can push themselves so hard that they can injure themselves or if not that start making mental mistakes that cost games for a pitcher or lives to people in military, public safety or critical care medicine.  In baseball managers have to make sure that their pitchers don’t wear themselves down.  It is very easy for a pitcher, especially a hard thrower to wear out early from overuse causing injury.  At times hard throwers, or for that matter any pitcher can over pitch.  They can try to do too much.  At first this may not be noticeable, maybe they lose a little bit off of their fastball or their curve ball may not be as sharp.  The pitcher may shake it off and tell his coaches and trainers that nothing is wrong.  They do this for a couple of reasons.  First, they are competitors; they want to do the job that they have to do.  Second, they don’t want to admit that something is wrong with them be it a possible physical injury or maybe even a mental issue which is keeping them from getting good control of their pitches.  Of course the physical wear and tear on pitcher is brutal.  The physical punishment of throwing a baseball 80-100 mph on the arm, especially the elbow and shoulder is brutal.   The amount of torque applied to these joints is severe.  If a pitcher is using incorrect technique or has thrown too many pitches the effects can be devastating to his career.

While I am not a pitcher, when I played I was a utility infielder and catcher, I do think that everyone has something to learn about life and work from managers, pitchers and knowing when a pitcher is suffering from overuse injuries or has lost his physical or mental edge.  The manager has to know when the pitcher has reached his pitch count and when it is time to pull him even if the pitcher wants to stay in the game.  The same is true with anyone who serves in military, police or intensive medical professions such as EMS, Emergency Rooms and Intensive Care units. This became apparent to me over the past year and a quarter since I returned from Iraq.  I am now 49 years old. I stay in pretty good shape and physically can still outperform many younger people in such things as push-ups, sit-ups and running.  I pretty much know my physical limitations especially coming back from Iraq with some physical and emotional scars.  I work in ICUs and if my life as a chaplain was limited to simply doing that work on the floor I could do it forever.  I thrive in the environment and actually am more at ease on an ICU or in an ER than I am on general patient floors or doing administrative tasks.  However, those are also part of my life.  So I have to achieve a balance.  I am usually pretty good at knowing when it is time to tell my manager, in this case our director of pastoral care that I am not doing well.  Yet, sometimes even when I know I’m not doing well I won’t stop.  I will push myself to the point of physical and emotional collapse.  I hit this point last week following a month of family illness, end of life planning for my dad, a medical emergency with Judy and several very demanding weeks at work where I put in a huge amount of hours because the job had to get done.  I hate to leave something undone or have to leave something for someone else to do.  I don’t like to be taken out of a game.  My first Navy tour after 17 ½ years in the Army I was my Division Chaplain’s relief pitcher.  I ended up taking several battalions because their chaplains either got in trouble or were pulled for another assignment.  Likewise I was given the task of working with young guys who had run into some kind of trouble to see if they could be salvaged.

A good manager has to recognize when his pitcher is having problems before he gets in trouble.  Until the advent of relief pitchers that were primarily relief pitchers and not washed up former starters, they generally pitched deep into a game.  As such many racked up huge numbers of wins, strike outs and complete games.  In fact most of the top ten are guys that pitched when it was almost unheard of to bring in a reliever.  Thus there are men like Cy Young who won 511 games, Walter Johnson with 473 wins and Grover Cleveland Alexander and Christy Matthewson who won 373 each.  Young played 22 years and had a record of 511 wins and 316 losses.  He pitched 7356 innings. He played in 906 games, started 815 games and had 749 complete games.  No wonder the award for best pitcher is named after him.  Cardinals Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson started 482 games and completed 255 of them. In 1969 he won 20 games, 13 of which were shut outs. Gibson once reportedly said:  “I used to get tired in the seventh inning too. And the manager would come to the mound and ask me if I wanted to come out. Then I would look over at the bullpen and see who was warming up. Then I would say, ‘No, I’m going to stay in.”

As baseball moved forward teams began to have more depth on their pitching staffs. Rotations were developed where pitchers pitched every 4th game, and frequently in our era every 5th game.  Additionally since the 1970s the specialist relief pitcher has become a key part of the game.  While there were relievers prior to that, the relief pitcher as a specialist did not really get off the ground until Rollie Fingers of the Oakland A’s won salary arbitration against A’s owner Charlie Finely. At that point pitchers who could come into a game on no notice in certain situations became more and more a trend.  Now it is standard for a team to have long, middle and short relief specialist as well as “Closers.”

In a sense while some people may not like it, it is not a bad thing for the game.  One only has to look at how many pitchers had abbreviated careers o of overuse injuries including Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean who are both in the Hall of Fame.  If you look you can find others. This was especially true before the advent of “Tommy John surgery” when pitchers with a torn rotator cuff faced the end of their careers. As such teams became much more aware of how many pitches a starting pitcher and even relievers should throw in a game.  The pitch count was developed.  For a healthy starting pitcher in the middle of a season this is usually around 100 pitches.  Relief pitcher counts will vary.  While pitch counts are not necessarily the Gospel, there is a point in every pitcher’s career where he hits his own pitch count limit, be it in a game or a career. As Whitey Ford said:  “Sooner or later the arm goes bad. It has to…Sooner or later you have to start pitching in pain.”

