Sunday, January 13, 2013

Is Anybody Worthy?

One interesting thing about men is the need to determine who is the best. Men ten years older than me will debate whether Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays was the best center fielder of all time. For some reason, we are wired with the need to figure out the pecking order between each other. I think that's why sports resonates so deeply with so many men. Also, we need to know who "belongs". Are we good enough to be management material? Officer material? Management? Basically, do we merit? In baseball, there's no greater individual achievement than being inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Strangely (or perhaps not), for the second time in forty years, the Baseball Writers Association has decided that not one player is worthy for induction to the Hall Of Fame.This means that as of this writing, the all time home run king (Barry Bonds), the most decorated pitcher in history (Roger Clemens), a 600 home run hitter (Sammy Sosa), the all time hits leader (Pete Rose), the player with the third highest batting average (Joe Jackson) and two 500 home run hitters (Rafael Palmiero, Mark McGwire) all are not enshrined in the Hall Of Fame. All are considered unworthy (or in Rose's case ineligible) based on character. In some ways, I can't argue with the logic or morality of the decision. Steroids and other PEDs have tainted an entire generation of players and have painted a cloud of suspicion over any great feats in baseball. As for Rose and Jackson, the hint of fixing games, or being influenced by gambling causes a similar type suspicion.

I also can counter such reasoning with the fact that many cheaters (Gaylord Perry comes to mind) and low character individuals are already in the Hall. Reading Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" paints a picture of boozing, womanizing, greenie popping ball players including the revered Micky Mantle. There are players who would be considered racist, drug abusers, womanizers, ruffians, gamblers and scoundrels that have plaques in Cooperstown. Why single out PED users?

What this points back to is a tough reality. The Hall Of Fame is a man made institution. It's rules for induction are subjective. Even more difficult is the fact that frail humans are the judges of worthiness. This means the election process will be flawed. This can be the only reason why acknowledged greats, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle were not unanimous selections. I have to question any voter who would not vote for them. Perhaps even more puzzling is that this year someone voted for Aaron Sele (owner of a 4+ lifetime ERA). So I recall the reality of our human frailty. We are not created to judge and our judgement will be flawed.

Major League Baseball and the flaws that it exposes brings me back to 200 game winner Vida Blue. As a kid, he was one my heroes. He's a lefty and pitched for both Bay Area baseball teams. He's also a convicted drug trafficker. Perhaps the strangest circumstances with which I met a famous ballplayer was with Vida Blue. It was 1984 and I was at the Oakland Coliseum sitting in the cheap seats with my brother. I looked behind me and sitting among us bleacher bums was Vida Blue of all people. He was just released from prison and was now reduced to sitting with the rest of the fans that night. Just think, only a few years earlier he was the king of this place. He was the man we cheered for and the man that I wanted to be like. I got the courage to speak with him that night. He was gracious. I shook his hand - it was massive. I thought this was a man who could crush my hand if wanted to. I always wondered what he felt to be humbled to that level. I also wonder if his substance abuse is what prevented him from being in the Hall Of Fame. He went on to finish his career with the Giants and win 200 games along the way. Although he has battled alcohol abuse over the years, it seems that his legacy is solid. To me, he's still one of my heroes even with all of his baggage. He's human and a great pitcher.

All of this says that we are all not worthy based on character or some arbitrary sense of morality. We all are not worthy. The beauty is that God makes us worthy. He is the one who can heal us, forgive us, rehabilitate us and justify us. Our hearts can in fact be judged pure because our Heavenly Father fixed it all for us. To that we can find our worth and that we belong to God's Hall Of Fame.

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