Base­ball in a golden age? It’s re­ally the age of gold

MONTE POOLE | THE OAK­LAND TRIBUNE Selig boasts, but wealth doesn’t equal qual­ity of play

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS -

Bud Selig likes to puff him­self up and crow about base­ball’s “re­nais­sance” dur­ing his term as com­mis­sioner, re­fer­ring to it as the “golden era.”

He said it in 2004, said it in 2006 and said it again dur­ing 2007 All-Star game fes­tiv­i­ties. He be­lieves it. And he’s cor­rect, in the lit­eral sense. Base­ball has never mined more gold than dur­ing his 18 years as com­mis­sioner. It’s very, very pros­per­ous.

But this self-serv­ing claim ex­poses Bud as some­one who con­sid­ers money the first and last means of mea­sure­ment. If the com­mish were to con­sider tal­ent — much less in­tegrity — part of the equa­tion, even he might gag on the bru­tal truth.

The All-Star game played Tues­day in Ana­heim, de­spite the many won­der­ful play­ers, served as the lat­est sober­ing ex­am­ple that All-Stars aren’t what they used to be. Of the 68 men on the AL and NL ros­ters, no more than six are cer­tain to en­ter the Hall of Fame.

To re­it­er­ate, less than 10 per­cent of the play­ers on the com­bined All-Star game ros­ters have proved wor­thy of the game’s great­est in­di­vid­ual honor.

Take away Derek Jeter, Mar­i­ano Rivera and Alex Ro­driguez, three New York­ers surely des­tined for the Yan­kees’ wing at Coop­er­stown, and we’re left with Al­bert Pu­jols, Ichiro Suzuki and Vladimir Guer­rero — and maybe a fourth Yan­kee, Andy Pet­titte.

Sorry, Bud, but six or seven Hall of Famers in an All-Star game does not a golden age make.

The golden age was nearly 50 years ago, with the tremen­dous in­flux of gifted con­sid­ers money the mea­sur­ing stick of base­ball’s suc­cess. play­ers of African Amer­i­can and Latin Amer­i­can de­scent, as Ma­jor League Base­ball moved to atone for dis­crim­i­na­tory sins, even­tu­ally con­sid­er­ing tal­ent be­fore skin color.

That’s why the 1960s and ’70s were a time when most teams had at least one Al­lS­tar headed for the Hall. Some had sev­eral. Who needs a home run derby when there is a gath­er­ing of leg­ends?

Con­sider the ’71 game in Detroit. The ros­ters were much smaller then, a com­bined 56 play­ers. More than a third, 20, went on to the Hall of Fame.

The NL ros­ter sent 11 play­ers, and most al­ready had earned their busts. Five of the eight po­si­tion starters: catcher Johnny Bench, first base­man Wil­lie McCovey and out­field­ers Henry Aaron, Wil­lie Mays and Wil­lie Stargell. Four pitch­ers: Steve Carl­ton, Fer­gu­son Jenk­ins, Juan Marichal and Tom Seaver. Heck, Lou Brock and Roberto Cle­mente, both first-bal­lot in­ductees, were re­serves.

Pete Rose, by merit, should be the 12th Hall of Famer on that NL club.

Among the nine AL play­ers headed for Coop­er­stown were sec­ond base­man Rod Carew, third base­man Brooks Robin­son, short­stop Luis Aparicio and out­field­ers Frank Robin­son and Carl Yas­trzem­ski. Re­serves in­cluded Reg­gie Jack­son, Al Ka­line and Har­mon Kille­brew.

Though only one pitcher, Jim Palmer, was in­ducted, an­other — Vida Blue — put up num­bers com­pa­ra­ble to Cat­fish Hunter and Don Drys­dale, both of whom are in the Hall.

Such plen­ti­ful tal­ent wasn’t con­fined to ’71. It was, at the time, the norm. From 1964 through 1974, All-Star games fea­tured an av­er­age of 18 Hall of Fame play­ers. Of the 56 men on the ros­ters for the ’72 game, 23 wound up in Coop­er­stown.

Selig know his his­tory well enough. He knows bet­ter. Ev­i­dently, his score­card tal­lies rev­enue in­stead of qual­ity.

Un­der­stand, this is not to di­min­ish the ac­com­plish­ments of to­day’s play­ers. This is not to den­i­grate the per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing cul­ture that has per­me­ated Selig’s ten­ure or to sug­gest that All-Star games aren’t worth watch­ing.

The games, how­ever, aren’t what they once were. They have be­come, rather, a col­lec­tion of men paid ob­scenely well to per­form at the high­est level. The play­ers in Ana­heim on Tues­day don’t have the abun­dance of ca­chet found dur­ing the ac­tual golden age. This might ex­plain the record-low TV rat­ings.

The afore­men­tioned six aside, some of the oth­ers may earn cre­den­tials for the Hall. Pet­titte should be con­sid­ered and could get it. Roy Hal­la­day is su­perb, but, even at 33, it’s too early to know. And it’s much too early for the likes of Miguel Cabr­era and Joe Mauer, both 27, or CC Sa­bathia, who at 29 has ca­reer statis­tics sim­i­lar to Hal­la­day’s.

They play a fine game of base­ball, yes, but they are play­ing not in the golden age but the age of gold, the era of wealth. Many wouldn’t have come close to an All-Star game 40 years ago.

This is how it’s been for much of Selig’s ten­ure. If he and his cronies placed qual­ity of per­son­nel be­fore growth of prof­its — a novel con­cept, I know — they’d know the def­i­ni­tion of the golden age.

It’s when a first-bal­lot Hall of Famer has to come off the bench in the All-Star game. The Astros’ Jeff Bag­well warms up be­fore the start of a spring train­ing game in 2006. As the team’s new hit­ting coach, he’s in­her­it­ing hit­ters who rank among the bot­tom of the league.

Stephen Senne

Bud Selig

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