The election of Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week may have signalled the end of the ongoing culture wars among voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Those culture wars being over casting votes for players caught in the decade-long imbroglio over use of performance-enhancing drugs.
By the time that trio is enshrined in Cooperstown in June, it will have been 10 years since Major League Baseball imposed a ban on steroids use, and implemented stiff punishments for positive tests.
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Also In This Issue: Jim Brown and Donald Trump; Biking the Iron Curtain Trail; Remembering Baroness Rachael Heyhoe-Flint and Edwin Pope
Some writers still don’t think they went far enough, but the passage of time, increased use of advanced statistics and generational change among some voters has broken down some of the resistance.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, at the heart of these culture wars, both had big surges in their voting totals, in the range of just over 50 percent. They both have five years left on the ballot to reach the necessary 75 percent threshold. With retired commissioner Bud Selig—who looked the other way during most of the steroids era—being inducted this year, some voters held their noses and voted for the all-time homerun leader, and a pitcher in my estimation who’s been the best of the last 30 years.
A younger generation of writers and the emergence of the World Wide Web has helped this changing tide, as Jeff Passan noted at Yahoo! Sports.
At The Guardan, Allen Barra writes that Bonds appears to be the PEDs exception, with some voters leaving Clemens off their ballots at the same time:
“If the Hall of Fame is for the greatest players, then surely someday we’ll come to the understanding that it was a greater crime to keep them out than to forgive them.”
Next year’s ballot also will be the first in which all the votes will be revealed. As Jayson Stark explains, full transparency is likely to flesh out those who disapprove of Bonds and Clemens but don’t want to be identified in such a way. My former AJC colleague Mark Bradley, a Baseball Hall of Fame voter, thinks these changes are long overdue.
Joe Posnanski thinks the bottleneck of players to come needs to be addressed because of the BBWAA’s limit of voting for no more than 10 players per year. Raines, finally gaining induction in his last year on the ballot, was boosted by the advent of sabermetrics, but it shouldn’t have come to that. For baseball writer and Montreal “kid” Jonah Keri, the author of a loving remembrance of the Expos, the sheer euphoria of the moment is hard to top.
At the Faith and Fear in Flushing blog, Mets fan Greg Prince writes that Raines can “stop retroactively beating the Mets now,” a phrase that may be repeated next year when Mets-killer extraordinaire Chipper Jones is on the ballot.
Jones figures to be a first-ballot selection. Baseball Hall of Fame prognosticator Jay Jaffe laid out the near-term scenario the day after this year’s vote was revealed. His new book, “Cooperstown Casebook,” will be published right before induction weekend, likely fueling a gradually changing Baseball Hall of Fame narrative that seems to be gaining some credence among a resistant electorate of writers.
Jocks and the Commander-In-Chief
The political presumptuousness of our modern media—including some in the sports realm—figures to escalate with President Donald Trump now in office. Sports figures who endorsed him have been regarded with contempt, no less among them Tom Brady. But Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown’s support for Trump (even though he voted for Hillary Clinton) has rendered a reaction that’s quite over the top.
I try not to link here to anything I don’t like, but this week pieces by David Steele, Kevin Blackistone and Dave Zirin, among other sports commentators, illustrate the continuing media myopia over the election.
They completely ignored the reasons Brown gave for his open admiration of Trump, as he noted in a CNN interview this week:
“When I come out of the box, I don’t come out of the box as racial. I look for good people and people that will be like-minded and help me try to do good for other human beings.”
Whatever you think of Trump (he wasn’t my choice), many revolted by him can’t grab the nuance that’s been at the heart of Brown’s black self-determination activism for decades. Brown’s perspective, to some degree, also mirrors Trump voters frustrated by the political establishment of both major parties, and who see a businessman as a figure who can get things done.
As his many biographies attest (especially Mike Freeman’s excellent “Jim Brown: The Fierce Life of An American Hero”), Brown is a complicated individual who doesn’t fit into neat categories. The same strain of activism that led him to form a coalition of black athletes in the late 1960s (with Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell and then-Lew Alcindor) also prompted him to work to improve life in black communities that includes small business ownership. He also etched out his philosophy in his memoir, “Out of Bounds.”
