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
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.