This week was supposed to be an uneventful one on the Baseball Hall of Fame front, with the release of 2018 ballots that include Chipper Jones and Jim Thome, who could very well be first-ballot inductees next summer.
But increasing support for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in 2017 balloting by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America has triggered a whole new round of steroids hand-wringing that figures to hang over sportswriting voters this winter.
Hall of Famer Joe Morgan sent a letter to them, pleading that no steroids-users should get in. Except that it’s too late for that, and to suggest, as he has, that he’s speaking only for himself, isn’t gaining much credence.
News, Views and Reviews About Sports Books, History and Culture
Also in This Issue: The ‘Hard Labor’ of Oscar Robertson; Irish Sportswriting Anthology; The NHL at 100, Part 2; An Ode to the Butt Fumble; Remembering Jana Novotna and ‘Pocket Hercules’
Morgan isn’t just a garden variety enshrinee; he’s the current vice chairman of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Joe Posnanski thinks this ends Bonds’ and Clemens’ chances of ever getting in. Morgan’s letter “is the Hall of Fame’s stance,” Posnanski argues.
Jay Jaffe, the sabermetrics-oriented Cooperstown prognosticator and author of the recent “Cooperstown Casebook,” gives Morgan a good bit of blowback. So does Yahoo! Sports baseball writer Jeff Passan, who announced he’s going to give up his vote as a result.
While I respect this position more than steroids scold Howard Bryant turning in an empty ballot in 2013, Passan’s gesture is also a bit of grandstanding that fellow baseball writer Cliff Corcoran Tweeted “surrenders power.” Such a protest “isn’t going to topple the Hall, it’s just going allow it to distort history.”
Joel Sherman of the New York Post noted how Joe Morgan appears often with the banished Pete Rose, his old Cincinnati Reds teammate, and doesn’t seem to have a problem with that.
Bill Madden lauds Morgan’s “wake-up call to voters,” reflecting the generational divide among some writers that is becoming more entrenched, but admits it’s probably too late to keep “cheaters” out.
If Posnanski is right and this is the Hall of Fame’s position, then why not follow their counterparts and take the process back from the writers? This may be hard to do since the BBWAA has been the longtime body for enshrinement voting, and public reaction would be more venomous than what’s been happening in recent years.
But the Basketball Hall of Fame, for example, has a totally secretive voting process. Voters aren’t identified, nor is how they voted revealed, even as many have wondered why such obvious candidates like Lefty Driesell can’t get in. Here’s how NBA writer Ric Bucher described this “process” back in 2009:
“A secret committee selects a group of candidates and then a super-secret committee of 24 decides who among those candidates are worthy for induction. A candidate needs 18 super-secret votes to gain entrance. There’s no telling if an inductee was unanimous or squeezed in, or if a candidate who didn’t get in just missed or wasn’t even close.”
I’m not suggesting baseball go “Deep State” like this, but if the Lords of Cooperstown want to keep the “juicers” out, they can. Given the misgivings that many writers have had for the process, and for being asked to consider candidates whose names stir up a hornet’s nest of emotions, perhaps what Passan is doing ought to be heeded.
It’s been too easy for the Baseball Hall of Fame to dump the messy quandary of what to do with PEDs users into the lap of writers who haven’t been given clear guidance. If Morgan’s letter is intended to provide clarity about the Hall’s position, then perhaps the Hall should take decisive steps to fully control who gets in. After all, it is their Hall, not that of the writers.
Chicago radio host Brad Robinson perfectly summed up another fiasco surrounding Baseball Hall of Fame voting, and it’s likely to linger beyond the Jan. 24 revelation of the ballots:
“Joe Morgan’s letter was stupid. Steroids are stupid. Passan not voting because of Morgan’s letter is stupid. This whole damn thing is stupid from every conceivable angle.”