While I’m skeptical Trump can deliver on his many promises—especially reviving a blue-collar way of life that vanished for so many people decades ago—it’s not hard to understand why someone like Brown, a pragmatist working in the poverty-stricken trenches of big cities, would welcome hearing a different message.
Brown will be at an athlete activism conference this week at San Jose State, orchestrated by the legendary Harry Edwards, that ought to be quite interesting. I hope those upset with Brown will let him speak his mind. He’s not “dead,” as Steele suggests, nor has he been led astray as Freeman suggested. At 81 years old, Jim Brown is as compelling as he’s ever been.
While others in sports media were penning their final love letters to the hoops-loving Barack Obama, Brown and Ray Lewis were talking about job creation and urban decay at the Trump Tower, trying to build new bridges of understanding in what for many has become an impossbily divided nation.
A Few Good Reads
- Author Tim Moore biked all 5,318 miles of what’s called the Iron Curtain Trail, from Finland to the Black Sea, and has written a book about it;
- Thomas Boswell on how sports fans want rigidly objective explanations for results on the field, but in the larger world, they often settle for “more emotion and less fact-checking and shield themselves from opinions that contradict their preferences;”
- Two Q & A interviews with Ron Rapoport on his collection of Ring Lardner journalism, in LAObserved, and Esquire;
- The death of former NFL running back Joe McKnight, recently killed in a road rage incident, underscored a difficult life and a playing career cut short by injury;
- Tom Hoffarth on the Jim Bouton memorabilia collection that’s set to be auctioned, as well as the “Ball Four” author’s ailing health;
- A BBC/BuzzFeed investigative report on match fixing, “The Tennis Racket,” has been named a finalist for a National Magazine Award.
Sports History Files
The Pro Football Hall of Fame this week announced it had obtained the CBS radio recording of post-game interviews from Super Bowl I, and it’s put the 27-minute tape together on YouTube with photo layovers. Dave Little of Canton, Ohio, made the recording and had kept it for 50 years when he decided to donate it to the nearby Hall.
During his post-game comments, Vince Lombardi was reluctant to pass judgment on the quality of the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs, who were beaten 35-10 by his Green Bay Packers. Later, he said he thought the Dallas Cowboys were a better team, as his dismissiveness of the AFL was hard to conceal. “That’s what you want me to say, I said it,” Lombardi said, as the media pack erupted in laughter.
Here’s more on the tape from Pro Football Talk, which delves into the post-game interviewing role of former Giants kicker Pat Summerall, at the time early into this post-playing broadcasting career.
Sports Book News
- The five finalists for the PEN America Literary Sports Writing Award have been announced, and the winner will be announced Feb. 22;
- British sportswriter Michael Calvin’s “No Hunger in Paradise,” the last of his contemporary soccer trilogy, is due out in April. It’s based on interviews with many young prospects about their playing aspirations and looks at England’s development system. He’s been nominated for or won sportswriting prizes for the first two books in the series, “The Nowhere Men” and “Living on the Volcano.”
Baroness Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, 77, was born a few years after the first international women’s cricket test between her native England and Australia. In the years since, she was a respected advocate for the growth of the sport into the women’s realm. As more organized women’s cricket emerges, her legacy has become especially meaningful:
“Because of her, and everything that she was, the next legend of women’s cricket will be supported, watched, and paid.”
Edwin Pope, 88, was the sports editor of his hometown paper, The Athens Banner-Herald in Georgia, by the time he was 15, and for more than half a century wrote sports columns for the Miami Herald. He covered virtually every major sporting event in America many times over, as well as sports in south Florida, and in 1989 was named the recipient of the Red Smith Award, the highest honor given to an American sportswriter.
Pope was the author of five sports books, and his subjects included Ted Williams. “The Edwin Pope Collection” was published in 1988 with an introduction by James Michener, and was part of Contemporary American Sportswriters series by Taylor Publishing that included the works of Jim Murray, Blackie Sherrod, Furman Bisher, Jerry Izenberg, Art Spander and others.
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. 70, published Jan. 22, 2016. The Digest is a companion to the Sports Biblio website, which is updated every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
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