The announcement this week of retired Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig as a 2017 inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame didn’t come as a surprise, and it has sparked a renewed discussion about the inclusion of players in the so-called Steroids Era.
Selig was selected with longtime Atlanta Braves executive John Schuerholz by the newly formed Today’s Era Committee, which votes on non-playing contributors from 1988 to the present.
Selig, the first owner-turned-commissioner, presided when performance-enhancing drug use in baseball was on the rise. His induction, with more than 90 percent of the vote, is prompting several voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to reconsider their refusal to vote for players they believe were aided by steroids.
News, Views and Reviews About Sports Books, History and Culture
Also In This Issue: PEN Literary Sports Writing Nominees; The ‘Hollywood’ Rams; Remembering Sammy Lee and Rashaan Salaam
Among those writers is Susan Slusser, who covers the Oakland A’s for the San Francisco Chronicle, and who explained her changing perspective this way on Twitter:
“Senseless to keep steroid guys out when the enablers are in Hall of Fame. I now will hold my nose and vote for players I believe cheated.”
Even Howard Bryant of ESPN, who infamously returned a blank 2013 Hall of Fame ballot because of alleged steroids users, wrote this week that Selig’s induction “in so many ways resembles the contradictions of the Steroid Era itself.”
Whether those sentiments will be enough to elevate Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens into contention remains to be seen; the results of current balloting for the 2017 class will be revealed on Jan. 18. Players need to be voted on 75 percent of all ballots; in this 2016 ballot breakdown, Clemens was fifth and Bonds was sixth, with both being voted on just under 50 percent of returned ballots.
Selig’s admission after his induction announcement that “maybe I should have said more” before imposing MLB’s steroids ban in 2007 ought to raise even more eyebrows.
In his 2015 book “The Game: The Inside the Secret World of Major League Baseball’s Power Brokers,” Jon Pessah served up a withering indictment of Selig’s reign, on steroids and other matters, as MLB recovered from the ill will of the 1994 strike.
That revival included the great home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and detailed in Mike Lupica’s book “Summer of ‘98.” But it was a celebration dropped like a hot potato in the wake of the BALCO investigation, the Mitchell Report and a steroids crackdown demanded in large part by many baseball writers who now find themselves in a voting quandary.
Jay Jaffe, Sports Illustrated’s Hall of Fame prognosticator, this week dusted off previous posts he had written in favor of induction for Bonds and Clemens, whose careers were well underway when steroids were banned.
Jaffe’s assertion that Selig’s induction has induced a state of “cognitive dissonance” in the highly-charged realm of Hall of Fame politics is putting it mildly.
A Few Good Reads
Also selected for induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame is Claire Smith, named the J.G. Taylor Spink Award recipient by the BBWAA. She’s the first female sportswriter to go into Cooperstown, and my friend Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News, a rare female BBWAA member, wrote about what Smith has meant to her, and for women in the profession;
- Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star visits the family of Chiefs safety Eric Berry, a Hodgkin lymphoma survivor who had an interception return for a touchdown in Sunday’s game against his hometown Atlanta Falcons;
- Joe Posnanski on Jimmie Johnson’s record seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, putting him the lofty company of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt;
- The story of Rick Carter, the coach who recruited Heisman candidate Gordie Lockbaum to the College of the Holy Cross in the early 1980s, but who never lived to see his player’s unlikely rise to college football fame;
- Ten years ago this week, Rich Rodriguez turned down the Alabama football job and thus altered a significant slice of college football history. The Crimson Tide is heavily favored to win its fifth national title since 2009 under Nick Saban, to whom Alabama turned after Rodriguez said no;
- At Sports Collectors Daily, Bob D’Angelo writes about a 1919 spring training meeting between Babe Ruth and evangelist Billy Sunday and a rare photo of their visit that’s been put up for auction.
Sports Book News
A total of 11 books are included in the 2017 longlist for the ESPN/PEN America Literary Sports Writing Award and that was revealed this week, and they include books about Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, a social history of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1960s and the association between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.
Here are other nominees that have been featured on Sports Biblio:
- “Boys Among Men,” by Jonathan Abrams (SB post here);
- “Catching the Sky,” by Colten Moore (SB post here);
- “Indentured,” by Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss (SB review here).
- Last week we released our list of 15 overall sports book notables, and coming near year’s end are more notables in the categories of biography/memoir, history and culture;
- Baseball book blogger Ron Kaplan, who’s editing his forthcoming book on Hank Greenberg, offered this little tidbit this week about a brief exchange Greenberg had in his final season in 1947 with Jackie Robinson, then a Brooklyn Dodgers rookie;
- A new podcast about baseball books, “Baseball By the Book” debuted this week, and it’s the brainchild of Justin McGuire, a former baseball editor at The Sporting News. His first guest is Jeff Katz, author of the 2015 book “Split Season,” about the strike-interrupted 1981 season;
- The era when Los Angeles first had the Rams, in the 1950s, is the subject of a new book, “Hollywood’s Team,” about the first pro sports team in the U.S. west of the Mississippi, the first to integrate and the first to draw a million fans a season; excerpt here in Eephus.
Sammy Lee, 96, was the first Asian-American to win an Olympic diving gold medal for the U.S., and he later mentored many of his successors, including Greg Louganis;
Rashaan Salaam, 42, was the University of Colorado’s only Heisman Trophy winner in 1994 and played for several seasons in the National Football League. He was found dead Monday night in a park in Boulder, Colo., and his death is a suspected suicide.
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. 66, published Dec.. 11, 2016. The Digest is a companion to the Sports Biblio website, which is updated every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
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