Grant “Rocky” Rhodes is America’s oldest living sportswriter. He first rose to prominence in 1918, when he declared in the Pittsburgh Courier-Picayune that “the Red Sox’ dynastic juggernaut shall never be stopped”. Thanks to an exemption granted by Congress in 1973, he remains the only journalist still allowed to refer to Muhammad Ali as Cassius Clay. His weekly sports column, “The Cat’s Pajamas”, appears in 7000 newspapers nationwide when not bumped for “Love Is” or “This Week in Bridge”. Today, he graces Scratchbomb with his nine decades of sports wisdom to comment on Hall of Fame voting.
Like every other old bastard, I look forward to getting my mail each afternoon. It’s fun to wile away the few hours I have left on this earth flipping through a direct mail appeal from some nut jobs who want to destroy the United Nations. I’m also eagerly awaiting a response to my latest series of threatening letters to Chris Matthews.
But there’s one piece of mail I wait for with baited breath each year, and that’s my annual Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. I treasure my status as a lifetime member of the BBWAA, because this ballot is my chance to make a mark on baseball history. It’s also my chance to totally screw all the players who ever looked at me funny.
That is the greatest thing about this time of year. Any baseball writer who says differently is lying through his teeth, Jack. There’s nothing sweeter than getting that ballot and seeing the name of some schmuck who wouldn’t talk to you after a tough loss, or brushed off your autograph request. To know that his shot at immortality rests in your cold, bitter hands, and to think that you could be the guy to keep him out–if it weren’t for that yearly thrill, I woulda turned on the gas a long time ago.
Of course I’m just kidding, folks. We don’t have our own gas ranges at the Shadywood Assisted Living Facility. Or reliable heat, for that matter. My point is, there ain’t no adrenaline rush like the kind you get from a big fistful of sour grapes.
You know why Gil Hodges never got in the Hall of Fame? Because he once recommended an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn to me, but it turned out to be sub par at best. Why didn’t I vote for Bert Blyleven? Because I knew a guy named Bert in high school, and he once took my best girl down to the drug store for a cherry phosphate. I could never look at Blyleven and not think of that sneaky son of a bitch.
Should a possible Hall of Famer have to suffer for a bad meal, or my teenage frustrations? Well, somebody should!
You know what baseball writers talk about when they get together? It ain’t great games or legendary players. Nope, it’s always a game of can-you-top-this to see who has the pettiest excuse for not voting for someone. My favorite of all time has to be Dick Young. He once told me he didn’t vote for Rod Carew because he once hit a single to tie up a spring training game in the bottom of the ninth. Dick was all set to hit the Early Bird Special at the Steer and Stein, but Rod’s hit meant he had to stay at the game, which didn’t end for another five innings. If there’s one thing you didn’t do, it was get between Dick and a discount meal.
“I’ll never forgive that jerkoff for making me miss $4.99 prime rib,” Dick told me, and he meant it, brother.
Of course, since I haven’t been in a locker room since Watergate, it gets harder and harder to come up with reasons to deny candidates entry with each passing year. Luckily, I can rely on the two sharpest tools in a sportswriter’s arsenal: hate and snap judgment.
Goose Gossage, Rock Raines: Dumb nicknames. No dice. What about the old, dignified nicknames of yesteryear? A solid moniker, like Frank “Excellent Fielder” O’Leary.
Jim Rice: They serve us mashed, unsalted rice every day in this godforsaken place. It tastes like wet socks. Even though it’s the only thing my stomach can digest now, I’m not inclined to vote for anyone named Rice.
Jack Morris: I hated his commercials. Why couldn’t he just eat the cat food his owner gave him? I would never vote for him or the snooty cat in the Sheba ads.
Andre Dawson: The Hall of Fame should not be sullied by a French-sounding name.
Tommy John: What, I’m supposed to vote this guy in because he got some fancy surgery? I’ve had 73 medical procedures performed on my body, and that’s just in the last month. My skin is now held together with only a few pieces of well-placed gaffer’s tape.