Pumped Up Charges Against La Russa
There Should be No Debate about the Hall of Famer’s Induction on Sunday.
More sad and troubling repercussions from the Steroid Era are contentions that La Russa’s Hall of Fame honor is hypocritical or unworthy. Many point out his successes are inextricably tied to the likes of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, and even Dennis Eckersley, with The New York Daily News going even farther by characterizing La Russa’s Oakland clubhouse as an “orgy of anabolic steroid use.” (1) So if Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez and about 100 others from that period will never be voted in to the Hall of Fame by the writers, and La Russa benefited, why was he in Cooperstown this weekend?
As Tom Verducci reminded Dan Patrick Monday morning, La Russa wasn’t voted in by the writers, rather the independent Veterans Committee. Regardless, that’s 100% beside the point.
First, neither La Russa—nor Joe Torre, nor Bobby Cox or any guy who managed during that era—had “Juice Police” in their job descriptions. Even if they had by proxy, why does that responsibility stop in the dugout? Aren’t many trainers complicit? Where were the General Managers and owners? The guys who measured heads and feet for caps and cleats? Shouldn’t they have reported “unusually bigger heads?” Should I have yelled down from the stands that Giambi looks suspiciously bigger, please investigate? And—thankfully they now ask themselves—didn’t the writers look the other way?
La Russa didn’t help himself when he recently suggested the Hall of Shame players should be let in with an asterisk. That just infuriated the purists. (And once and for all—like impeaching Obama or getting Steven A. to shut up about anything—the asterisk will never happen. No one who loves baseball as much as the people who love baseball will ever support it, much less allow the selfish circus acts to be any nearer to Cooperstown than Albany. Maybe a special commemoration next to a janitorial closet in the Museum basement someday, but that’s about it.
But Tony La Russa’s career is a baseball story worthy of all the accolades. This weekend we celebrated his awe-inspiring record along with five other Hall of Famers, reminding us of what “baseball greatness” really means. Along with Torre and Cox, if anyone doesn’t think he as a manager uniquely brought competitive imbalance and strategic brilliance to 162 games a season, and steroids were a straight path to World Championships and league pennants, consider even the Cubs would have won one by now.
Since 1936, the Hall of Fame selection process has never been perfect. Extreme racist Cap Anson is a Hall of Famer. Buck O’Neil is shamefully not in. Jack Morris will sadly never get another chance. But even if the writers are going in the wrong direction (i.e., unworthy voters like Dan LeBetard), Baseball at least is trying to get it right; reducing HOF eligibility from 15 to 10 years to reduce the ballot is just one example.
As La Russa reflected in his induction speech, “The more you love baseball the more you want to learn. The more you learn, the more you love it.” Only a person who loves this game can say that. Or know TO say that. The Steroid boys don’t know that and will never be fellow Hall of Famers, because they loved baseball second and themselves first. Let’s not get La Russa all mixed in with that crowd.