Cooperstown's double standard
It was the pre-Camelot years of the Eisenhower administration when, from east to west, baseball was king on all scorecards, the vaunted American pastime. Back then, the game was the central ingredient in the nation's simmering sporting stew.
It hasn't been that way since.
American leisure time has evolved into a categorized equation of age, race, sexual orientation, income, ethnicity and collected "likes" on Facebook.
The First Bank of Baseball does share some of the blame for being overdrawn by outlandish ticket, parking and concession prices, elongated games on expensive cable packages, illegal steroids and stadiums that are flooded with an insufferable string of loud, obnoxious commercials and overbearing music that exceeds the flight line decibel levels at any major airport. The players don't help the game by treating fans as if they were a plague-ridden horde, while wearing their uniforms like pajamas and refusing to crease their caps. They more closely resemble "Revenge of the Nerds" than "Murderer's Row."
Then there's the softball factor. Sound implausible? But you can equate baseball's falling popularity to the precipitous drop in softball play.
Once upon a time, softball provided employees the opportunity to bond outside the workplace while competing in affable games where everyone participated and could articulate the game's abundant nuances that lead to a greater appreciation of the sport. That was then. Today, the Amateur Softball Association reports registered teams have dropped 56 percent in 20 years.
Not to be dismissed is the attention deficit factor that our instantaneous society has plunged out of us like a clogged drain. Akin to board games (remember those?), baseball effortlessly reveals its considerable minutiae and sundry situations with every pitch. People could articulate the subtleties of the hit and run, but now, for the love of the Babe, have no clue what the infield fly rule is nor do they realize how much the Babe meant to not only the game on the centennial anniversary of his major league debut, but his influence on the first half of 20th Century America.
There are still those who know Cooperstown isn't just another upstate New York hamlet, but baseball's holy grail, its Hall of Fame. Cooperstown bills itself as "the place where history comes to life each day." That is never truer than this last weekend of July when its annual Hall of Fame weekend hosts its annual induction. The 2014 class includes mangers Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa and players Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas and Tom Glavine.
Even at baseball's greatest shrine, all isn't what it seems.
Take the 2014 managerial class. Tony La Russa was teamed with Mark McGwire for 15 seasons yet claims he never knew McGwire used steroids. The same holds true for Bobby Cox, who managed Gary Sheffield. Joe Torre was oblivious when it came to whether or not Alex Rodriguez was using the four years clueless Joe wrote his name in the Yankee lineup. Rodriguez is presently appealing a 211-game suspension for drugs. Yet, all three managers were unanimously elected despite having managed at least 34 players who've been implicated as drug users, according to espn.com. Torre is still in the employ of Major League Baseball, serving as an executive vice president.
The managers are in but McGwire, Sheffield and Rodriguez are shut out, along with Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, all of whom, given their on-field production, deserve their own Cooperstown plaque.
Rick Reilly, the recently retired and arguably the best sports essayist over the last quarter century, wrote in December that the "codes of conduct in major league baseball have shifted like beach sand; where the rules for one set of men are ignored for another; where PED poppers can never enter, but the men who turned their backs to the cheating get gleaming, bronze plaques."
Reilly continues in his eclectic style writing that all three managers "spent eight hours a day around these guys, eight months a year, and yet never saw a thing. Maybe they dressed in a different clubhouse? But the managers go into Cooperstown and those players never will. Even the faintest scent of a rumor of PED use is enough to sink a player now. Managers? Odorless."
Since Obama had no clue about the IRS scandal, Benghazi, NSA spying, wiretapping of media opponents, the GSA, the Obamacare website debacle and Secret Service hooker scandals, the managers get a pass, too.
Players who didn't receive serious consideration on this year's ballot because of suspected drug usage during their salad days were perennial all-stars Craig Biggio and Mark Piazza.
This slippery slope not only harms what's left of baseball's integrity, but it's a sure bet that it makes the game a difficult sell to the next generation.
Any questions, ask Pete Rose.
(Greg Maresca, a freelance writer, composes "Talking Points" for each Sunday edition.)