So you may be asking what does something arcane like the mechanics, kinetics and injuries have to do with life.  As you know the Deity Herself speaks to me through baseball.   This has application to those in high stress jobs where they are called on to put their lives on the line for others or deal with danger, death or tragedy in an environment where just one mistake can be fatal or where a word, gesture or throw away comment can harm someone else.  The managers, supervisors or commanders of people who do such work have to be cognizant of the effects of this on their people.

I am luck, the Deity Herself has surrounded me with a number of people who can look at me and tell me to sit down even when I want to continue to keep pushing.  Last Friday was one of those days.  It was the culminating point of a nearly a month of personal and professional stress, lack of sleep and the lingering effects of my PTSD and chronic pain which flare up when I have exceeded my personal pitch count.  My boss was away last week.  However we remained in communication.  I was scheduled for weekend duty, which for me I remain in house because I am not able for the most part to meet the response time for a emergency call.  When my boss came back he must have checked in with several folks who k now me to see how they thought I was doing.  Friday afternoon after I got home I got a call from the acting department head who told me to stay at home that my boss was going to pull my duty for me.  I really needed this.  However, I told him that I still could come in if needed and was told to stay home and take care of myself.

With a manager like that I will be able to keep playing my game longer.  I may have occasional rough outings but I will do fine.  The lesson is that everybody has their own personal “pitch count” even if they do not throw a baseball.  Like my favorite theologian Harry Callahan says: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

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Memorial Day 2009- Thoughts and Musings

I am again at the Medical Center on duty, but this not a bad thing.   Before I begin my post I want to direct you to the post of the Abbess of the Abbey Normal and her thoughts on this Memorial Day.  Her post is linked here: http://abbeynormalabbess.wordpress.com/2009/05/25/memorial-day-musings/

I Have also posted several links in this article. Peace, Steve+

ports hosp cemetary 2Conaway Cemetery Portsmouth Naval Medical Center

I have been thinking a lot about the significance of Memorial Day the past week.  I think about it more now than I used to.  Now I have always thought a lot of it and observed it the best that I could.  Yet having now been “boots on the ground” in Iraq travelling about the battlefield to take care of the spiritual needs of American Marines and Soldiers serving as advisers with the Iraqi Army, Police and Border forces it has more meaning.  I am now a combat veteran.  Last year I joined the VFW.  I came back from the war different, PTSD kind of goons you up sometimes.  I spent most of the past 15 months dealing with this, not sleeping and being in chronic pain.  I’m now doing much better.  In part this is due to the support I have at home and a work and the fact that I am no longer isolated.  Being on staff at our Naval Medical Center has been good for me and I do not resent being the Duty Chaplain on this Memorial Day.  I have far too many wonderful people I work with here to think anything like that.  It is an honor to serve here with such fine people, Physicians, Nurses, Chaplains and other medical and support staff.

ports hospt cemetary 1Another View Conaway Cemetery

Today has been really good no matter how the night goes.  I participated in the annual Memorial Day observance at the historic Naval Cemetery on our grounds.  It is but a mere two acres of land and dates to 1838 when it was established to allow the remains of those who died far from their homes repose. It has Navy Sailors, Marines and their families.  It also holds the remains of Sailors from Great Britain, Russia, Germany, Japan and Brazil who died in the Norfolk area.  Additionally the remains of Sailors of the Confederate States Navy are buried here.  The service was organized by the Local Chapters of the Fleet Reserve Association, supported by the local Boy Scout troops and attended by veterans, active duty members and dignitaries from the City of Portsmouth City Council and a State Senator.   It was a simple yet moving ceremony which involved a wreath-laying as well as Amazing Grace played on the Bagpipes and Taps.  Our Color Guard presented the colors and our Commanding Officer, Rear Admiral Kiser was the guest speaker.  Local news services were on hand to televise it, just as they televised others services throughout the region.  One of these was on the Battleship USS Wisconsin which is the centerpiece of the local maritime museum at Norfolk’s Nauticus venue.

Our hospital is interesting.  It dates to 1826 and is the first Naval and for that matter military hospital in our country.  The motto here is First and Finest. Building One is the original hospital.  It has a glass dome which at one time lighted the operating theater.   It now is our command building with other administrative offices.  The hospital has served in peace and war and was instrumental in the 1850s in caring for the victims of the Yellow Fever epidemic.  It is now a teaching hospital and multi-faceted medical center with a national reputation.

