Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez was so heartfelt and humble, it was just about impossible to do anything but share in his sheer joy. Plus, you have to acknowledge the staggering material on his new Hall of Fame plaque: 13 Gold Gloves, 14 All-Star appearances, 1999 American League Most Valuable Player, 2003 World Series winner. So hats off to you, Pudge.
Same goes for Jeff Bagwell. He gave a richly emotional speech on the stage at Clark Sports Center in front of greats including Henry Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Whitey Ford. Kudos to Bagwell for speaking so candidly upon joining their company, and for putting up the numbers to get there.
The only smudge on their Hall of Fame resumes was put there by the Hall itself. At least for this observer, there is a tiny mental asterisk because the shrine put a heavy finger on the scale.
Chances are Rodriguez and Bagwell would have made the Hall anyway despite whispers that have surrounded them about possible steroid use. No one ever has produced any proof on either player, just as there is no evidence to back up similar claims about Mike Piazza, who was inducted last year. Piazza’s plaque is affixed to the wall for good and he was on the stage in the flesh Sunday, as Rodriguez and Bagwell will be in years to come. Here’s wishing them all continued enjoyment and satisfaction.
What rankles is that the Hall has gone out of its way to ensure that more inductees will get in by changing the voting rules. Officials have noticed that younger members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America tend to be less concerned about speculation that players have used performance-enhancing drugs. Why that is, a sociologist would be better at explaining.
In any case, voting eligibility was altered two years ago, eliminating lifetime voting rights and cutting out anyone who has not covered the sport in the past 10 years.
Connecting the dots is easy, and hurtful: Older writers generally do not vote for steroids-era players. Scarcity of inductees in the Hall is bad for business. Hall cuts off older writers’ voting privileges.
From this angle, it looks like a case of someone changing the rules because they don’t like the results. Imagine a team with too many wild pitchers lobbying to change the requirement for a walk from four balls to five.
This is a most painful irony: The Baseball Hall of Fame, which consists of (and exists for) memories, is dumping the writers who have the greatest inventory of them. Those voters have been good and loyal partners with the Hall for decades, and no one ever has seen a problem until now.
Personally, I still have a ballot and did vote for both Rodriguez and Bagwell. I liked hearing the latter speak about the indomitable spirit he inherited from his dad, and about being traded as a Red Sox minor-leaguer to the Astros for veteran reliever Larry Andersen. Bagwell said Andersen used to say that his own legacy depended on Bagwell becoming a name player.
“OK, Larry, I’m here,” he said Sunday from the podium. “Is this good enough for you?”
It was fun to listen to Rod ri guez talk about being a rookie catcher, struggling with the majors and the language, catching Nolan Ryan: “He told me, ‘Kid, you don’t have to do too much . . . What you’ve got to do is put the fingers down for fastball, curveball, changeup and I’ll throw the baseball to you.’ He ended up winning the game.
“A little later on, he almost threw his eighth no-hitter. Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, who’s here today, led off the eighth inning with a single. I said to the reporters, ‘Nolan shook me off.’ ”
Rodriguez added that when the same reporters went to Ryan for a reaction, the icon told them, “It looks like he learned to speak English pretty quickly.”
Congratulations to both newcomers on getting into the Hall. Too bad the Hall felt it had to push some voters out.