Grudge Match

Modell's Hall snub has analogy in baseball's O'Malley

Brooklyn & Cleveland

First Word

December 10, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

Though it didn't garner giant headlines in Baltimore, the news last week that the late Walter O'Malley will be inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in July couldn't help but make me wonder anew when they'll get around to enshrining Art Modell in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Certainly not soon, since he actually lost ground in football's strange selection process this year.

It's not hard to see some similarities between O'Malley and Modell, even if they represent different sports and there is no similarity between the processes that determine who gets in and who is frozen out of each sport's Hall of Fame.

O'Malley's name still evokes anger in Brooklyn 50 years after he broke the borough's heart by uprooting the Dodgers and planting them in Los Angeles. The groundbreaking move - in concert with the New York Giants' relocation to San Francisco - made Major League Baseball truly the national pastime by expanding it to the West Coast, which was in the midst of a major population boom.

Whether that makes O'Malley a pioneer or a greedy robber baron depends on where you were when the Dodgers headed west. O'Malley would always be viewed positively in Southern California and remains a villain to many older baseball fans in New York, which partly explains why his accomplishments were not fully recognized until three decades after his death.

If the denizens of Brooklyn had their way, it would not have happened this year, but time has winnowed the resistance to his induction and a recent change in the way the veterans committee chooses inductees finally opened that door in upstate New York. It's about time.

Modell might have a similar wait ahead of him, because resistance from Cleveland remains very strong, and the system employed to elect players and executives to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is just quirky enough to allow a small number of voters to have big impact on his chances.

The selection committee comprises 40 voters, one media member representing each NFL franchise plus eight at-large members. The list of candidates is whittled down to 25, then 17 (15 until this year), and the winners are selected and announced during Super Bowl weekend.

Modell had made the round of 25 regularly but did not make that cut this year. His candidacy is always a hot-button issue because of the residual resentment in Cleveland, but it might have been further affected this year by a recent push to elect former commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

The snub was met with predictable disappointment inside the Ravens organization.

"I'm partial," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I have served him as a player and as an associate after I retired. But when you look at the NFL over the past 40 years and what has been accomplished, he had a big part of accomplishing it."

Sportscaster Scott Garceau, who holds the Baltimore vote, said last night he feels Modell will eventually get in.

"I am confident and as sure as I am of anything that Art will be in the Hall of Fame. ... I just can't say when," Garceau said. "I think it will happen. Does it happen in two years, eight years or 28 years? I don't know. But I think a man who has contributed to the league what he has contributed to the league, I hope it's sooner rather than later."

If you're still wondering whether Modell's accomplishments should outweigh the decade-old grudge to which Browns fans continue to cling, I've got two words for you:

Al Davis.

The controversial and dislikable Raiders owner moved his team twice and thumbed his nose at the rest of the league on many occasions, but he's in the group of a dozen NFL owners who already are enshrined.

"I'm discouraged for Mr. Modell," said kicker Matt Stover, who played in Cleveland and came along when the Browns became the Ravens. "He's a man who has done so much for the league and he's so deserving. I hope he outlasts it. I hope he's around and will be able to receive that honor.

"I admire him so much and Cleveland is so much better off now than they would have been with him staying there, so come on, let's get going."

O'Malley is proof that hard feelings die hard. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame a half century after he moved the Dodgers, and only after the veterans committee was reconfigured several times. Even after so long, the selection still sparked some outrage in Brooklyn.

"I understand how people feel," Newsome said. "Were the fans [of Brooklyn and Cleveland] deserving of that? No. But I think that in everyone's life, there should be a chance at forgiveness."

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.

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