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Mitchell's List offers breather for Barry

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It’s going to be fashionable and easy to pounce on Barry Bonds over the coming weeks and months, but I have this feeling that startling number of current and retired players' names released today in the Mitchell Investigation is going to take some of the wind out of our otherwise righteous sails.

How do we continue to vilify Monsieur Barry now that the report has revealed that he was just one of so many apparently on the juice during that giddy stretch when home run inflation was at its peak? The enormity of the list of names has to give some pause to Barry bashing, that and having so many other seemingly Cooperstown-bound folks lumped in with him.

It’s certainly not fashionable – nor politically correct – to theorize that back in the 1990s when major leaguers were seeking better stats through chemistry that most of them weren’t the least bit hesitant about what they were doing. I don’t think they gave it much of a second thought, and firmly believe that they only reason they appear to do so these days is because of all the pressure from hypocritical politicians (forgive the redundancy), similarly disingenuous MLB officials and a hyper-agitated mainstream media.
By the way, that last group deserves as much derision in this tawdry affair as almost any other. It’s understandable why Major League Baseball itself pretended that everything was hunky-dory while their major stars tripled their hat sizes and home run figures, but where were the sportswriters? There were exceptions, of course, but this was hardly the fourth estate’s finest hour.

* * * * *

Collectors have been rewarded with some real chuckles in recent years with “mistakes” that have been – depending upon your level of cynicism or gullibility – either innocent errors on baseball cards that conjured up recollections of their legendary vintage counterparts or were guerrilla marketing tactics run amok.

Choose either A or B, but don’t get too attached to the idea, because one suspects that the appropriate licensing agencies (MLB and the Players Association) are going to put the kibosh on all of it pretty quickly.

Last year Topps took it to another level, as the cliche goes, by inserting George Bush and Mickey Mantle into the grandstands to admire Derek Jeter’s follow-through on his regular-issue card. As might have been expected, it got hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of attention from mainstream media outlets, leaving one to assume that a certain Carlsbad, Calif.-based competitor was mightily miffed.

Perhaps it’s a coincidence (just as the rotation of the Earth and the arrival of the sun in the east every morning may be coincidence), but in recent weeks, Upper Deck apparently produced “errors” that include an Alex Rodriguez card seemingly misnamed “Ex Rod,” another with a caricature of someone who looks suspiciously like Disney’s Michael Eisner, CEO of Topps’ new parent company, and a third that features an asterisk on a piece of a baseball (details – and images – are featured in this week’s News Brief section on page 8).

Last year I got a kick out of the Topps Jeter card, and appreciated all the national media attention, but I feared at the time that the odd precedent of winking at intentional “errors” from the card companies’ design crews was going to run into problems eventually.

As much fun as it can be, you just have to resist the temptation because escalation will eventually take you into murky waters. It’s not entirely dissimilar to what magazine editors face in resisting the urge to slip in cutesy headlines or subheads with naughty double entendres.

Geez, what does it say about all this when a (formerly) mischievous rascal like myself becomes the voice of reason in this debate?

Don’t answer that. It was rhetorical.

* * * * *

My favorite quasi-public institution, the Baseball Hall of Fame, has a problem. An organization with talented, dedicated and passionate hierarchy and staff, seemingly from top to bottom, finds itself struggling to come up with a Veterans Committee voting procedure that effectively represents the Hall and its admittedly lofty ideals. We ain’t there yet.

With the new streamlined Veterans voting in place for the first time, two managers (Billy Southworth and Dick Williams) and three executives (Bowie Kuhn, Barney Dreyfuss and Walter O’Malley) were voted in. Marvin Miller, the man who probably had the greatest impact on Major League Baseball this side of Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, didn’t make it. Wasn’t even close.

That’s an embarrassment not to the Hall of Fame, but to the lunkheads who put personal animus above their responsibility to vote fairly. If I were one of the three who voted for Miller, I would want to make my vote known rather than to allow anyone to think I had botched the equivalent of a slow ground ball back to the pitcher.

I am usually the most cynical person on a wide variety of issues that come up, but in this instance, I clearly am remarkably naive. I am always stunned when I meet resistance to the idea that Marvin Miller is a slam-dunk candidate.

I have never heard so much as one cogent, to say nothing of convincing argument, why he should be excluded. It’s almost always just people who equate the millions of dollars paid to modern players as the result of Miller’s alleged deviousness and (I buy this part) his ability to consistently hornswaggle the rubes from the owner’s side that he faced across the negotiation table.

Ironically, the people who nixed his election indirectly make the case for why their vote is cosmically flawed: they concede Miller’s remarkable impact on MLB, but insist out of a small-minded obstinance that it be used as an argument to keep him out of the Hall rather than to induct him. How sad and pathetic.

I have enormous sympathy for the HOF officials, many of whom I know are supportive of Miller’s candidacy, starting with HOF Vice President Joe Morgan, perhaps Miller’s most well-placed, influential and ardent supporter. But they are stuck for the moment, and Miller, 90, seems to have finally lost a round so late in the bout (ugh, a boxing metaphor) that he may never live to see a faulty decision overturned.

I am not even particularly bothered by the yucky absurdity of Miller foils Bowie Kuhn and Walter O’Malley getting the nod on a ballot that so thoroughly disses Miller. I worry far less about who gets elected than I do about the disgraceful exclusion of an elderly icon who deserves to see his plaque in Cooperstown in his lifetime.

Our own ace columnist, Marty Appel, was Kuhn’s friend and biographer, and he makes a great case for the HOF election of the former commissioner. The Miller snub is even unfair for Kuhn, because it takes what ought to be a celebratory moment and turns it into yet another controversy between the two men.

For the diehard Brooklyn fans who still cringe at the mention of O’Malley’s name, these voting results are little more than one more Dodger fan (Miller) getting hosed one last time; O’Malley gets yet another last laugh.

Maybe, but Miller’s successor as executive director of the Players Association, Donald Fehr, gets the last word:

“It was very disappointing to learn this morning that, once again, Marvin Miller was not elected to the Hall of Fame. Over the entire scope of the last half of the 20th century, no other individual had as much influence on the game of baseball as did Marvin Miller.

“Because he was the players’ voice, and represente
d them vigorously, (he) was the owners’ adversary. This time around, a majority of those voting were owner representatives, and results of the vote demonstrate the effect that had ... In the last vote, Marvin received 63 percent of the votes, this time he got 25 percent. By contrast, Bowie Kuhn received 17 percent of the votes last time, but got 83 percent this time.

“The failure to elect Marvin Miller is an unfortunate and regrettable decision. Without question, the Hall of Fame is poorer for it.”

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