Bryant Gumbel is a really good television journalist. His show, Real Sports, always has a segment or two that I try to catch every month. Thought-provoking, oftentimes outside the box, and compelling to watch.
He's also really good at doing what the television business – heck, news media in general – attempts to do every day; that is, spark a reaction, and the more reactions the better.
His comments about Tony La Russa, Mark McGwire, the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the blurred lines between "fame and shame" are getting lots of reaction.
Point, Gumbel, and mission accomplished.
You see, with the vast choices television viewers have these days, particularly for news, efforts and emphasis are directed at getting you, the viewer, to get your device tuned, linked, and otherwise locked in. Hence, news managers love stories that shock, appall, stun, surprise, and touch; and the more sensationalized the headline – and the sell of that headline on social media outlets – the better the odds are that the viewer will want to check it out. If the story is that beautiful weather is going to happen, the everyday citizen won't even flinch (and probably stays outside away from the TV, and that's bad); but if storms and potential havoc are predicted, then the hope is for much more than a flinch – continuous viewing to see where the storm is headed, when to go buy the milk, bread and eggs, and then when to head to the basement.
So, with Mr. Gumbel's take on Tony La Russa going into the Hall with the help of Mark McGwire's use of PED's, it's like that accident on the side of the road that the driver comes upon – you can't help but slow down to take a look. It's human nature. It's also human nature to immediately have a reaction and a following opinion on such a white-hot button issue as steroids – and more to the point, cheating.
But, if you stop and think for a moment, all he gave was an opinion. And because of his lofty status on a national show, and his lengthy resume dating back a few decades, his opinion gets a shock value reaction. But is his opinion, honed by his prodigious journalistic chops, more worthy than anyone else's?
Case in point: Mr. Gumbel talked about 43 percent of Tony La Russa's wins coming with Mark McGwire on his roster. Well, isn't that percentage diluted when you consider that McGwire had some clunker years, initiated by an inability to stay healthy, in amidst the 40-and-50 homer seasons? I realize I may be nitpicking what he said.
It's also over what he didn't say.
Did he mention the contributions PED-fueled players made to the careers of Joe Torre and Bobby Cox, who are also going into the Hall this weekend? No, he didn't. Maybe, for time purposes, he didn't go beyond the headline-maker that the combination of La Russa and McGwire would create.
And maybe that's where the blurring comes in. PED's have wreaked havoc over statistics and achievements in sports, and particularly baseball, in the past quarter-century. But that's no different than the effect dead balls had on home runs until Babe Ruth came along – home run hitters just didn't exist until the Bambino. World War II and the Korean War had a profound effect on the quality of players in the game for a few years, and then "greenies" and other amphetamines quietly skewed baseball's numbers in the 1960's and 1970's. And what about pre-Jackie Robinson, where the ball (and the game) was white?
Point? There is always going to be blurring. The human existence is not exact. Who was the better player, The Babe or Barry Bonds?
(Pause for debate)
Okay, let's return your seats.
There are so many factors, with alleged PED use right there among 'em, that come into play in an argument like that. Day games vs. night games, train travel over half the country vs. airplane travel over the entire continent, a lily-white game vs. minority inclusion, dead balls vs. "juiced" balls, hot dogs, fried food and beer vs. nutritionists and personal trainers, ash bats vs. maple.
And that's just one debate.
Hey, here's a question: Was Miller Huggins a better manager than, say, Lee Fohl (Indians, Browns and Red Sox manager of the 1910's and 1920's), because Huggins had Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Muesel, Tony Lazzeri, and Waite Hoyt, while Fohl didn't? (Note: When Fohl had winning clubs with the Browns he had Hall of Famers George Sisler, Ken Williams, and Tris Speaker; his headliners were Topper Rigney, Baby Doll Jacobson, and Hal Wiltse when he didn't win.)
La Russa freely admits that he has gotten to Cooperstown on the shoulders of the players who did his heavy lifting. Any manager has to be of that same belief, but Tony changed the way the game is played with his situational bullpen and his early use of metrics. Game-changers have their place in the Hall.
Others have their places there, too: Cap Anson was a racist, Rube Waddell was one of several enshrined alcoholics, Leo Durocher may have won a pennant with spies stealing opponents' signs, and there are others who were less than Musial-like in character.
And now we could start the Pete Rose argument. Or not.
But the Hall of Fame is not a question of black and white – well, for many years, it was, but what I mean is that there's a lot of gray (or grey) and blurring when it comes to sports. And it is those gray/grey and blurry issues that make sports what it is to us: something that sparks opinion.
And here's an opinion for you: You keep Tony La Russa out of the Hall of Fame, then let's eliminate the entire membership, and start over with some clearer criteria.
So what do you think about that? Talk amongst yourselves.
But if you've gotten this far, mission accomplished for me.
Made you read.
Until next time….