A painful view of the game on induction day

August 05, 1993|By Michael Madden | Michael Madden,Boston Globe

BOSTON -- It was shock enough to venture into baseball's sacred ground, Cooperstown, and see how the money-changers have invaded the temple. Hawkers, shysters, memorabilia buffs now slime up to the very doors of baseball's Hall of Fame itself, selling and buying everything and anything.

Not all, but many of baseball's greats were here, there and everywhere, selling their autographs, and the soul sank at the sight. Couldn't the schlocking take just one weekend of the year off?

But even worse was to venture into baseball's heart and find the game no longer has a soul. The San Diego Padres have sold out their fans, the New York Mets are running amok, the Mets' response to the truly shameful behavior of Vince Coleman et al is only that "our in-house counsel is investigating."

Our in-house counsel?

Baseball now resorts to legalisms and accountants because its moral force is gone and its soul is empty. When lawyers are asked to speak for the game, there is no message but the only message lawyers can give -- hair-splitting and word-stretching to protect self-interest. Not truth.

Baseball no longer has a commissioner. Baseball no longer has a moral force. Baseball no longer has a core.

Vince Coleman throws explosives at baseball's fans, and "our in-house counsel" is investigating. A commissioner -- nay, any human being with a heart and soul -- would have suspended Coleman immediately and not allowed him back into a baseball park unless he was cleared of firing an explosive at a 2-year-old. ++ Instead, the lawyers' words filter out, "innocent until proven guilty," and baseball no longer has a moral boundary, and players and owners sense this intuitively.

So it was that Bowie Kuhn -- of all people -- stood on the veranda of that most gorgeous hotel, the Otesaga in Cooperstown, and )) spoke of how he would have been in daily contact with the Padres, to see if they were getting fair value in return for stars being shipped all across America, and of how he would have stepped in if he had concluded otherwise. "That's what a commissioner has to do," said Kuhn, "protect baseball."

Just as Kuhn would have had Marge Schott in and Coleman in and "I would have been on the Mets immediately" to see how they were responding to Coleman's adolescent, if not criminal, behavior toward the people baseball has forgotten -- its fans. "And I would have been on them every day," said Kuhn, "until we got to the bottom of this."

Baseball people now talk of marketing as if it can be its savior. So it was that Reggie Jackson walked proudly onto a field outside Cooperstown, a field surrounded by cornfields, and more than one person who has fallen sway to the marketing crowd remarked that "this was a field of dreams."

No, no, no. This was so much more, one of the most ego-driven men ever to play the game reduced to humility to find himself at baseball's heart. So were we all.

Indeed, anyone who pretends to speak for baseball, anyone who plays baseball, anyone who wants to make a financial killing from baseball should come to Cooperstown to drink at the well that fills the game's soul. Lawyer talk and marketing talk and TV contract talk would disappear in a fool's breath, because the game would humble them all.

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