By Chris Murray
For the CM Report
With Hall of Fame ceremonies for Major League Baseball and the NFL taking place within two weeks of each other within the last month, the big topic that always seem to get my goat is that player who has all the requisite numbers and requirements to get in, but is held out because of some reason other than their accomplishments on the field.
For example, baseball’s all-time hits leader Pete Rose will probably never have an induction ceremony in Cooperstown because he gambled on baseball while he was a manager of the Cincinnati Reds and for a long time refused to admit it. In 1989, then MLB-Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti banned him from the game.
When Rose finally admitted he bet on baseball in 2004 while promoting his book, it was seen as self-serving and not being contrite enough for “forgiveness” by some members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Rose’s issues with gambling, which is considered to be as addictive as doing drugs, did not occur during his career as a player but while he was a manager. If it was up to me Rose would be in the Hall of Fame because of what he did as a player on the field, period.
As far as I’m concerned Rose has long paid his debt to society and baseball for his gambling addiction. He will never a manage a game and that’s his real punishment. To me, Rose’s continued denial into the Hall of Fame is nothing more than a sanctimonious form of piling on, especially when you consider that the Baseball Hall of Fame is full of scoundrels whose lives have been less than pristine.
And that’s the problem I have with institutions like the Halls of Fame because they are subjective to the whims of those doing the voting, namely by journalists like myself .Some guys are held out or have their entry delayed because some beat writers did not like an athlete who happened to be a jerk off the field or didn’t have a good relationship with the media.
To be sure, there are lot of athletes that I have interviewed who I thought were not good people off the field. But when they were on the field, they were among the best I’ve ever seen play at their individual sports. I would vote a guy in even if was a jerk off the field and even got into trouble like in the case of Orlando Cepeda, who was kept out of Cooperstown because of his brush with the law? Isn’t that the reason we have Halls of Fames because that player was great at his sport?
Perhaps another guy who had an outstanding career in his sport, but has a bad off the field reputation is former Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers defensive end Charles Haley.
During his NFL career, Haley recorded 100.5 sacks, he was a five-time Pro Bowler, a two-time All-Pro and is the only player to own five Super Bowl rings. More importantly, Haley was one of the more dominant defensive ends of his era. Those who covered the game during the time he played acknowledge that his trade to the Cowboys altered the balance of power in the NFC in the early 1990s.
But Haley was not such a “good boy” off the field. He got into fights with his teammates and was a horse’s ass to the media. Since the Pro Football Writers are the ones who decides who get enshrined in Canton, Haley will have to wait for awhile because his antics, which reportedly include him touching his private parts, did necessarily endear himself to “polite” society.
Again, this is not the “Gentlemen’s” Hall of Fame—it’s the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Haley played the game of football pretty darn well. Just ask his former 49ers teammate and Hall-of-Famer Ronnie Lott.
“If that has anything to do with the bearing of the stature that has to do with his being associated with making this, what a travesty,” Lott told ESPN Dallas last February. “How dare we judge someone because of who they are and not judge them for what they did and what they accomplished? We are not in the game of judging people for their character. We are in the game of judging people for their accomplishments, and his accomplishments are second to none.”
Oddly enough, Haley was recently inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame for his play at Div I-AA (now Division I Football Championship Subdivision) James Madison. I think eventually Canton will open its doors to Haley, but to hold him out or delay putting him because a few sportswriters didn’t like how he approached the media is just downright petty.
When I think of a guy who is being held out of the Hall of Fame for something other than his play, Curt Flood comes to mind. On the field, Flood was definitely one of the better players of the 1960s. He batted .300 six times from 1960 to 1968 in era dominated by pitching with guys like Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal on a mound that was 15 inches higher than it is today is amazing.
Flood also won seven gold gloves playing centerfield competing against the likes of San Francisco Giants star Willie Mays.
But Flood’s legal challenge of baseball’s reserve clause that bound a player to a team for life made him an outcast in the sport and forced him to sacrifice the remainder of his baseball career. Though he ultimately lost his case in the U.S. Supreme Court, Flood’s fight against the reserve clause opened the way to free agency in baseball.
At the end of the day, Flood should be in the Hall of Fame because of what he did on the field as a player and because of his principled stand against the reserve clause changed the course of baseball’s labor relationship. That was his impact on the sport.
I just hope in the years to come that we select our Hall-of-Famers for what they did while they were in uniform not because of their relationship with the media or what they did off the field. No one is perfect whether they are great ball players or great writers.
Afterall, who are we as flawed human beings to judge other flawed human beings for their foibles and imperfections.