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On old-timers and the Hall of Fame … Notre Dame at No. 1 … and the NHL in extremis

Long-term sufferers of this weekly rant well know that the composition of baseball’s Hall of Fame and, in particular, the process by which it is determined is a pet subject here. Be advised the Veterans Committee is about to do its “sometimes” thing. The word comes down from on-high at the annual winter meetings next week.

After years of fussing with their modus operandi, and whiffing more often than not, the veterans panel seems to have its act in order. So we have the reasonable expectation of at least one choice, although they need to pick up the pace if justice is to be served.
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Under the latest re-crafting of the procedure, a 16-member committee – eight reasonably enlightened Cooperstown enshrinees (living) and eight scribes and historians (breathing) – does the honors. Ballots are now rotated in a three-year cycle. It’s the “Pre-integration Era ballot” that’s being considered this year: 10 chaps connected with the game from the dawn of baseball time through World War II.

Of the ten, only six were players, with two being long-forgotten 19th century dandies: Tony Mullane, five times a 30-game winning pitcher, and Deacon White, who, back during the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, was a catcher who caught bare-handed. That’s very nice, but both are too much of a reach.

Other players nominated are a pair of defensively dazzling shortstops, WWII-era Cardinals’ mainstay Marty Marion and Ragtime era whiz Bill Dahlen, along with a pair of notably gallant work-horse pitchers from the Depression Era, Bucky Walters and Wes Ferrell.

Non-combatants rounding out the ballot are Jake Ruppert, the fabled Yankees owner (1915-39) who spanned the Ruthian epoch; Sam Breadon, architect of the Gashouse Gang and mentor of Branch Rickey; Al Reach, a sporting goods mogul and pioneer statistician; and the boisterous and colorful Hank O’Day, who umpired his last game 85 years ago.
It’s not a great ballot. In fact, it’s rather strange. Makes you wonder, “What are they thinking?” Methinks they may be trying too hard. Why them and not Cecil Travis, Carl Mays, Babe Herman, Jimmy Ryan? Among others … many others!

Anyway, I find at least three nominees eminently worthy. My picks would be Dahlen, Ruppert, and Ferrell in that order, with Ump O’Day also quite acceptable.

Dahlen is a no-brainer. At shortstop, he was second in his time only to Honus Wagner and more worthy than four contemporaries who beat him to Cooperstown; Messrs. Davis, Maranville, Wallace, and Tinker. “Wild Bill” should have been elected 40 years ago.

Of Ruppert, this much alone states the case: If Tom Yawkey, Walter O’Malley, and Barney Dreyfuss belong there, so does old Jake.

Ferrell is honestly debatable but if he again gets dissed he’ll remain the only modern-era pitcher to have been a 20-game winner six times yet still denied. Consider that, please. Of his contemporaries, Ferrell most resembles Dizzy Dean. Injury and egregious over-use cut down both in their prime. Ferrell was dead-armed and finished by age 30, yet he won 190 games, 43 more than Dean while laboring for much poorer teams. More to the point, he was obliged to pitch 214 complete games in nine seasons.

If Urban Faber, Ted Lyons, Fergy Jenkins, and Bob Lemon belong in Cooperstown so does hthe ot-tempered and hard-living Wesley Cheek Ferrell. But enough of the belaboring; let’s hope at least one of them passes muster.

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With apologies to the poet, it may properly be said, “The Gridiron God is in his heaven, all’s right with the world.” Notre Dame is back on top of the college football heap, motley mess though it may now be.

Cynics will wonder if the Irish have quietly loosened up on their exalted academic standards just enough to let sufficient numbers of football-majors pass through their pearly admissions gates. Is there any other way to rise to the top of the AP’s college football ratings?
There’s no fear here that any such compromise has been excessive. It’s a high wire act, but Notre Dame, skillfully guided by their renaissance coach, Brian Kelly, is equal to it. Other front-rank universities like Michigan, Florida, and even lordly Stanford have managed the trick, while our own Boston College remains doggedly in the chase.

But Notre Dame is sui generis, at least for those afflicted with institutional memory stretching much too deep into the past. Having the Irish back on top again – undefeated for the first time in a quarter century – touches a certain comfort level, however illusory, for those of us who gave up on this stuff about 30 years ago.

Should the nice Fighting Irish lads be obliged to meet one of those humorless football factories in the forthcoming national championship game, and the chances of that appear certain, you may expect 95 percent of the body politic to be cheering mightily for “dear old Notre Dame’.”Wake up the echoes and shake down the naysayers, indeed!
To Boston College, currently reeling from a 2-10 season and about to embark on its umpteenth pursuit of another Frank Leahy, there is only this question. How could you possibly have let Coach Kelly get away?
Meanwhile, we have the arresting prospect of Rutgers becoming the 14th member of the Big 10. It comes as no surprise to this observer that people at places like Ohio State can’t count.

***
 As we helplessly watch the National Hockey League season get flushed down the drain in a cacophony of outrage, keep in mind this unpleasant prospect: The bitterness has only just begun.

You think that those nasty outbursts from frustrated players are but the stray tantrums of the spoiled and ill-bred? Guess again, friend! Most of these guys are smart enough to avoid counter-productive name-calling, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t taking notes. If the worst-case scenario does materialize – a growing probability as of this writing – the lingering bad feeling will poison the NHL for a generation.

Hockey players have long memories. Approaching his fifties, Gordie Howe was still getting even for wounds sustained when he was a teen-ager in the Juniors. In the end, the foremost casualties of this wretched business may be the joy hockey players have quite uniquely brought to their game and the allegiances they’ve always forged with their colors and their communities.

If it has been the owners’ intention to re-cast their players as the faintly detached, bored, and uncommitted hired guns devoted to the principle of “take the money and run” that abound in other games, they may have already succeeded. Congratulations!

And what of other possible consequences? How do you think the Jacobs clan, which as owner of the Bruins has had to labor about 30 years to overcome mistrust and gain something close to good will in this town.

It has been clearly established that Jeremy Jacobs is the most resolute and unyielding of the hardliners in the NHL ownership group. As chairman of the Board of Governors, his influence is immense and he has wielded it heavily and with an intensity that goes well beyond the demands of his position.

Those who have been closely monitoring the process these past three months describe Jacobs as exercising an almost-chilling influence on the commissioner, Gary Bettman, let alone his effect on any faint of heart fellow owner who might be coming down with a case of cold feet. The picture that’s being drawn of him, air or otherwise, is that of an Iago or Rasputin whose determination to control the intrigues of the proceedings and push the issue to the absolute brink border on the obsessed.

“Why?” people are beginning to wonder. What accounts for such fury? How has the game hurt him so? Exactly how much profit would he lose if he were to acquiesce to whatever compromise might be required to end this mess?

Why?
He’s not taking questions at the moment, but sooner or later he’ll have to answer them. It should be interesting.