I am not a media basher. In fact, I’m of the mindset that bashing the media is a little like government bashing: take one giant, faceless entity, demonize it, and then blame it for just about everything wrong in your life. It’s easy, it’s cheap and more often than not it absolves you from ever having to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
But I have to admit, watching the media outrage this past spring over the failure of the BBWAA to elect Roberto Alomar into baseball’s Hall of Fame on the first ballot has left me wanting to bash someone; anyone.
It’s not that I don’t think that Alomar is a Hall of Famer; because I do. I really do. It’s not that I don’t think he was a great second baseman; because again, I really, really do. It’s not even that I don’t think he wasn’t the greatest second baseman of my lifetime; because arguably, he just might have been.
It’s that many in the baseball media seem to want to have it both ways. They want to demonize a slugger who took steroids or a manager who used to bet on his own team, but they’re perfectly comfortable with looking the other way while a grown man spits in the face of another human being.
Sorry folks. In my world, if someone I loved were to take steroids, or to break one of the cardinal rules of baseball, I’d be hurt; maybe even a little sad. But if some idiot walked up to that same person and spat in his or her face, my first impulse would be to sweep the floor with the guy.
There are certainly more hurtful things you can do to someone – assault, rape and murder immediately jump to mind – but try as I may I am not sure I can conjure up a more symbolically profound way to show contempt for a fellow human being than to spit in his face.
Should the fact that Alomar once spit in an umpire’s face during a game still matter 15 years after he puckered up and blew? Sure it should. Because we’re talking about the highest individual honor that can be afforded a professional baseball player; an honor only the greatest of the greats ever achieve; men who elevated the game not just through the magnitude of their numbers, but the dignity and the passion with which they compiled them. Men like DiMaggio, Aaron, Ripken, Mays and Clemente.
I’m sorry. Roberto Alomar does not belong in that class of baseball titans.
If Alomar didn’t get elected in his first year; tough. If he has to live with the fact that his name will never be referenced as a first-ballot Hall of Famer; so be it. That’s the price you pay when you spit in another man’s face, when you seemingly coast through long stretches of what was an otherwise terrific career, and when you leave so many who watched you play with the gnawing sense that for all your achievements you never seemed willing to explore the upper limits of your talents – if for no other reason than, much like say Derek Jeter, Greg Maddux and Albert Pujols, you harbored a fiery, almost unquenchable desire to see just how great you could actually become.
As a baseball fan, you want to get outraged over an injustice set upon a Hall of Fame candidate? A guy who played a brand of second base like very few ever have? Save it for someone who deserves it; someone like Lou Whitaker.
Did you know that over the course of his 19-year career with the Tigers, the former All Star and Rookie of the Year collected more hits than Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, played in more games and handled more chances than Sandberg, had more doubles than Sandberg, and more RBI than Sandberg – not to mention scored more runs and had a significantly higher lifetime on-base percentage?
In fact, if you list Alomar’s, Sandberg’s and Whitaker’s numbers side-by-side they’re strikingly comparable.
Yet despite that, when Whitaker’s name first came up for Hall of Fame consideration nearly 20 years ago do you know how many votes he got? Fifteen. That’s a one and a five, in that order.
And those measly 15 votes represented just 2.9% of all the ballots cast that year; a number which determined that from that point forward Whitaker would no longer be ineligible for consideration for the Hall of Fame by the baseball writers.
Sandberg, meanwhile, was elected to the Hall in his third year of eligibility and he’ll most likely be soon joined there by Alomar. Meanwhile, as the distance between Whitaker’s wonderful career and the here-and-now grows, his anonymous freefall through the cracks of baseball consciousness only seems to accelerate.
Is he a Hall of Famer? I don’t know. Was he better than Sandberg, or even Alomar? I really don’t know that either. But that’s hardly the point.
The point is this: that in a game which is as much about its debates as its numbers, Lou Whitaker’s numbers have earned him the right to be included in any current debate over Hall of Fame worthiness.
So spare me the hand-wringing over Alomar not being selected on the first-ballot. You want injustice? I’ll give you injustice.
I’ll give you Lou Whitaker; non-candidate for the Hall of Fame. Lou Whitaker; a guy who for 19 years simply showed up, did his job, and in the process carved out what might have been, outside of Joe Morgan, the most consistent and productive career of any second baseman I ever saw play.