For the past few months baseball writers (and fans) across America have been debating today’s Hall of Fame vote. Many believe as I do that the Steroid Era was just another chapter in the ever evolving history of the game. Others believe that the last 20 years are a black-eye on the sport, and those who participated should be banished to the depths of baseball purgatory whether they injected themselves with needles, smeared cream on themselves, or did absolutely nothing. These writers like to write about the moral issues of inducting these players into Cooperstown like the upstate New York hamlet is Jerusalem or Mecca.
The problem is that Cooperstown is already full of players, owners and executives with questionable morals. Hell, the player with the highest percentage of votes in the first induction class was Ty Cobb. A man who beat up fans, gouged infielders with sharpened spikes, possibly gambled on his own games, and might have been a racist. Number two on that list was an alcoholic womanizer named Babe Ruth.
So writers like Howard Bryant, Tom Verducci, and Keith Olbermann need to know that the precedent has already been set. Writers and fans have been turning a blind-eye to cheaters, racists, drug addicts and alcoholics for the whole existence of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Here are a few examples:
Cap Anson Inducted in 1939.
Anson was a racist. He worked diligently during the late 19th Century to keep African-Americans from playing in the major leagues, and went so far as refusing to play games if African-Americans were on the field. He may not have been the reason that African-Americans did not return to the major leagues until 1947, but it is pretty clear where he stood. His racist leanings were also evident off the field with his descriptions of Clarence Duval within his autobiography A Ball Player’s Career.
Ferguson Jenkins Inducted in 1991
In 1980, Jenkins was busted before a game in Toronto with four grams of cocaine, two ounces of marijuana and two ounces of hashish. He was suspended by the league indefinitely, but an independent arbiter reinstated the Rangers pitcher after only two weeks.
Gaylord Perry Inducted in 1991
Perry titled his autobiography Me and the Spitter for a reason. Throughout his 22 year career Perry routinely doctored baseballs, and this was 40-plus years after the pitch had been banned by the league in 1920. Perry was not shy about his ability to doctor a ball, and intimidated batters with the thought of an oily ball leaving his hand.
Alex Pompez Inducted in 2006
Pompez was the owner of two Negro League teams, organized the first Negro League World Series, and was involved with gangster Dutch Schultz. Historians disagree slightly about whether Pompez was forced into his collaboration with Schultz, but it is clear that Schultz was in charge of the numbers business Pompez was running. In 1936 he was indicted for racketeering, fled the country, and only returned when he became a witness for the state of New York.
Juan Marichal Inducted in 1983
Marichal was known as a head hunter. Late in the 1965 season, Marichal and Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro got into an argument while Marichal was at the plate about some pitches he had thrown earlier in the game. Marichal proceeded to hit Roseboro with his bat repeatedly, requiring 14 stitches in Roseboro’s head, and was suspended for nine days.
This is by far an incomplete list, and the Hall of Fame holds countless alcoholics, thieves, and all-around jerks in high regard. So let’s stop treating Cooperstown like some holy shrine that only allows the virtuous admittance, and treat it like we should. A town on the southern shores of Otsego Lake with the best baseball museum in the world on Main Street, and within that museum is a room filled with plaques that honor some of the most famous gamblers, cheaters, womanizers, alcoholics, assholes, racists, bird killers, and drug addicts this country has ever known. They also happen to be really good baseball players.