Rick Reilly, the writer for ESPN.com, recently caused a lot of conversation with his piece, “Guilt by Association.” And the conversation is understandable because the piece was all about newly elected managers, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa getting a pass into the Hall of Fame because “the three managers being inducted oversaw at least 34 players who’ve been implicated as PED users and never noticed a thing wrong.” Naturally, any conversation that includes PEDs leads to polarizing views. Half of Twitter is shouting, “Right on!” While others are saying it is the worst thing ever written.
While my position on the PED players and era is firmly established in the, “I don’t care” category and do not believe in banning any players or managers from the Hall of Fame, you might think that this piece will fall on the bashing Rick Reilly side of things. But I am not going to do that. This is America after all and everyone is entitled to their opinion. It was not long ago that everyone was piling on Rob Neyer for something he said, and yet, he was bashing Reilly today.
Instead of focusing on the writer and on his intent or moralistic leanings here, I would rather focus on the logic of what he is saying. And if I paraphrase the entire thing, then he is saying in a nutshell that if the players are not getting a pass on the PEDs they may or may not have used, then the managers who were in charge of those players should not get a pass either.
In one aspect, he is right in that players did things they should not have done and the managers may or may not have known they are doing those things. So by either turning a blind eye or at worst, not paying attention, they are guilty by association.
So that should then mean that no manager from the PED era should ever make it into the Hall of Fame because perhaps as high as 60 to 80% of all players in the game were probably using. If you take Reilly’s logic to the max, shouldn’t that be the case? Forget about it, Jim Leyland or Joe Maddon or Mike Scioscia or any others that might have a case in the future.
If you are going to make this argument, then you have to take it all the way. The common belief is that all segments of the baseball society fell down the rabbit hole in the PED era. The scouts, the commissioner, the league presidents, the managers, the general managers, the trainers, the union, the publicists, the agents, and yes, the writers and broadcasters all had to know that something was not right in the game and yet it happened anyway. They were all complicit.
Take Reilly’s assertion to the maximum and Bill Madden of New York, Nick Peters of San Francisco, Rick Hummel of St. Louis, Tracy Ringolsby of Denver and Peter Gammons should not have gotten a free pass to the J.G. Taylor Spink Award.
Madden covered New York sports including many of the same players Joe Torre is being accused about. Peters certainly witnessed the Barry Bonds superhero show. Hummel should be just as complicit as LaRussa. Ringolsby was writing when Matt Williams was playing and others in Denver. And nobody knew more people or had more connections in the game in his heyday than Peter Gammons. So take those on too, Mr. Reilly.
Speaking of Matt Williams: Now that he is a manager, what is going to happen if he wins ten World Series in his managing career? What a mess that will be, eh?
And what of broadcasters who often traveled with these players and stayed in the same hotels. Should Jack Buck have gotten the Ford C. Frick Award? He called McGwire’s homers after all. What about Eric Nadel who was voted in this year after his lifetime of broadcasting the Rangers. Did one broadcaster cover more PED users than Nadel? Bob Uecker has covered Ryan Braun‘s career since the beginning. Should “Uke” be a Frick Award winner?
No, this blame and punishment thing can go on and on and thus it is all pointless. You cannot erase history by executing all those who participated in the bad things that happened. You cannot have a Hall of Fame that does not include the best players of their era. You cannot have a Spink Award without the best writers and the Frick Award without the best broadcasters.
Let it go. The numbers are staying. There are no asterisks. The players that created them, the managers who managed them and the writers and broadcasters that breathlessly reported them all need to be drawn in the times that they played, managed, wrote and broadcast. Blame does not get us anywhere. Heck, even the commissioner is going to be in the Hall of Fame someday. My point and response to Rick Reilly is not to blast him but to simply remind him that the entire game of baseball, including those who covered and broadcast it, are guilty by association.