January 08, 2004
If we had to do it all over again
In the comments to this entry on Pete Rose and the Hall of Fame, Mike says the following:
If we are going to start picking and choosing the ballplayers that we honor based on whether or not we liked them as a person, then how long will it be before other issues creep into consideration. I can see a time when great ballplayers fall short in the balloting because they were gay or because they were atheist or because they opposed some U.S. military action.
By hiding our personal biases and dislikes behind ill defined buzzwords like "integrity," we open the door to all kinds of discrimination that has nothing to do with how well someone played the game of baseball.
With all due respect, I don't accept the premise that Pete Rose has been or may be kept out of Cooperstown due to distaste for him. I believe he has only his own actions to blame. However, I can see the larger point being made, where a worthy player's candidacy could be held hostage to a controversial personal matter, such as sexuality or a perceived lack of patriotism. So let's take a look at that.
Now, baseball has always had a "character" requirement for its Hall of Fame, unlike the NFL, which is why Lawrence Taylor's induction generated some outrage. In all honesty, though, I can't think of a single player who has been kept out for this reason. Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, who were banned from the game due to their breaking the gambling rule, don't count here. Their situation is akin to having a felony conviction and losing the right to vote as a result. I'm talking about someone who is officially in good standing with Major League Baseball but has been blackballed by the writers and the Veterans' Committee.
I can't say that the first openly gay player, or the first player to refuse to stand during the Star Spangled Banner won't run into resistance from the Hall voters some day. I can't say there won't be a spirited and probably acrimonious debate when we're presented with that scenario. I do think, or at least I hope, that in the end those responsible for voting will confine their decisions to the question of whether or not the player's actions were directly harmful to the game of baseball or not. In my mind, at least, that's the only real issue.
As such, if we were to shut Cooperstown down and redo the whole Hall of Fame from scratch, I'd unhesitatingly cast a vote for Ty Cobb's induction. Cobb was a notorious racist, misanthropist jerk and is often held up by Rose supporters as a "bad person" who nonetheless passed Hall muster. To the best of my knowledge, though, none of Cobb's jerky racist misanthropy directly harmed the game of baseball, and given that I say he'd qualify in a do-over.
The person whom I would shun for bad behavior is Cap Anson, who bears a large share of the responsibility for MLB's color line. By his actions, the majority of fans never got to see the likes of Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, or Buck O'Neil, and these players never got a chance to prove themselves on a national stage. If that doesn't count as harming the game, I don't know what would.
Applying that standard, Rose and Shoeless Joe would still be on the outside looking in to my reconstituted Hall. However, given that he's under a "lifetime" ban, there's another way to deal with him, as suggested later in the comments by TK:
Put up a display/plaque/bust in the hall, detailing his on-field accomplishments, and including the reason his baseball career ended. But don't induct him as a member of the Hall of Fame, and don't do it with a big ceremony. And make it posthumous.
Start with Shoeless Joe.
I can live with that.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 08, 2004 to Baseball
You're 100% right on all counts, Charles. Great job!
This is a brilliant piece of writing. The only issue I have involves Shoeless Joe Jackson. Since he was at the very least "functionally illiterate", the fact that he signed a document saying he in fact threw the Series is circumspect at best. In this era, that type of evidence would most likely be thrown of a courtroom, since the man signing the document was unaware of what he was signing. Combine this with the .375 batting average for the Series, and there is some question as to whether or not he participated in the plan.
Lawrence Taylor's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame was being question in the New York papers up until the day he was voted in. Had LT been a left fielder instead of a linebacker, he probably would be on the outside looking in due to the "character" issue. Of course, Orlando Cepeda also had this issue and had to wait for the Veteran's Committee to vote him in.
On a side note to the Veteran's Committee: How long before Gil Hodges gets voted into the Hall of Fame?!?
"I'm talking about someone who is officially in good standing with Major League Baseball but has been blackballed by the writers and the Veterans' Committee."
How about Dick Allen?
I thought about Dick Allen, but I think he's a borderline HoF candidate. I admit that if anyone fits this bill, he does.
William, do you think Hodges deserves entry as a player or a manager? I personally think he's borderline as either. As for Shoeless Joe and the 1919 World Series, Rob Neyer does the best job of addressing the issues. I'm willing to let him in on the grounds that it's been long enough, but I agree that he's guiltier than some people think.
Is the story about Ty Cobb beating up the guy with no arms guy apocryphal, or did it actually happen?
