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Bonds, Clemens could be in elite group — not in Hall

Published: Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 6:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 6:42 p.m.

In one month, the results of the latest Hall of Fame vote of the Baseball Writers Association of America will be announced. Between now and then you will be exposed to the Great Debate: Should the biggest stars and biggest suspects of the steroid era — Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — be elected or rejected?

Let’s leave the Great Debate alone for now. After all, the pros and cons are familiar by now, and there is still a whole month to analyze them.

Let’s also leave alone, for now, the fact that the Hall of Fame’s very existence in Cooperstown, N.Y., birthplace of Abner Doubleday, perpetuates a historical lie because it was determined decades ago that is was Alexander Cartwright, and not Doubleday, who invented what became modern baseball.

Also, for now, let’s leave alone the fact that The New York Times, on ethical grounds, bans its otherwise eligible sportswriters from Hall of Fame voting — a policy that other media outlets ought to implement.

For now, let’s assume Bonds and Clemens, among others, such as Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza, will be denied, at least on this ballot.

OK then, where does that leave them?

Well, it leaves them in extraordinary company, that’s where it leaves them, among some of the biggest achievers in baseball history who nonetheless have been excluded from the Hall of Fame:

Marvin Miller, leader of the players union from 1966-82, was a brilliant, fearless and patient labor leader who took major-league baseball players from a virtual plantation system to the forefront of labor liberation and dignity. If we look beyond today’s sports salaries and see a bigger picture, if we understand how downright repressive, un-American if you will, the treatment of professional athletes was before Miller, we can see that, if nothing else, he had a profound and lasting impact. That Marvin Miller isn’t in the Hall of Fame and, say, former commissioner Bowie Kuhn, a reactionary obstructionist and standard bearer for the status quo, is in the Hall of Fame, should tell you all you need to know about the legitimacy of the baseball’s so-called sacred shrine.

Pete Rose is the most prolific hitter in baseball history. Rose isn’t in the Hall of Fame because he agreed to a lifetime ban back in 1989 when then-commissioner Bart Giamatti had overwhelming evidence that Rose bet on baseball while he was manager of the Cincinnati Reds. And granted, in one autobiography, after agreeing to the ban, Rose denied that he bet on baseball; and in another autobiography, some 14 years later, he finally came clean. OK and OK again. This is simply a list of distinguished baseball achievers not in the Hall of Fame. And with an astounding total of 4,256 hits, Rose is certainly a distinguished achiever.

Joe Jackson, still famously known as “Shoeless Joe” nearly 100 years after his career ended, holds the third-highest batting average in baseball history, .356. Also one of the few ever to bat .400 in a season, Jackson is nonetheless not in the Hall of Fame because of his lifetime ban for having participated, with seven Chicago White Sox teammates, in the 1919 World Series gambling scandal. Even so, Jackson’s “lifetime” ended 61 years ago. So, why isn’t he in the Hall of Fame?

Charlie Finley, a notorious penny-pinching owner who united his Kansas City and Oakland Athletics teams by getting whole clubhouses full of players to hate him, was nevertheless one of the most brilliant evaluators of talent in baseball history. For all intents and purposes his own general manager and chief scout, Finley brought the first major professional sports championship to the Bay Area in 1972, and then his hand-picked and home-grown A’s did it again in 1973 and 1974. And those World Series championships were sandwiched between division titles in 1971 and 1975. Players that Finley personally scouted, signed or traded for included Rick Monday, Reggie Jackson, Bert Campaneris, Joe Rudi, Catfish Hunter, Blue Moon Odom, Ken Holtzman, Vida Blue, Sal Bando, Rollie Fingers, Ray Fosse, Dave Duncan and Tony LaRussa, among others.

Orestes Minoso, popularly known as Minnie, was the first black Latino superstar in the majors and for the 10-year span of 1951-60 he was the best all-around player in the game, with the exception of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. He was a contemporary of Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby, the first African American players in the majors, but Minoso was burdened with what Roberto Clemente called the “double prejudice” of race and language. That Minoso, who starred in both the Negro and Cuban leagues before becoming a nine-time major-league All-Star, has been denied election to the Hall of Fame time and time again speaks volumes about the ignorance and short-sightedness of Hall voters.

Who knows? Maybe Bonds and Clemens, the most dominant players of their era, are in more distinguished company by not being in the Hall of Fame.

Robert Rubino can be reached at robert.rubino@pressdemocrat.com.

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