Torre, La Russa, Cox Enter Baseball's Hall of Double Standards
Remember last year's sad little Baseball Hall of Fame ceremony, when not a single living person was inducted into the Hall for the first time since 1965?
Good news! It won't be another joyless summer in Cooperstown. Three living, breathing beings -- managers Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox -- have each had their tickets punched for immortality by the Hall's Expansion Era Committee. All three will no doubt be on hand next July to receive their plaques, and to regale a large crowd with charming anecdotes from their illustrious careers.
It's hard to argue with their qualifications. Cox only won one World Series as a manager, in 1995, but his Atlanta Braves were basically a lock to make the post-season from the 1990s into the early 2000s. He has more total wins than all but three managers, two of whom -- John McGraw and Connie Mack -- were part-owners of their teams and were effectively un-firable.
And La Russa. Whatever you think of the man and his "old-school" refusal to accept statistical analysis, he has probably been the most successful manager in the modern era. Before building the current St. Louis Cardinals dynasty, he won a division title with the Chicago White Sox (1983) and a few pennants and a World Series with the Oakland A's. Finally, there's Torre, who was an awfully good player before winning four World Series titles as manager of the Yankees.
So, yes, a worthy group. There's just one problem: Each of these guys rose to prominence during the game's Steroid Era. They owe their success, in part, to the likes of Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens and John Rocker. McGwire and Clemens, of course, would already have been cast in bronze were it not for the taint of allegations about performance-enhancing drugs. So why is it acceptable for managers to ride supposedly PED-inflated statistics into the Hall, but not for players?
The answer is easy, and it's not because the players were cheating and the managers weren't. After all, as Bill James has pointed out, baseball didn't really have a rule against performance-enhancing drugs until 2002 -- at least not one that players had agreed to in collective-bargaining.
Hall of Fame voting today isn't about honoring the game's greatest players and managers. It's about making moral judgments, and speculative ones at that. For whatever reason -- deference to authority? -- managers get the benefit of the doubt. Players don't.
The election process for Cooperstown is its own, strange beast, but its penchant for selective shaming is familiar by now. The evil scourge of PEDs is adjudicated here, with the Hall's custodians convicting and punishing great ballplayers who were just seeking an edge, like generations of ballplayers before them. How much did steroids help them? Exactly as much as steroids helped their managers.
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