Election to Baseball's Hall of Fame is not easy, and that's as it should be. The baseball writers who cast the ballots usually do a pretty good job of picking the right people. The process is by no means perfect. Sometimes deserving players with quiet personalities who played in small market cities get overlooked unless their stats just can't be ignored. Stats should count for a lot, but not everything. Players with borderline stats can get elected based on character, heart and how much they meant to their team and the game. One guy in my mind that falls into that category is Gil Hodges of the old Brooklyn Dodgers. A class guy with good numbers, Gil was a team leader, respected by his teammates and everyone in the game. Hopefully the Hall will amend this terrible oversight one day.
Another player who maybe got a bad deal is Pete Rose. I know, I know, he gambled on baseball games, but in light of what goes on in sports today, that seems almost trivial. Pete never bet against his own team and did nothing to alter the outcome of games; he always played to win. His numbers are off the wall and would have put him in on the first ballot had it not been for the gambling thing. Pete's big problem was his attitude. Had he been more contrite, admitted his mistake and asked for forgiveness, he'd probably be in, but that is not Pete Rose's nature. He would cut off his nose to spite his face rather than grovel. Too bad, Rose was an exciting player who made every team he played for better. His baseball skills and heart were extraordinary, but he wouldn't bow to the baseball writers; that sealed his fate.
A final word about cheating...the case of Lance Armstrong. After being found guilty of using banned substances to enhance his performance, Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France medals and his name removed from the record books by the Union Cycliste Internationale. The USDA who did the testing on Armstrong accused him of overseeing the most sophisticated doping program they had ever seen for the teams on which he competed. This is not one athlete cheating, but a man who encouraged and systematically perfected cheating for his teams. He tarnished an entire sport and deprived honest competitors (if there really are any anymore) from medals that were rightfully theirs. Now Lance wants to admit all, not because he's truly sorry but because he wants the UCI to remove the ban on his participation in events they sanction. Compared to this guy, Pete Rose was a choir boy.
There seems to be a malaise hanging over professional sports these days. The pressure to win at all costs, and the money that comes with it, are tainting what was once the finest crucible of human endeavor. Honor, sportsmanship and "may the best man win" were the guiding principles. The only sport that rises head and shoulders above all others in continuing and even enhancing these traditional values in sport is golf. Competitors call penalties on themselves, conduct themselves like ladies and gentlemen, and raise more money for charity than all other sports combined. The United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in Europe enforce the game's rules and maintain high standards of behavior for players. We need a return to this conduct for all sports if our young people are to grow up with any character.
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