A Few Good Reads
- At The Post Game, an excerpt from Sam Smith’s recent book, “Hard Labor,” about how Oscar Robertson helped pave the way for today’s massive NBA player contracts;
- The NCAA has plenty of critics these days, and for good reason, but former Duke basketball player turned ESPN analyst Jay Bilas may be the organization’s most devastating slayer of its increasingly antiquated code of amateurism. Unlike others, he offers some tangible solutions;
- The tattooed, dreadlocked recruiting obsessive who brought down an SEC football coach is probably is not in a good mood after the hated Ole Miss Rebels knocked off his beloved Mississippi State Bulldogs Thanksgiving night in the Egg Bowl;
- It’s been rivalry week in college football, and this tribute to those games in 33 chapters will probably need some more room in future renditions for Auburn’s stirring win over Alabama Saturday in the Iron Bowl;
- From U.S. Sport History, the tale of a Columbia University graduate and his passionate blog about the Lions football team, which finished second in the Ivy League this season;
- It’s been five years since the first “Butt Fumble” by the New York Jets, and here’s an oral history of the “best worst play” in pro football;
- At NY Mag, Will Leitch writes the latest the NFL-is-dying dirge, with all the usual suspected causes;
- From the Negro Leagues history files, a story about Buck O’Neill, Roy Campanella and a surprising twist of fate;
- In the most diverse town in Ireland, Gaelic sports are a strong cultural bind; this is a 15-minute video well worth your time;
- From The Dublin Review, two Irish hikers got lost in backcountry Corsica and had to rely on their wits.
Sports Book News
- Staying in Ireland, the forces behind the excellent The 42 sports site have published their first book, “Behind the Lines,” a sportswriting anthology of stories from 2017. They include the Galway-Waterford hurling finale, Conor McGregor’s fight against Floyd Mayweather and a Women’s World Cup rugby party;
- The year 2017 is running out, but GQ’s UK edition has a list of best books published this year that it recommends;
- Jonathan Eig’s new Muhammad Ali biography may become a Ken Burns documentary.
- I got several responses and additional links for last week’s newsletter leader about the centenary of the National Hockey League. John Schulian highly recommends the 2002 book “Tropic of Hockey,” by Canadian musician Dave Bidini, who traveled the globe to see how the sport was being played. Schulian calls it “charming and insightful;”
- Hockey and literature? Well yes, they do go together, as this 2012 piece by David Davis in the Los Angeles Review of Books about some notable fiction (and non-fiction) about the sport attests. They include “Hockey Sweater,” a children’s story about a young boy growing up in Quebec in the 1940s, as well as “The Game,” the Ken Dryden classic;
- Also from the vault, Scott Raab’s 1995 GQ piece, “Heaven is a Down and Out Hockey Town,” focuses on the long-gone minor league Cleveland Barons;
- Meet the Canadian artist commissioned to paint 100 oil portraits of NHL legends;
- The official NHL at 100 documentary was released this week, and it’s a keeper;
- Hockey historian and author Eric Zweig delves into the exact date of the first NHL game, and it turns out it’s 100 years ago today, on Nov. 26, 1917;
- Another from Zweig, writing in The New York Times, on how the Toronto Maple Leafs were almost left out of the original NHL. Some of their fans may wonder how they’ve been left out of the last 50 years, given their last Stanley Cup title was in 1967.
- Naim Süleymanoğlu, 50, was born in Bulgaria to an ethnic Turkish family and defected via Australia to his ancestral land due to repression. The Turkish government paid Bulgaria $1 million to help clear his sports eligibility, and later Süleymanoğlu’s family emigrated. The 4-foot-10 tyro earned international and Olympic weightlifting fame as “Pocket Hercules,” establishing a clean and jerk world record in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. He won three Olympic gold medals, five world championships, and two European crowns for Turkey and is a member of the International Weightlifting Hall of Fame. He was afflicted for years with cirrhosis of the liver, which was compounded by brain surgery in Istanbul on Nov. 11, and he died a week later;
- Jana Novotna, 49, suffered a heartbreaking loss to Steffi Graf in the 1993 Wimbledon finals, after leading 4-1 in the third set, then cried on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent while accepting her runner-up trophy. Novotna fell short to Martina Hingis in 1997 before finally winning at the All-England Club in 1998, her only Grand Slam singles crown. For Novotna, who retired in 1999 and succumbed Nov. 19 after a long battle with cancer, her grace in defeat may have earned her as much respect as her 17 WTA titles. As Chuck Culpepper wrote in The Washington Post:
“For a Czech player probably obscure to Americans who seldom follow tennis, Novotna came to live as a towering emblem of a crucial sports tenet.”
* * * * * * * *
The Sports Biblio Digest is an e-mail newsletter delivered each Sunday. It contains commentary and links about sports books and history. You can subscribe here and search the archives. This is Digest issue No. 105, published Nov. 26, 2017. The Digest is a companion to the Sports Biblio website.
I’d love to hear what you think. Send feedback, suggestions, book recommendations, review copies, newsletter items and and requests for interviews to Wendy Parker, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for subscribing to the Sports Biblio Digest! Happy reading!