The time at the service was neat as I mixed with our veterans of World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and the current wars.  Many proudly displayed their medals, ribbons and badges.  When the National Anthem was played these men and women saluted as smartly as when they were on active duty.  Many are involved with local veterans groups and some are volunteers at our hospital taking time to care for the needs of our patients and families.  Among the dignitaries was Councilman Charles Whitehurst who is a member of the small historically black Episcopal Church where I worship.  Mr. Whitehurst enlisted in the Marines in 1955 and rose through the enlisted ranks to Sergeant, was appointed as a Warrant Officer and the Commissioned as an Officer.  He retired as a Major after Vietnam.   Afterward Admiral Kiser was the Grand Marshal of the Portsmouth Memorial Day Parade, which is the oldest and longest running in the nation.   A link to a local station’s coverage of this event is here: http://www.wvec.com/video/index.html?nvid=364992&shu=1

I was able to catch a glimpse of President Obama’s wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery where in in short and solemn remarks he noted: “Why in an age when so many have acted only in pursuit of narrowest self-interest have the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of this generation volunteered all that they have on behalf of others,” he said. “Why have they been willing to bear the heaviest burden?”

“Whatever it is, they felt some tug. They answered a call. They said ‘I’ll go.’ That is why they are the best of America,” Obama said. “That is what separates them from those who have not served in uniform, their extraordinary willingness to risk their lives for people they never met.”

I think that his remarks were perfect and honored those who serve now and those have gone before us.

The last service of this type that I attended was at the US Cemetery at Belleau Wood, France. It is the site of the battle in which the Marines in their first battle of World War One turned back the assault of the German Army which was advancing on Paris and launched a counter-attack.  I was with Marines of the Marine Security Forces who were conducting a joint memorial service with French Marines.  The next day I visited Normandy with the Marines and taught classes to them on the battle, looking at it from the German perspective.  The day prior to the service I taught parts of the “staff-ride” of the battlefield discussing various aspects of World War one tactics, weaponry and equipment.

me at normandyWith Marines at Normandy

This is also most likely the last Memorial Day that my father will be alive.  He served as a Navy Chief Petty Officer and retired in 1974.  In 1972 he served “boots on the ground” at the city of An Loc which was surrounded for 80 days by the North Vietnamese Army.  He was my inspiration to serve in the military.  There are many veterans of World War Two, Korea and Vietnam who like him are in the twilight of their lives.  I do pray that all will be remembered this Memorial Day.  I was able to be with him the week before last.  I expect it will be the last time that I see him.

McCains Special BaseballTed Williams as USMC Aviator

One interesting thing that I want to mention before I close was the effort that many professional ball players made back in World Wars One, Two and Korea.  Some of the top players of all time gave up some of their prime playing years to serve.  Christy Matthewson served in the Army in France during World War One. He was gassed and developed Tuberculosis and died at the age of 45 in 1925 never playing again.  Yogi Berra served as a Navy Gunners Mate at D-Day.  Ted Williams served in both WWII and Korea as a Marine Corps fighter pilot.  He lost nearly 5 seasons to his service. One who studies statistics in baseball might want to extrapolate the numbers that Williams might have had if he had played on instead of serving.  Hank Greenberg the first Jewish Major League superstar was drafted in 1940 and released just before Pearl Harbor when Congress voted to send men over 28 home. He then re-enlisted, was commissioned and served in the China-Burma-India Theater.  Joe Dimaggio enlisted in the Army Air Force and served 2 ½ years from 1943-1945. Bob Feller volunteered for the Navy on December 8th 1941 and spent 4 seasons on the USS Alabama as a gun captain. Pee Wee Reese served in the Navy in the Pacific while Jackie Robinson served as an Army Officer and Larry Doby served in the Navy before breaking the color barrier to play Major League baseball.  Whitey Ford, Willie Mays, Eddie Matthews and Ernie Banks were all called up for Korea along with Williams.  Roy Gleason of the Dodgers was the last player to earn the Purple Heart as an Army Sergeant in Vietnam. Of course the world has changed.  We have an all volunteer military no current Major League players, or for that matter NBA, NFL or NHL players serve in the military but many donate time and money to support military members and their families including Giant’s pitcher Barry Zito and Orioles pitcher Jamie Walker.  Working with USAA these men have founded a non-profit group called “Strikeouts for Troops.  A link to that organization is here:  http://video.yahoo.com/watch/3462236/9644105

Pat Tillman a defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals enlisted after 9-11 and was killed during a “friendly fire” incident while serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan.  He has been the only NFL, MLB, NHL or NBA player to volunteer for active duty in the current war.

Here are a few links to some baseball and veteran stories:

Link to video of Baseball Hall of Fame Player Monte Irvin talking about his service in World War Two: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKERxyAbg1w and link to Indians and A’s player Lou Brissie’s WWII experience: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFwAXNR9q-k Jerry Coleman on his Marine Corps time as a dive bomber pilot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUlBgBxaWoY

Bob Feller’s, Buck O’Neal and Phil Rizzuto’s WWII memories:  http://video.search.yahoo.com/video/play?p=bob+feller+american+veterans+&n=21&ei=utf-8&js=1&fr=yfp-t-105&tnr=20&vid=0001463818096 and here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRyILkx_c2U

Link to Rick Monday’s saving the flag at Dodger Stadium in April 1976:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrV8QPQAhxo&feature=related

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Let us remember our veterans, especially those who gave the last full measure to serve our country. Support the Honor and Remember flag campaign as well as the “Blue Star” and “Gold Star” families whose loved ones currently serve or have died on active duty in this time of war.

Peace, Steve+

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