Monday, December 4, 2017
HOF Voting: Did Morgan Flunk His Chemistry Test?
Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, himself the institution's vice chairman now, raised quite a hoopla late last month with his epistle urging one and all among Hall voters to resist, reject, and repel those candidates suspected or using actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances during their careers.
Writing specifically, though, Morgan — perhaps inadvertently — dropped a banana peel in front of himself, when his plea nearly concluded by citing "the deliberate act of using chemistry to change how hard you hit and throw by changing what your body is made of."
"I and other Hall of Famers played hard all our lives to achieve what we did. I love this game and am proud of it. I hope the Hall of Fame's standards won't be lowered with the passage of time.
"For over 80 years, the Hall of Fame has been a place to look up to, where the hallowed halls honor those who played the game hard and right. I hope it will always remain that way."
Very well, I accept.
Morgan himself played in an era in which chemical actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances were as common as stirrup socks in major league clubhouses. They didn't go by the word Morgan used — "steroid." They went by names like "greenies."
If you define a steroid as "a man-made product to change [your] body and help [yourself] play the game better," as Yahoo! Sports's Jeff Passan does, then it's fair to question likewise why, as San Francisco Chronicle baseball writer Bruce Jenkins notes, Morgan seems to say that he's bothered only by certain kinds of "cheating."
And, whether Morgan himself used such man-made chemical products himself. His Cincinnati teammate Pete Rose did, and it's pretty safe to say that had it not been for, you know, that other business, Rose would be a Hall of Famer going on almost three decades.
Ralph Kiner did. Passan says the Hall of Famer once told him a trainer suggested he try Benzedrine, the first pharmaceutical grade amphetamine, after returning from World War II. Willie Mays kept amphetamine-inclusive "red juice" at hand during his playing days. Jim Bouton (in Ball Four) wrote about "greenies," green amphetamine pills available like candy in major league clubhouses. Passan also noted the leaded (with liquid Dexedrine) and unleaded coffee urns. It took until — read carefully — 2005 before amphetamines were banned from major league clubhouses.
Funny thing. The brain is part of the body, too. "Amphetamines inspire a fraction of the steroid consternation," Passan writes, "because their effects are blind to the eye." You didn't see what the amphetamines did or didn't do, but you saw how the steroid-generation actual or alleged enhancers affected some bodies.
We still have such a vivid recollection of Barry Bonds's head or Jason Giambi's torso (which wasn't exactly lithe and light before he dipped in), but we never saw the amphetamine effect on Kiner, Mays, Rose, or those generations. And nobody, seemingly, wants to condemn players who might have changed what their brains were made of.
Or, face the reality (yes, you can look it up) that in a majority of cases the "steroid" users didn't see big statistical spikes and often as not saw statistical dips while they used. And, that overall batting stats were liable to spike in the 1990s anyway, thanks to other factors including of a lot of new ballparks coming around that showed hitters a lot of welcoming love.
Neither do I wish to drum up any beat to purge Morgan, Mays, Kiner, or their generation's Amphetamine Arnolds from Cooperstown. But I am asking why the harrumphing about character regarding Steroid Stu but not Amphetamine Arnold. After all, Arnold took man-made chemical enhancers, too.
The Modern Era Committee's Hall of Fame ballot includes a few men who played in the Amphetamine Arnold era. Did they or didn't they take man-made chemical enhancers? I mean, if you're going to play that game, then play.
"To link steroid use to a flaw of character or lack of judgment is also overlooking the sordid history of many players enshrined in Cooperstown," writes Awful Announcing's Ian Casselberry. If you're going to start enforcing the character clause in earnest, because by God Joe Morgan wants to remind you that those man-made chemical enhancement users flunk the character test, then we'd better get ready to start purging a lot of Hall of Famers outside the issues of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances.
Ready to purge Cap Anson? He was maybe the number one mover when it came to imposing a color line on organized baseball. How about Charlie Comiskey? He was penurious and condescending and probably did the most to provoke first baseman Chick Gandil and shortstop Swede Risberg into cooking up the Black Sox scandal.
Step up and step out, Kenesaw Mountain Landis. The first commissioner, who preached there was no color line, damn well wouldn't let any major league owner sign black players. Landis may even have helped block Bill Veeck from buying the moribund Phillies during World War II, over speculation that Veeck was only too ready and willing to sign black players to help revive the franchise.
What's a Hall of Fame without John McGraw? Time to find out, apparently. After all, McGraw wasn't allergic to hanging with gamblers. Nor did he have scruples about owning a pool room with Arnold Rothstein, whose gambling businesses weren't exactly within the law, and who ended up not the provocateur but the financier of the 1919 World Series fix.
Babe Ruth? Unthinkable! But we can't have a barely-disciplined guy who entertained hookers and showgirls in his hotel rooms, or hung his manager over the end of a moving train to protest a disciplinary fine, interrupting the uplifting, feel-good experience for the family that Morgan writes about, can we?
Leo Durocher? Look how long it took him to get into the Hall of Fame in the first place and why. Hung with gangsters and gamblers and saw nothing wrong with it. While he was at it, he instigated an elaborate technological scheme of sign-stealing cheating above and beyond just reading hand signals on the field. (A telescope in the Polo Grounds' clubhouse above center field and a buzzer to the bullpen.) The Giants stole the pennant! The Giants stole the pennant!
And it wouldn't stop there, I'm sure.
Would you like to go back and perform a wholesale purge of hundreds of military cemeteries and get those naughty character-impaired World War II heroes moved away from them? The U.S. armed forces handed their warriors amphetamines to help them grind out those magnificent victories. Man-made chemical enhancements.
Apply some of the arguments about baseball and actual or alleged PEDs to the war. Like the records and the particular victories, for example. Who wants to put a cheating asterisk on Midway, the Coral Sea, D-Day, Iwo Jima, or the Battle of the Bulge? (One of whose heroes turns out to have been Bronze Star and Purple Heart-winning Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn.)
Who wants to declare Germany and Japan the "legitimate" winners? (What makes anyone think the Axis fighters weren't turbocharged, too?) Exhume Audie Murphy and the rest of the Greatest Generation to determine who fought "clean" and who was wired up the kazoo and beyond?
I didn't think so, either.
"All of baseball struggles with having honest, forthright, frank conversations about performance-enhancing drugs — not about what players use but why they use it and where it exists on the spectrum next to legal options and what they use it for and the million other questions that exist in a more granular, intelligent debate," Passan writes.
More granular and intelligent than Joe Morgan — whose reputation as a player included being an astute student of the game, but who's also spent years supporting Pete Rose for the Hall of Fame, almost regardless of Rose's rule-breakings and character flaws, despite the Hall itself declaring those on the banned list ineligible for ballot standing — seems willing to allow now.