In conversations with sports-oriented people around town, it is obvious that the Pete Rose controversy still gets considerable attention.
The latest chapter has to do with whether his name should be allowed to appear on next year's ballot, as it would without a new ruling prohibiting it. A 10-man special committee made up of high-ranking baseball officials and other knowledgeable individuals associated with the game recently recommended to the 16-member Hall of Fame board that the name of anyone banned from the game not be included on the ballot.
How do I feel about it? I can see where they are coming from, and agree with their conclusion that someone banned from the game should not be in the Hall of Fame. That much said, I don't believe they had to recommend excluding his name from the ballot. It is my feeling that Rose wouldn't have been elected, anyway.
Each year's ballot comes with a list of instructions voters should consider. No. 4 says, "Candidates shall be chosen on the basis of playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, their contribution to the team on which they played and to baseball in general."
In more than 25 years of voting, I've always taken that instruction seriously. If you weren't supposed to, why include it? No question that Rose belongs where ability and contribution to his team are concerned. On all other counts, he fails miserably. The Hall of Fame is baseball. It is what everybody who ever played the game strives for. How can I conscientiously vote for someone who is banned from the game?
I wouldn't, and there are enough others sharing that view so that Rose, or anyone else barred from the game, would not receive the 75 percent of the votes needed for election.
The move to exclude his name from the ballot probably is being recommended to eliminate much of the controversy that would result if his name were presented for a vote. The inevitable harangue would do the game no good, and he wouldn't be elected, anyway.
If and when baseball reinstates Rose, he'll probably get my vote, but not until then.
When Luke Appling died recently at 81, any number of stories came to mind. I got to know "Old Aches and Pains" well when he was an Orioles coach. For some reason, we hit it off from the start and became good friends. If you liked baseball, you had to love Appling, because the game was his life. The old boy had a baseball for a heart.
In later years, when he was a sort of roving minor-league hitting instructor for the Atlanta Braves, no trip to their training camp was complete for me without a long chat with Appling. More often than not, another story would be added to his never-ending collection before our session ended. He had a million of them.
My favorites concerned his running feud with the Comiskey Park groundskeeper during his playing days over what he considered terrible infield conditions.
"I was kind of jittery out there at shortstop, always scratchin' around with my spikes," he said one day with a chuckle in that Southern drawl. "I used to love to kick up stones -- I mean big ones -- and toss 'em over at his feet. Another time, I was scratchin', and a handle appeared, then a spout. By the time I was through, I had a whole tea kettle. You shoulda seen him when I presented it to him.
"I used to tell club officials he never touched the field when we were on the road. They didn't believe me, so I came up with an idea to prove it. We had a Sunday doubleheader the day before goin' on one of those three-week road trips you took in those days. Late during the second game, I took me some peas and corn seeds out there in my pocket, and between pitches I dropped some of 'em in places where I had been scratchin' and covered 'em up.
When we got off the trip, I went right to the park from the train station before I even went home. I had the prettiest stand of peas and corn you ever laid eyes on. I think they believed me then."
As a hitter, Appling had great eyes and bat control that ranked among the game's best. He once told me about an incident between him and Frank Lane, when Lane was an official of the White Sox. On the last day of the season, Appling asked for a dozen balls to take to kids in his hometown. Lane turned him down, so Appling decided to teach "Trader Frank" a lesson.
"Ole Frank was sittin' right behind home plate, and my last time up, I started foulin' off pitches on purpose, just flicked my wrists and lined ball after ball into the seats behind the first-base dugout," he said. "I coulda done it all day. After I got up to about 12, I heard ole Frank yellin', 'OK, you so-and-so, you got 'em,' so I lined the next pitch to right for a single, and got my dozen balls after the game."
A good guy, Luke Appling, and few ever loved the game more.