By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
While the late George Steinbrenner’s son Hal and his general manager, Brian Cashman, figure out how to fix today’s Yankees, a new Hall of Fame committee will decide whether to induct the patriarch into Cooperstown.
Their decision, due Dec. 5, is really little different than the ones that have kept steroids era players such as Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and admitted user Mark McGwire out of the Hall so far. Steinbrenner’s issues came on the legal front, of course, but were no less weighty than those found guilty — or at least heavily suspected of guilt — by baseball’s high court of conduct.
All of that indicates that the 16-member Today’s Game Era Committee, formed to recognize players and others connected to the game who made a major impact since 1988, should bypass the Boss’ name despite his obvious contributions.
That will be a hard thing to do, especially considering it was under Steinbrenner’s meddlesome auspices that the Yanks won seven World Series and 11 American League pennants from 1973 until his death in 2010. That’s quite a record right there. And it does override the callousness he showed in firing a string of managers, executives and secretaries — one legendarily for an incorrect lunch order — in wielding his absolute power as owner.
What those should not overlook, however, are his troubles with the law. He was, after all, a convicted felon. Yes, it was for a 1974 felony charge of obstruction of justice before his admission to the white-collar crime of illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s campaign.
He didn’t kill anybody. Never got caught transporting kilos of coke across the border. Yet, a felony is a felony. And baseball hit him with a 15-month suspension as a result.
The question the committee will have to answer on Judgment Day, Dec. 5, is whether they actually want to put one of those in a Hall that already contains a handful of drug abusers and a virulent racist in Ty Cobb.
If Steinbrenner’s rap sheet stopped there, it might have been easy to separate so-called church and state. But it didn’t, and his next misstep hit even closer to home. In July of 1990, Steinbrenner drew another suspension for paying known gambler Howie Spira $40,000 to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield’s charitable foundation.
We all know how baseball feels about its on-field personnel associating with the Nathan Detroits of the world. Just ask Pete Rose, who will never see a plaque in Cooperstown as long as the commissioner maintains his lifelong banishment.
Steinbrenner got three years.
That, even more than the felony, should sway the committee to keep him out. What’s good for Rose should be good for an owner, too.
There’s little doubt about the impact the Steinbrenner era had on the Yanks. He was an owner who spent money at will to give his managers what he believed was the best talent to work with. Sometimes it backfired, big time. More often than not, it worked.
And while he no doubt sent his share of managers to the point of mental breakdown (see Billy Martin) or angry self-exile (see Yogi Berra) before Steinbrenner whisperer Joe Torre glided them through a golden era, it should be hard for the new committee to overlook his legal problems.
They both cast a bad light on baseball and its most vaunted franchise.
He already has the biggest memorial in Monument Park. Albeit a bit grandiose, he’s entitled to that.
What a felon and a conspiracist is not entitled to is a spot on baseball’s hallowed wall.
On a Today’s Game Era ballot that includes overlooked luminaries such as Orel Hershiser, Harold Baines, Will Clark, Davey Johnson, Lou Piniella, John Schuerholz and Albert Bell, there are enough upstanding candidates to choose from, even if it comes down to a steroid-enhanced McGwire.
Steinbrenner, unfortunately, should get the committee’s cold shoulder.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino