My first thought when I heard the Hall of Fame voting results yesterday was basically that this is just like the old days when there was absolutely no drama whatsoever and every serious fan of the game knew the results going in. Ho hum.
(PRESERVING HISTORY – Writing this blog entry gave me the excuse to run this amazing photo that is provided courtesy of the Hall of Fame; Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, New York)
And then it occurred to me that, like or not, the annual January announcement is often more about who doesn’t get elected than who does. In short, 11 percent of the vote for Rafael Palmeiro was lots more interesting than 90 percent for Roberto Alomar or 80 percent for Bert Blyleven.
The same day of the Hall of Fame announcement, I read about a man in Texas who had been imprisoned for 30 years after a rape conviction and was now exonerated – and finally released – after DNA evidence proved his innocence. What’s the connection, you might ask?
The convicted “rapist” had two separate opportunities to admit his guilt in front of parole board members, which presumably would have gotten him released years before. And he refused to admit to something he hadn’t done, ultimately paying a horrific price for his refusal.
Which is when I got to wondering about a truly intriguing hypothetical question: What if Rafael Palmeiro is telling the truth? I haven’t got a clue what the odds are of his failed drug test resulting from something innocent like a B-12 shot or maybe some tainted corn flakes, but just for the sake of argument, think what it means for the ostensibly disgraced non-Hall of Famer.
You can make a pretty good case that what really frosts everybody’s grommet is more that he looked into a television camera and seemingly lied to millions of baseball fans (to me, lying to Congress is hardly worthy of misdemeanor status until the penalty is enforced when the lying goes in the other direction).
It’s likely he still wouldn’t have made the Hall on the first ballot, but I can all but guarantee you he’d have done a lot better than a lousy 11 percent of the vote if he had planted himself in front of that very same TV camera and admitted to lying way back when and then dutifully and sincerely apologized.
Instead of people closing their eyes and remembering that incredible Palmeiro swing – maybe the smoothest I’ve ever seen – he’s saddled with the nightmare of fans recalling instead his truculent denial in front of that Congressional panel. That’s no way to remember a great ballplayer, even if he did panic and in a moment of wretched judgment decided that the best course of action was to tell a lie. But he may not have been lying.
Ultimately, the Hall of Fame is going to have to figure out a way to get all these great ballplayers from the steroid era admitted into the ranks of the immortals. When it does – and however it manages to do it – the only way to keep Rafael Palmeiro from joining them is to decide that lying ought to carry the harshest punishment of all.
I ain’t lyin’ when I tell you that seems a bit harsh. And way more than that if he was telling the truth.