Gil should go in as a player. The one World Series he won as a manager isn't quite enough to qualify, especially since he had awful teams in Washington and New York before 1969. To me, Gil Hodges is to Brooklyn what Phil Rizzuto was to the Yankees, someone that should have been in the Hall of Fame a lot sooner than he got inducted.
The Ty Cobb story is true (it happened in New York against the Highlanders). It lead to a one day strike by the Tigers when he was suspended in 1912.
I know of the 1912 story but hadn't heard anything about the fan being handicapped. A little research shows that he was handicapped, but not as severely as you say:
A fan whom Cobb recognized as a regular heckler was sitting behind the Tigers' dugout verbally abusing Cobb. He and Cobb traded insults for a while, but Cobb wanted to avoid trouble, so he stayed in center field carriage park area during the second inning. In the third, he went by the New York dugout to look for the owner to ask to have the fan removed. When he got back to the Tigers' bench, he yelled something to the fan about his sister. The fan, Claude Lueker, responded to Cobb by calling him a "half-nigger." Sam Crawford asked Cobb if he would take that from the fan, at which point Cobb charged twelve rows into the stands and began to beat the fan vigorously.
It was at this point that people alerted Cobb to Lueker's handicap—he had lost three fingers on one hand and all of his other hand in an industrial accident. Police pulled Cobb off Lueker, and he was ejected. AL President Ban Johnson was at the game and, after hearing Cobb's side of the story, suspended him indefinitely. Then, for perhaps the first time, the rest of the Tigers supported Cobb, and said that they would not play again until Cobb was reinstated. The team arrived in Philly for a series with the Athletics, and Cobb suited up with the rest of the team. When the umpires told Cobb he couldn't play, the rest of the team changed into street clothes and went into the stands with Cobb. The Tiger management had expected this to happen and had some semi-pro players ready to play. The scabs lost 24-2. Ban Johnson then fined each Tiger $100 after Cobb urged them to play in the next game, and suspended Cobb for 10 games and gave him a $50 fine. It was a spontaneous, united, and effective players' strike, supporting Cobb for standing up for his rights in the face of a heckler.
The main page of this site has quite a bit of info on Cobb. No question he was vile and nasty, but I still draw a distinction between his actions and those of Anson, Rose, and Jackson.
I agree with you Charles about Cap Anson. Baseball was highly integrated until Anson started reminding everybody Black players were...black. This hurt baseball and particularly a guy like John McGraw who according to the Ken Burn's baseball documentary (which I didn't like) tried all of his life to get Black players on his team.
Thankfully we know these players continued integrating in the winter leagues. I saw a picture of Rube Marquard (great name) with a Black teammate. I think his last name was Foster. I read Albert Murray's book years ago about the history of Black players. What struck me was how aware the white players were of their counterparts and how the majortiy of the them favored integration. Who wouldn't want Paige and Gibson?
I have to laugh at this myth of a more genteel time in baseball lore. Cobb charges 12 rows in. Wow. It was a rough tumble mean kind of baseball being played back then with the crowds always seeming to be two strikes away from a riot.
Could those guys play today? It would be in my opinion a home run trot in the park.
Do you know Charles if their is any place to find out more about the old winter leagues? Appreciate it.
TY COBB was not a racist. He shared much empathy for minorities, especially colored people.
TY COBB Historian
Ty Cobb, Fiery Diamond Star, Favors Negroes In Baseball
Independent Journal - January 29th, 1952
MENLO PARK (AP) Tyrus Raymond Cobb, fiery old time star of the diamond, stepped up to the plate today to clout a verbal home run in favor of Negroes in baseball.
Himself a native of the deep south, Cobb voiced approval of the recent decision of the Dallas club to use Negro players if they came up to Texas league caliber.
The old Georgia Peach of Detroit Tigers fame was a fighter from the word go during his brilliant playing career. He neither asked for nor gave quarter in 24 tumultuous years in the American League. Time has mellowed the one time firebrand and he views the sport in the pleasant role of a country squire. He spoke emphatically on the subject of Negroes in baseball, however.
"Certainly it is O.K. for them to play," he said, "I see no reason in the world why we shouldn't compete with colored athletes as long as they conduct themselves with politeness and gentility. Let me say also that no white man has the right to be less of a gentleman than a colored man, in my book that goes not only for baseball but in all walks of life.”
"I like them, (Negro race) personally. When I was little I had a colored mammy. I played with colored children."
Referring again to last week's developments in the Texas league, Cobb declared, "It was bound to come." He meant the breaking down of Baseball's racial barriers in the old south.
Cobb expressed the belief Negroes eventually would be playing in every league in the country. He concluded with: "Why not, as long as they deport themselves like gentlemen?"