Vada Pinson and the Question of Character and the Hall of Fame
About a year ago, while looking for something else, I came across a couple newspaper articles on the death of Vada Pinson on October 21, 1995. I’d heard of Pinson, vaguely, as one of the best center fielders of the 1960s, for a long time the man with the most hits (2757) who wasn’t in the Hall of Fame, and that was about all. In the articles reporting his death I learned that Pinson was part of the first wave of great black major league players from Oakland, a man remembered by his teammates as much for his grace and quiet, neat, gentle personality as for his skills on the field, and that he was a longtime friend of Curt Flood’s.
Flood said, “I always remember Vada Pinson’s smile. It was always present. If not on his face, it was in his voice.”
I don’t have passionate feelings either way about whether Pinson should be in the HOF; it seems like not the greatest mistake in HOF history if he was put in, but there are clearly other, better players who aren’t in. Pinson strikes me as a fine example of someone who belongs in a tier of baseball figures just below the class of Hall of Famers. In any case, the question of how he lived his life, and is now remembered, is more important than the question of whether Pinson belongs in the Hall of Fame.
To that point, several people have left comments on the post I did about Pinson’s death, raving about his character and their memories of watching him play the game. Here are some examples:
“Nowadays they’d be showing his web gems on tv every nite. . . . As graceful a player as I ever saw, in CF, running the bases, and swinging a bat.”
“Vada was my hero as a young kid in the 60s. I wish that there was more video of him to show how great it was to watch him play. As a 58 year old man, now, I’ve never found another player that drew me to them like he did. As I read about comments about his character from people that knew him personally, I know that my instincts were right in following his career.”
“Vada Pinson was a gentleman. He is deserving of inclusion in Cooperstown for his many abilities as a player and for his character.”
These comments came 40 to 50 years after seeing Pinson star, primarily in Cincinnati, from people who had no obvious reason, other than their memories of the man, to come by my posting, let alone praise Pinson.
There’s the issue, which for quite a while pretty much only involved Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, but has now engulfed Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and others tainted by steroids (along with Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner, and I guess Steve Garvey too), of whether bad behavior should keep someone out of the Hall of Fame. But there isn’t nearly as much talk about the corresponding issue of whether people should consider character, charisma, and memorability when voting on HOF candidates. Should someone like Pinson (or, to name more recent examples, Edgar Martinez, Barry Larkin, and Dale Murphy) get extra marks because of the positive impact he had on the game and its image, and the impression he made on the fans who saw him play? Or does the character issue only operate as a negative?