Selig-Fehr Wing of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown

The worst thing that you used to could say about a player was he was bigger than the game.

This week the world read about a lot of guys who were bigger than the game. Guys who had disrespected not only their profession in the modern age, but all those in the game who went before them, who set records playing over their lifetime. Guys who were unable, unwilling to accept that their talents were diminishing, if it was natural-born talent which had brought them some degree of success through their lifetime. Guys who had diminished the game by cheating.

Baseball is a humbling sport. It was a sport always intended to teach humility. It was a lot like life. It was why people played sport, why schools sponsored teams from the beginning. These guys were supposed to, in their youth, learn sportsmanship to a degree, with concepts of fairness. Sports built character. Ask some old-timer in a nursing home how baseball prepared him for the challenges of aging and dealing with failure, with some degree of grace.

Or it used to. Some players have been accused of wrongdoing not with their day in court, and not with an examination of the quality of the evidence of wrongdoing.

Congress will soon have hearing, where one representative is on record asking the commissioner to preserve the 10,000 tests baseball does each year in search of steroids. Yes, 10,000 urine tests a year.

Some of the guys who had cheated had robbed somebody, not with firearms, but had used the system to obtain contracts for millions of dollars. In a very public way some of the cheaters will be able to carry on, protected by the guidelines of collective bargaining, with their contracts with performance bonuses and escalator clauses that have been in place for most of professional their careers.

The theme of the Mitchell Report involved the basic human condition, the failure of moral authority, the failure of baseball to have a moral authority to rule over what is right and what is wrong, in a world that more and more was filled with people who ask not to be judged. These were people, by-standers, trying to make a living in baseball, that humbling sport. Now played by athletes in their realm most high, above the law, the highest, the mightiest of them all.

By-standers trying to make a living? What did the sign say in the clubhouse? ‘What you see here, what you say here, when you leave here, let it stay here.’

One month ago, a New York Times columnist thought an executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association should have been remembered and enshrined this year in the Hall of Fame for his influence upon the game, an assertion that seems right since the Players Association had made certain that Dollar Sign on Muscles was not just the name of some old reference book now available in used bookstores. In a society where more and more are isolated, challenged to come together, reflected in participation in bowling leagues, in labor unions, there is the Players Association, stronger each year, eroding to a degree more and more each year the lessons of humility in the game. Through collective bargaining creating the realm most high, high above the law, the mightiest of them all.

The theme of the Mitchell Report was that, as more and more money was pumped into one sport, sportsmanship was missing. The theme of the Mitchell Report was it was missing with players, with front office people, with owners, and overall with the moral authority in the game. Baseball had come to reflect society. The failure of baseball in the modern age is not the sport.

Accused by Fay Vincent of being a ringleader in the collusion that took place in the late 1980s, Bud Selig was asked to guide the game starting in September 1992. Maybe that was why the players in the Players Association refused to talk to Mr. Mitchell, who was hired by the commissioner. One year ago the commissioner was honored by a magazine Sports Business Journal, where it was reported that he too was rewarded with a contract with performance bonuses and escalator clauses of close to $15 million.

The Mitchell Report does call the question if his era, the Selig Years from 1993 through 2007, with his greatest achievement of consensus-building among owners, was not a repeat of his leadership of collusion, only this time with Bud in bed with the Major League Baseball Players Association, setting records for attendance, looking the other way in denial of a problem. It is an era that should always be remembered. When the Major League Baseball Players Association had now grown bigger than the game, with and without performance enhanced drugs. It is an era that should always be remembered, comparable to those Cold War days when East German athletes were always viewed as less than human, as walking science experiments. These Selig Years present such a nice continuity from the end of the Cold War. Some guys who were bigger than the game will inevitably be enshrined as some kind of heroes. Some people who ask not to be judged, would not be interviewed.

Sportswriters assigned to cover this sport, given access to these modern gods, will now wrestle with their privilege granted to determine which players of this era with no moral authority belong in the Hall of Fame, as if that Hall of Fame was also bigger than the game.

The lessons of humility are still there everyday. A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote in the epilogue to Take time for Paradise, “Games, contests, sports reiterate the purpose of freedom every time they are enacted –the purpose being to show how to be free and to be complete and connected, unimpeded, integrated, all at once.” And he continued, no matter how cheapened, or commercialized, for the purpose of training, and testing, and rewarding the rousing motion within us, to find a moment or more of freedom. “Through sport, we re-create our daily portion of freedom, in public.”

The theme of the Mitchel Report is the same theme as in the book of Genesis, of the human condition while connected to a PLACE, lessons of humility extracted from an overabundance of pride. Tradition. Passing along the tradition of human endeavor, on the border of good and evil.

These still are days when most players try to go about their own business, some better than others, dealing with the sleaze, and a commissioner’s office dealing with 10,000 urine tests a year. While baseball figures out what to do next, maybe those 10,000 urine tests can be stored in the Hall of Fame, in a special wing to be built and also used for any new inductees, for guys who played after September 1992.


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1 comment so far

  1. paperlessworld on

    History, like sin, keeps repeating itself. Like in the Biogenesis investigation.

    Did you read the quotes following the June 2014 altercation in Fenway Park between the Tampa baseball team and the Boston baseball team, between pitcher David Price and slugger David Ortiz whose name did appear as a cheat in his use of banned substances in 2003. David Price said: “Sometimes, the way he (Ortiz) acts out there, he kind of looks like he’s bigger than the game. That’s not the way it is, not the way it goes . . . Nobody’s bigger than the game of baseball.’’

    Writes Boston Globe’s Dan Shaunnessy: “Ortiz does carry himself as though he’s bigger than the game, because he is bigger than the game. And the rules are not for everybody. The rules rarely apply to David Ortiz.”

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