A visit with a living legend

Updated: July 15, 2009, 3:07 PM ET
An anecdote about Ted Williams and Ty Cobb was told on Tuesday afternoon in the living room of a legend, and so resumed the never-ending debate about who was the greatest hitter ever.

The man sitting at the center of attention was not prepared to take sides, but he was not about to give the title to Williams, either. "I don't know how you could overlook someone with a career batting average of .366," he said, citing the career batting average of Cobb. "Williams hit .344, and that wasn't as good as Rogers Hornsby, either."

He's right, of course. Hornsby ranks second all-time.

The man, wearing a sweater of a distinctive light blue and glasses went on to talk about how much he loved baseball, how it was his favorite sport and how much he loved to watch it. He talked about how much he enjoyed the work of Mike Scioscia and Joe Torre, and how he found them to be exactly alike in their temperament and how they handled players.

He also chatted about Abraham Lincoln, jersey cows, plowing fields and how he met his beloved lwife, who is deceased. He talked about his father, a gentle soul who could soothe a couple of fractious horses and who was so fair in how he meted out discipline to his children that his son never felt angry about it. He also talked about basketball over a chat of two and a half hours.

The man is John Wooden. A man who is passionate about excellence and doing things the right way, at 98-years-old. Time with him is an irreplaceable gift.

BBWA discusses steroids

The members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America reportedly met on Tuesday and decided not to form a committee to study the issue of how to address the candidacy of suspected users of steroids. Included are players who have been proven to have used performance-enhancing drugs, whether through federal investigations or through positive drug tests.

This was the right thing to do.

The issue of performance-enhancing drugs is going to hover over the Hall of Fame voting for as long as it exists, sadly. For the next 12 years and beyond, we will be discussing the merits of Mark McGwire's candidacy, in the first real test case, and there is a tidal wave of players who will follow him in that discussion. From Barry Bonds to Roger Clemens to Rafael Palmeiro to Manny Ramirez to Sammy Sosa and more. Those who are not voted in by the writers will then be eligible for consideration by the Veterans Committee, which might have an even tougher stance against suspected users than the writers have had thus far with McGwire. So long as Bonds, Clemens, Ramirez, McGwire and others don't get enough votes, a philosophical question will hover over them in the same way that it does over the banned Pete Rose: How can the Baseball Hall of Fame not include the sport's greatest home run hitters and arguably its greatest pitcher?

Nobody wants this, and it would be great to have a one-size fits all solution to the issue. But that simply is impossible to achieve. We don't know exactly who did what and in what quantities, and even if we did, we would need to consider the context of the times and how the entire institution of the sport failed miserably in responding to the advent of steroids. We'd need to consider how that failure led to more drug use. It's a complicated question, and there is no perfect answer. We have a handful of names of players who we know for sure used steroids and PEDs, but there are also hundreds and perhaps thousands of names that we don't know. Perhaps some of them have already been inducted into the Hall. There are major Hall of Fame candidates from the '90s who are generally regarded as steroid users within the community of Major League Baseball because of anecdotal evidence, but for varying reasons, they haven't had the same scrutiny as Bonds, McGwire or the others.

My own standard for Hall of Fame voting is based on the presumption that PED use was much more widespread than we will ever know, and that the playing field, among the game's elite, was mostly equal. And because we will never know exactly who did what, when and in what quantities, and because cannot make a fair assessment on how this impacted performance, I'm setting aside the question of PEDs and voting for the best players of the era.

If a committee of writers came up with a recommendation to vote against players suspected of PED use, it might make it easier to vote no, but I couldn't adhere to that in good conscience. And if the committee came up with a recommendation to set aside the issue of PEDs in voting, I'm sure there would be a whole lot of writers who would have a problem with it, and I would have nothing but respect for their perspective. It's a problem that is not going to go away. It will never be easy and there will never be a simple solution. It is what it is, as Brian McNamee might say.

Congratulations, by the way, go to the finalists for the J.G. Taylor Spink Award: former Boston Herald writer Joe Giuliotti, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News and Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun.

Moves, deals and decisions

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