Writers wouldn't rig Hall of Fame election in Rose's favor

Jack Mann

January 18, 1991|By Jack Mann

A few years ago an onerously rich young man named Peter Brant (he has owned such distinguished horses as Gulch, Track Barron and Waya) was expelled from his own polo team, in his own league, in the luxury belt of Palm Beach County.

The evidence was that Brant, in a moment of petulance, had loosed upon the referee (his own referee, presumably), the sort of abusive language Roger Clemens dumped on the umpire in the American League playoff.

Brant sued, asking an injunction to let him go out and play. In her wisdom the judge in U.S. District Court, Fort Lauderdale, advised Brant that he did not, even in these litigious times, have a federal case. It was, like a jurisdictional dispute at the Elks Club, a private thing.

One might say the same of baseball's disfranchisement of the Baseball Writers Association of America in the matter of Pete Rose. One might, except that vastly more people care how it comes out.

An establishment-loaded committee has recommended that players on the list of "ineligibles" (to play, coach, manage or execute) may not be on the Hall of Fame ballot.

So much for Rose and the two "Black Sox" who had a theoretical chance, Joe Jackson and Ed Cicotte. Shoeless Joe, with a lifetime average higher than anybody but Cobb and Hornsby, would be a lock.

Let us take judicial notice of the fact that Rose, who kept on hitting until he'd passed Ty Cobb, has sinned and fallen short of the glory of the Hall of Fame.

With his non-defense against elaborate accusations of betting on baseball compounded by a two-count conviction for tax evasion, Rose had little chance of getting the 75 percent majority needed for election.

It is highly unlikely he would have gotten mine (though there is yet a year for consideration). But, with BBWAA credentials that originated in the extinct Brooklyn Chapter, I would like to decide for myself. So would all the 450 who have earned their right to vote (10 years minimum as BBWAA members).

The Hall of Fame's ad hoc committee became ad hominem from fear that its institution might be destroyed. Not only had old members threatened to boycott future ceremonies if Rose were inducted, but the commissioner and both league presidents would be in untenable positions. How could commissioner Fay Vincent introduce the man his predecessor banished?

Jack Lang, BBWAA executive secretary whose baseball-writing days began with the 1946 Dodgers, dissented in the vote. "Rose deserves his day in court," Lang said, "like anybody else."

Bob Broeg, emeritus columnist of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and a director of the Hall of Fame since 1975, worries that "the young writers" might vote Rose in.

"We [the BBWAA] will do the right thing," said New York News veteran Phil Pepe, who joined the dissent in the 7-3 vote. "We always have."

Well, almost. Twenty-three members somehow rationalized not voting for Willie Mays when he became eligible in 1978.

The criteria in the list of rules that accompany the ballot are "playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, their contribution to the team on which they played and to baseball in general."

But personalities are as much a factor as they are in any area of human endeavor. There may have been a racial tinge to some of the non-votes for the nonpareil Mays, but Willie was always more fun to watch than he was to deal with. On the other hand, Rod Carew was one of the less pleasant interviews of his time, and he made it easily on the first ballot this year.

In a convivial interlude during the 1964 World Series, Joe Medwick was impelled to ask why, after a decade of eligibility, he had not been elected to the Hall of Fame. Surely, with 2,471 hits and a lifetime average one point under DiMaggio's, the old Gas Houser had a claim.

Better yet, try this for trivia: Of all the men who had led their league at least one time in doubles, triples and home runs up to then, Gehrig, Cobb, Hornsby, Sam Crawford and Jim Bottomley were already in the Hall, and Musial and Mize would be.

The Old Timers Committee would eventually put him in, Medwick was sure. "But I want it while I can still smell the flowers," he said. He was 53.

A young reporter said he had been told Medwick wasn't really easy to get along with when he was a player.

"I was a bleep," Medwick said. "But they shouldn't hold that against me."

Eventually they didn't. Medwick was voted in four years later, the year he would have been passed on to the Old Timers Committee.

And he was able to smell the flowers for seven more years.

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