Sunday, December 23. 2007
Early in the week I saw a cluster of pieces on WarInContext that shocked me with their vicious belligerence: mostly rants by Israelis about Iran and Hamas. I thought I should write something about them, but never got around to it, and they gradually scrolled off the end. The most striking thing I see there now is a quote from Fareed Zakaria in favor of Obama's identity vs. Clinton's experience: "But when I think about what is truly distinctive about the way I look at the world, about the advantage that I may have over others in understanding foreign affairs, it is that I know what it means not to be an American." [emphasis in original]
But I wound up spending the week immersed in music -- more on that later -- and at weekend found I had only written the following.
Lee Lowenfish: Throw the bums out of baseball's Hall of Fame. When I first heard about this essay I figured it had something to do with the steroids hysteria, but it turns out to be just one of those periodic rants about people one doesn't like and doesn't understand cluttering up the concept of a pantheon of undoubted greats. Thanks to statistics, it's pretty easy to figure out which players produced more wins than which other players, but that's only occasionally been a big concern among the deciders, and even then the criteria can get confused. But fame has always been a more subjective thing. Joe Tinker wasn't the best shortstop of his era (that was Honus Wagner) or the second (that would be George Davis), but he was third or fourth or fifth, something like that, and easily more famous than the others (except maybe Rabbit Maranville). It's a little late for a recount, although the belated induction of the vastly superior Davis helps smooth the irritation over. Tinker isn't the worst of the player cases, nor are many others that Lowenfish chooses to pick on -- Gary Carter, Early Wynn, Gaylord Perry, even Chick Hafey seem pretty respectable to me, although I have little trouble thinking of players not inducted who stack up very strongly against Tommy McCarthy, Jesse Haines, Travis Jackson, and Fred Lindstrom, but even there they mostly did it more quietly and consistently -- e.g., Stan Hack never hit .375 like Lindstrom, but he was more consistent longer. It's just that the margin of error is such that if you keep trying to shore up the weakest players you wind up spiraling downward indefinitely. Even that doesn't bother me much: the Stengel Yankees were at least as good a team as Frankie Frisch's Giants, and a good deal of the credit goes to players like Joe Gordon, Hank Bauer, Cletis Boyer, and Roger Maris, who were at much the same level as Jackson and Lindstrom. Still, what really set Lowenfish off had nothing to do with players: it was the decision to induct Bowie Kuhn and not Marvin Miller. This points out one of the big problems with BBHOF, which is its one-size-fits-all treatment of nearly everyone related to the game. The exceptions are writers and broadcasters, who have their own halls. Something similar would make a lot of sense for executives, managers, umpires, and possibly others -- scouts, for instance, have no presence anywhere, nor do labor leaders, nor technical contributors (although Candy Cummings is in for allegedly inventing the curve ball, as is Alexander Cartwright for laying out the baseball diamond, but what of the scientists who came up with those steroids?). The latest non-BBWAA inductees are three executives (Kuhn, Barney Dreyfuss, and Walter O'Malley) and two managers (Billy Southworth and Dick Williams). The managers are neither spectacularly good nor bad choices, but execs/owners have always been hard to judge, and commissioners seem to get in no matter how little they do (Morgan Bulkley) or how badly they do it (Kuhn; can Bud Selig be far behind?). A big part of the problem is that BBHOF never decided what they really wanted to be or do. They just sort of blunder along, lurching too far in some direction, getting stuck and doing nothing, lurching somewhere else, with little rhyme or reason.
King Kaufman's Sports Daily. Speaking of Selig, this is a pretty apt evaluation of his role in the steroids scandal/report:
I used to follow baseball very closely, and at the time I knew a huge amount about baseball history. I stopped following baseball after the lockout -- don't even remember the year now, sometime in the 1990s. I think last year was the first year ever when I didn't see a single baseball game on TV or live. Selig was running the business when I checked out. He's still there. Bound for the HOF, no doubt.